Acceptable payment methods when selling a car
February 4, 2008 3:04 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to sell a car privately and am afraid of getting scammed. What forms of payment should I accept?

I am selling an older vehicle for not more then $2500. Is it reasonable or feasable to do this strictly in cash? Are money orders or cashiers checks safe to accept? What other methods of payment might work in this situation.
posted by ShootTheMoon to Work & Money (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Cashier's check are your best bet, I reckon. (Speaking from experience)
posted by bondgirl53001 at 3:07 PM on February 4, 2008

If you've got a laptop you can arrange near your front door, having them Paypal you the money isn't a bad option.
posted by Nelsormensch at 3:11 PM on February 4, 2008

I've frequently seen situations where sellers accompany the buyers to the bank for the purchase of the cashier's check, if for some reason you would be suspicious of a cashier's check in general.
posted by Asherah at 3:13 PM on February 4, 2008

I would go with cash. After all, the buyer has to come pick up the car and sign a bill of sale. You can't get scammed with cash.
posted by munchingzombie at 3:13 PM on February 4, 2008

having them Paypal you the money isn't a bad option.

Fixed that for you.

posted by grouse at 3:13 PM on February 4, 2008

Cash is not unreasonable. Cashier's check is best.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:14 PM on February 4, 2008

nth cash. USPS money orders are pretty safe, too.
posted by puddleglum at 3:19 PM on February 4, 2008

Seconding not Paypal.
posted by procrastination at 3:22 PM on February 4, 2008

Cash, money orders and cashier's checks are the way to go. If they balk at the payment for the cashier's check, knock that cost (what are they, $50 bucks at most?) off the price of the car, and they're only out the time it would take to go get one of those things. Fifty for the peace of mind is totally worth it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:25 PM on February 4, 2008

Do yourself a favor and forget that Paypal was ever brought up here.

Cash is your number one bet (although if they show up with 170 crisp one-hundred dollars bills, you might worry) , followed closely by cashiers check.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 3:29 PM on February 4, 2008

I don't see a problem with cash. Most people buying a vehicle in this price range will expect to pay with cash. Familiarize yourself with the current filmstrips, watermarks, etc. if you are worried.

if they show up with 170 crisp one-hundred dollars bills, you might worry

If someone offers you $17,000 for your $2500 car, I would wonder what's going on.
posted by yohko at 3:42 PM on February 4, 2008

Even if you take a cashier's check ($1 to $5 is the typical cost, not $50 assuming they have a bank account, and do you really want to sell to someone who doesn't) then insist on seeing their driver's license and copy down the number etc. Cashier's checks can be scammed, hence Asherah's comment above.
posted by caddis at 3:44 PM on February 4, 2008

Wow, that's a fierce amount of Paypal hate. I've used it quite a bit in the past without any problems, but based on the information linked, perhaps there is a bit of cause for concern. Sounds like for stuff you actually care about (obviously, a car being one of them), you'd be better off with cash or a cashier's check/money order (from my bank, they're just $5).
posted by Nelsormensch at 3:53 PM on February 4, 2008

The general concern with any payment system for this kind of transcation is that the person will get the car and then back out of the payment. Paypal is particularly scary in this regard, since they will freeze the money you "received" immediately so you can't get to it. Leaving you out one car, until you convince Paypal you aren't a scammer. And keep in mind that at the same time, the actual scammer is telling Paypal lies about how you never delivered the car. Headache!
posted by smackfu at 4:01 PM on February 4, 2008

not PayPal, definitely. if they don't have $2500 cash don't sell them the car, period. for less than, say, 4 or 5 thousand, cash is king
posted by matteo at 4:04 PM on February 4, 2008

I sold my car privately and insisted on being paid via cashier's check (five figures, so cash was a teensy bit of a liability). I accompanied the buyer to his bank and was handed the check after watching the banker hand it to him; deposited it as soon as I could find a branch of my bank. No issues.

For $2500, I would go with cash or bank / cashier's check. Definitely not personal check or Paypal.
posted by fuzzbean at 4:06 PM on February 4, 2008

Cash. It's not like $2500 is such a huge amount of money they'd need to carry it in a briefcase cuffed to their wrist or something.
posted by clh at 4:07 PM on February 4, 2008

Cash. It's not like $2500 is such a huge amount of money they'd need to carry it in a briefcase cuffed to their wrist or something.

But it would be super-cool if they did.

Nthing cash.

