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What to Do When Selling a Car to Protect Yourself From Any Liability

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

Selling a car should be a straightforward process. But when you list your car as a private seller online, you open yourself up to the good, bad and the ugly of the internet. 

More than half of car buyers start online when looking for a new car. This means millions of car searches per day. 

This opens the door to opportunity if you have the right selling strategy. Check out this overview of what to do when selling a car.

What to Do When Selling a Car Online

One of the easiest ways to market a car for sale is through the internet. Third-party websites offering listings to sellers are plentiful.

This means heavy competition to compete for potential buyers, however. Research opportunities to list your car where there are proven sales results.

Avoid including too much personal information in your listing. No matter how urgent your need sell, buyers should reach out to via one secure form of communication.

Putting your personal data online leaves you vulnerable to hackers. Serious buyers won’t need more than one form of communication until they are ready to move forward with a transaction.

Here are a few questions to ask to help ensure an interested buyer is serious:

What is your full name?

This may seem ironic given that you aren’t providing all of your personal information. But this is one of the first ways to determine whether the buyer is really interested.

Hesitation on offering personal details when it’s required to transfer a car title should give you pause. A buyer’s information can’t be secret if he or she wants legal ownership of a vehicle. 

Where are you located?

The location of the buyer is important. While it’s fine to do business with buyers out of town, ask upfront how they plan to secure the vehicle. 

Never assume the buyer will take the most logical route. If they’re arranged shipment of the vehicle, ask for details on the vendor along with contact information or a transaction number. 

Anyone contacting you from overseas is a red flag. Don’t feel awkward about asking for an address and phone number if you’re unsure about the person’s location.

If he or she won’t provide these details, move on to the next buyer. 

When do you want to see the car?

Blind offers on cars can happen before the buyer inspects the vehicle. But when these offers go above and beyond the purchase price it’s time to proceed with caution.

A buyer should look for an opportunity to see the car in person. Serious buyers may also request to bring a mechanic to look over the car.

There is no scenario where someone should offer to send you money for a car they’ve never seen in person. 

What to Do When Selling a Car Locally

It’s important to use safe selling strategies when selling a car offline. Follow the practice of getting the full names and phone numbers of buyers when scheduling showings. 

Never invite a buyer to your home or place of work to show the car. Instead, meet in public at a neutral location.

Retail shopping centers commonly have video surveillance and lots of people around them. These are great options when selling a car to a stranger.

In the event you’re meeting a car thief, the property manager could pull video records to help the police find the suspect.

How to Accept Payment

Accept cash when selling a car. You’re not a bank. 

Buyers who offer to pay by cashier’s or personal check are putting you at risk. There’s one exception to this rule.

If you’re selling a car for more than a few thousand dollars, cash can quickly become a liability. If the bills turn out to be counterfeit, you’re stuck.

Ask the seller to meet you at your bank to deposit the cash. Bank tellers can instantly tell whether money is counterfeit.

Counterfeit Checks

If the buyer insists on paying with a cashier’s check or money order, follow the same process of getting the item examined by a teller. The downside is that counterfeit checks can cause your account to be flagged.

You may avoid selling your car to a scammer but the bank might still close your account for fraudulent activity. Cash is the fastest and easiest method of payment from an unknown seller. 

Avoid making any payment arrangements with the buyer. Transfer the title once funds it your bank account.

Buyers who do have verifiable checks in hand should only receive the car only the check clears in your account. This might take a few days, but serious buyers will understand the risks you are trying to avoid. 

Post-Sale Liabilities

Make sure you complete all necessary paperwork to transfer ownership of your car completely. The transfer of ownership processes varies by state.

Don’t assume that reporting the sale of the car means you’re no longer the legal owner. Meet at the DMV to file all paperwork with the buyer and confirmation once the transaction is complete. 

Make sure your bill of sale includes a ‘sold as is’ clause to avoid later mechanical complaints. A “release of liability” document should also be included to further verify that any future parking tickets or moving violations are no longer your responsibility. 

Lemon laws apply to private sellers. The ‘sold as is’ clause helps to cover you in the event of later mechanical problems.

To be safe, always include information on any major defects or mechanical issues in your sales listing. A copy of your ad along with the bill of sale contract is usually enough to prevent liability after the car is sold.  

Safe Selling

It’s possible to experience a fast, secure car sale with little hassle. Practicing these safe selling strategies is the easiest way to ensure a smooth transaction.

When you know what to do when selling a car to avoid liability, you can make smarter choices that lead to more profit. If you’d like to get an instant offer on your car, please contact us today. 

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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