Car Buying

How to Sell a Car Privately

From taking pictures and advertising online to accepting secure payment and signing the bill of sale – learn how to sell a car privately.

Read time

6 minutes




Selling your car privately is a popular way to part ways with your vehicle, but it does require some knowledge of state requirements for selling motor vehicles, which you can typically find on your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website.

Some people prefer car dealerships to private sales for many of the same reasons, while others prefer the opposite. The following guide tells you everything you need to know about the private sale process.

If you don’t want to go through the selling and buying process in the first place, then you should consider a FINN car subscription. With no down payment, comprehensive insurance, and the freedom to switch cars every six and 12 months, FINN offers you a new and hassle-free approach to driving.

9 steps to sell a car privately

Since you’ve already determined that you will sell your car privately, there’s no sense in taking your vehicle to the dealership for a trade-in value. You can take your car in at any time if you ever change your mind. After all, you hold the keys and the title. Here are the main steps of the process to help you get a better idea of how to sell a car privately. 

Step 1: Figure out where you want to sell your car

There are several ways to sell a car: privately, through an Instant Cash Offer (ICO), or via dealership trade-in. In private sales, you advertise and sell to an individual instead of a dealership or service. The ICO, popularized by Kelley Blue Book, allows sellers to fill out an online form detailing their car's condition and mileage for a cash offer. If accepted, the car is sold to a participating dealership at the agreed sale price.

Alternatively, take advantage of the high demand for used cars by considering a dealership trade-in. Contact various dealerships for an estimate, many of which can be done over the phone, with pick-up options available.

Step 2: Determine your car’s worth

You might start your journey knowing you want to sell your car but find it cut short because no one will pay you what you want. Tackling that sticking point first can help you avoid unnecessary work. Consumer Reports’ Car Value Estimator can help you determine how much your car is worth. Simply put in the year, make, model, and any details about the condition. You can keep a screenshot of the estimated value to help set the final pricing.  

Step 3: Gather your documents and set the asking price

As with any purchase, there are multiple documents you’ll want to gather before you sell your car privately. Here’s a short list of the most critical documents: 

  • Request a CARFAXvehicle history report that you can share with potential buyers. One of the most common questions to ask when buying a used car is, “Do you have the CARFAX?” In addition, gather all the maintenance records and receipts that you can. These reports describe everything you need to know before buying a car, from the accidents its been involved in to the repairs and recalls it has had. 
  • Gather any maintenance or warranty records you may have for your vehicle. You can note some major maintenance intervals and warranties on your posting. It helps to have a folder that collects any service receipts or records. 
  • Pull out your car insurance policy and review it for test-drive coverage. Some insurance companies will cover test drives, but it’s best to check for this coverage before assuming you have it. 
  • Locate the car’s titleMany savvy buyers will ask if you have the title “in hand,” which just means you’ve got it accessible. If you do sell the car, you’ll need to sign it over to the new owner
  • Contact your lender. Your lender will tell you about an outstanding car loan. Understand the procedure to facilitate the sale, so you can precisely guide potential buyers.
  • Visit your state’s DMV online. Familiarize yourself with the necessary documentation needed to transfer ownership. Often, essential forms like a bill of sale are available for download and print. Also, confirm whether the license plates should accompany the car upon sale.

For setting up the asking price, first, you need to estimate your car's current value. You can use resources like Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds to get a solid estimation. Also, consider checking the prices of similar cars in local advertisements. It's good to set your price a bit higher than the current market value but still within a reasonable range. For instance, if the pricing guide values your car at $5,000, consider listing it at $5,450. This gives you room for negotiation.

Many often wonder, “Can you sell a car without registration?” The answer depends on your state, but most often, it is “yes.” Cars can sit without registration for various reasons, but it can be worth looking into if you’re worried.   

Step 4: Set the pricing

Determining how much you want to sell your car for can be a struggle for most people. If you’re not sure where to begin pricing your vehicle for sale, various resources are available. You can also determine your car’s pricing by comparing it to similar vehicles on the market. 

These prices will also tell you which cars are selling and which have been parked online for quite a while. You should also consider how you want to be paid and your bottom dollar price. Many buyers may ask for a pre-purchase inspection, so you’ll need to ask yourself whether you’ll allow that and who will pay for it. 

Step 5: Prepare your car for sale

Getting your car ready for sale entails several things, including:

  • Remove all your personal items. Keep only your essentials in the car if you drive it daily. If not, remove everything you don’t want to sell with the car. 
  • Give your car a mechanical once-over. If it needs an oil change or tire rotation, schedule an appointment and keep those receipts. You don’t have to go too crazy with this step, but a car that looks the part sells better than one that doesn’t. 
  • Consider getting a professional detail. Remember that you’re selling the car, so the less money you put into it, the more you’ll profit. However, a little sprucing can help your vehicle impress your buyers.

If you plan on keeping the car parked until a buyer wants to test drive it, take the plates off. You can always put them back on before a buyer arrives if you do go on a test drive

Step 6: Figure out how you’ll advertise your car and create some ads

Advertising your car for sale on several platforms can help broaden your audience. If you create a single listing, you can also upload that to various sites like CarGurus and Autotrader to reach more viewers. 