It's a registered vehicle. If they stiff you, it's a stolen car. And if they wanted to steal a car, there would be easier ways.
posted by rokusan at 4:30 PM on February 4, 2008

I don't think it's reasonable to accept only cash. Obviously cash is nice, and for this price, there's a good chance someone will pay with cash. However, it's also expected that you would accept a cashier's check or money order. Otherwise, you'll probably prevent any buyers who were hoping to buy your car with a car loan.

The biggest scams are online. Don't accept any weird offers of overpayment with a cashier's check, where you pay them back the difference. This is the most common online car scam. Deal with the person in person and you should be fine.
posted by knave at 4:44 PM on February 4, 2008

Cash and I would make sure that the title gets transferred as part of the sale. You don't want your vehicle, like my friend's car, to be parked at hydrants around the city. The hassle of explaining that you have sold the car but, the other party has never transfered the title is not worth it.
posted by zerobyproxy at 4:54 PM on February 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

In the past year I sold 2 cars for over $5000 each on Craigslist and expected/received cash.
posted by thilmony at 5:02 PM on February 4, 2008

Cash. Even if you decided to take a risk on paypal, you will lose a bunch to paypal. Ask for cash, transact in a brightly lit parking lot during the day if possible. I sold a car last year for 3k on craigslist and received cash, ditto for laptops, etc.
posted by arnicae at 5:16 PM on February 4, 2008

cash is king
posted by Salvatorparadise at 5:23 PM on February 4, 2008

Cashier's checks are one of the most commonly scammed forms of payment! $2500 cash is easy and perfectly reasonable. If you were willing to just go with them to the bank, have them withdraw cash instead and save yourself the fee.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:33 PM on February 4, 2008

posted by iguanapolitico at 6:29 PM on February 4, 2008

The last car I bought I paid for with cash ($4500). The last car my dad bought he called his bank and had the money ($8500) transferred from his account to hers, then we picked up the car after she verified that she had received the money. So the latter is a good choice if the cash is more than you or the purchaser is comfortable with.
posted by 6550 at 6:30 PM on February 4, 2008

I've used PayPal for years without ever having a problem, so I like Nelsormensch's suggestion.

Besides, are you sure you can quickly detect a counterfeit bill in a fat wad of cash, under a buyer's stare?
posted by JaySunSee at 6:49 PM on February 4, 2008


Just make sure to:
a) write up a bill of sale and receipt and get the buyer's driver's license number.
b) depending on the state, have the buyer sign the title release of liability. (A must in WA, pointless in NV.)
posted by krisak at 7:15 PM on February 4, 2008

Cash. (As the amount gets larger, then it is more likely they will be borrowing the money, and it will be a cashier's check or a direct deposit.)

If you are uncomfortable handling that much cash (or are worried about counterfeit bills) do the transaction at your bank. The buyer hands you the cash, you hand it to the cashier, and everything is good; you are never on the street with the money.

If I was selling a car locally and someone asked if they could use Paypal, I would laugh and say hell no -- there is no way I would give up the flexibility and security of cash for a problematic operation like Paypal. As a seller, I would say "what on earth is in this for me?" and the answer is "nothing."

One time I took a personal check, but it was from someone I kind of knew, so I wasn't too worried about the check bouncing. From a stranger, I wouldn't do that, more so now that personal checks just aren't used very much anymore.
posted by Forktine at 7:47 PM on February 4, 2008

seconding Zerobyproxy's recommendation to make sure the title is also transferred. Go to the DMV with the buyer and sign the sucker over right then and there so you don't get some nasty surprise down the road.
posted by 45moore45 at 8:06 PM on February 4, 2008

Anything that doesn't make your guts twist up in a knot. Also, cash.
posted by eleyna at 10:33 PM on February 4, 2008 cash is the de facto payment method for private auto sales. i would refuse to accept anything else. i have bought and sold several cars privately and it's pretty much all i used. either that, or you BOTH go to the bank.
posted by lohmannn at 7:07 AM on February 5, 2008

Cash is best here, and make sure to write up a bill of sale (google it for examples). This helps when the buyer "forgets" to transfer the title, the car is used in a crime, and the cops show up at your door. Then you have proof that you sold the car and were not involved. Otherwise, eek.
posted by orangemiles at 7:19 AM on February 5, 2008

I recently sold a honda civic for $6800 -- I asked for cash only. Every other form of payment can be counterfeit (Craigslist has warnings about fake money orders and wire transfers). I didn't have a problem finding a buyer with cash, but it was a little unweildy counting it and taking it to the bank. Ditto the bill of sale -- the California DMV has a form you can use. Probably your DMV has the same.
posted by bananafish at 1:18 PM on February 5, 2008

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