Part of advertising your car is taking quality pictures. Quality photos can make your car stand out among other used cars for sale. Capture it in good light, from various angles, and include interior shots, the odometer reading, tires, and engine.

For ad placement, consider your audience on:

  • Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace: Free, but be aware of scammers.
  • Autotrader: Attracts serious buyers nationwide.
  • eBay Motors: Options for auction or ad placement.
  • Specialty sites: Ideal for rare cars; consider online auctions on BringATrailer or Cars & Bids.

Ads usually require basic car information. In the description, provide unique details like options, add-ons, "clean title," or "just passed smog." Avoid clichéd phrases like "AC blows cold!" or "highway miles only!"

Step 7: Talk and meet with prospective buyers

This part of the process is the most time-consuming, but can also be fruitful. As you talk to and meet with prospective car buyers, you’ll probably go on several test drives and negotiate quite a bit. It’s important to stay safe and be smart about where you meet buyers, where you test drive the car, and how you handle any emergencies that might come up. 

Step 8: Complete the sale 

Once you and the buyer agree on a price, it’s time to sign the paperwork. Draft up two copies of a bill of sale and sign both. Give one to the buyer to sign and return to you and one to keep. You’ll also sign over the vehicle title. In some states, you’re also required to file a “release of liability” form to prove you no longer own the car.

You may need to include additional information with the bill of sale in some states. This includes any emissions testing results that show the car can pass. You’ll also need to contact your auto insurance company and let them know you no longer own the car and are dropping insurance. 

Step 9: Determine your next steps 

Once you sell your car, what will your next steps be? Will you save the money you earned from the sale to buy a new car? Or will you look into a FINN car subscription to enjoy the car you want to drive without a long-term commitment? 

FINN offers convenient and affordable car subscriptions you can take advantage of. Pick the car you want to drive, set your terms, and even have the car delivered straight to your doorstep. It’s an easy way to drive your car of choice without committing to long-term contracts. 

Other options for selling your car

You have several options if you choose not to sell your car privately. You can keep the vehicle and drive it, visit your local dealerships to sell or trade it in, sell your car online via popular marketplaces, or give it to someone else, including a charity. 

Keep the vehicle

Sometimes selling your car just isn’t meant to be. In this case, it can be best to continue to use your car and see if something changes. Used vehicle prices may increase to where you can get what you want out of the car, or you may find that driving the car isn’t so bad. Plus, it all beats having to communicate and negotiate with potential buyers.  

Trade the car in

Dealerships are always looking for used cars they can flip for a profit. You can also find your car’s trade-in value through Kelley Blue Book’s Instant Cash Offer,’s Instant Offer, or Edmund’s “Sell my car online” feature. These websites do most of the hard work determining how much a dealer will pay for your car. 

Sell your car online

It’s often the case that the best way to sell a used car is online. Car buying companies such as Carvana, Vroom, CarMax, AutoNation, and Shift will pay you directly for your vehicle or allow you to trade it in for another. If you’re looking for minimal effort in getting rid of a car you don’t want, selling to an online car-buying marketplace can help. 

Sell at auction

For older, high mileage, or non-running vehicles, selling at local public car auctions is an alternative. Maximize reach of motivated buyers, though fees and transport costs take a cut.

Give the car away

Finding the means to buy your first car can be tricky, especially if you don’t have much money to spend. That’s where charitable donations and gifts from family members can help. If you have a relative that’s getting rid of their vehicle, and they’re willing to give it to you for cheap or free, you can get a serious leg up on your future car ownership. 

Sell to individual car dealers

Beyond franchised dealers accepting trade-ins, independent used car dealers may buy vehicles directly for their lot inventory as well. Allows negotiating with dealers one-on-one rather than corporate trade-in systems.

Selling a car privately FAQs

When selling your car privately, the safest payment method is typically through a cashier's check rather than a personal check. They're a secure way to receive funds and can be validated during bank hours, ensuring its authenticity. Additionally, a money order is also a safe option. If it's more convenient, an electronic funds transfer directly into your account is another safe and commonly used method.

Selling a car without a title can be tricky, as the title proves ownership and is necessary for legal transfer. In some cases, if the title is lost, you can apply for a replacement. However, selling a car with a rebuilt or salvage title can be more complex, and it's best to seek advice from your local DMV.

Yes, using the internet to sell a car can definitely increase the visibility of your car among potential buyers. Online platforms will offer you a wider reach compared to traditional methods, but it's important to use reputable sites, provide enough detailed information, and always beware of scams.

Final thoughts

A private car sale can help you get more for your investment. Though selling privately does require more effort and comes with higher risk, it’s much easier to sell a car privately these days than before. You may even find that selling your car privately and signing up for a FINN car subscription helps you avoid the stress of finances with a single monthly payment you can tune your budget to. 

See your options for your next car by browsing available cars today. One monthly fee includes insurance, maintenance, and roadside assistance. 

Final thoughts
Final thoughts

Final thoughts

A private car sale can help you get more for your investment. Though selling privately does require more effort and comes with higher risk, it’s much easier to sell a car privately these days than before. You may even find that selling your car privately and signing up for a FINN car subscription helps you avoid the stress of finances with a single monthly payment you can tune your budget to. 

See your options for your next car by browsing available cars today. One monthly fee includes insurance, maintenance, and roadside assistance. 

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