What Paperwork Do I Need to Sell My Car Privately?
Hanna Kielar4-minute read
February 22, 2022
Millions of car owners across the nation will complete the process of selling a car multiple times over their lives. Among all the steps to selling a car, gathering your documents will often be the most straightforward. You’ll have to deliver these documents in two phases: when you are in the process of selling a car and at the time of sale.
A Quick List Of Documents You May Need To Sell A Car Privately
- Vehicle history report
- Maintenance records
- Warranty documents
- Owner’s manual
- Odometer disclosure
- Bill of sale
- Emissions test documents
Selling: Car Paperwork The Buyer Will Want To See
By the time you are ready to sell, you should have a good idea of how much your car is worth. To prove your car’s true value to a prospective buyer, it will help to have some documentation ready that goes beyond the vehicle description you presented in your advertisement.
We’ve made a list of the documents you’ll need to make your private sale as smooth as possible.
Vehicle History Report
A vehicle history report will show your car’s history of accidents, repairs, routine maintenance, and number of owners. Kelley Blue Book heavily relies on the vehicle history report to establish how much vehicles are worth.
To get a history report, you need the vehicle identification number (VIN) or license plate number. Most savvy sellers will get this report so they can address any errors in the report and know ahead of time how to answer questions from the potential buyer. Carfax and AutoCheck are two good places to start when ordering a vehicle history report, but there are many others.
It’s a good idea to round up the most recent maintenance records for your prospective buyer. These records will include more essential details than the vehicle history report. That way, if your buyer has questions about previous repairs or regular maintenance, you’ll have the information right when you need it.
For example, if your driver’s door is swinging open with less control than your passenger door, the buyer may notice it on the test drive. As you prepare your car to sell, take note of any quirks you’ve become accustomed to and find out how much the repairs would cost. You can pay for the repairs yourself and keep the records to show the potential buyer. If you don’t have the finances to pay for repairs, you can offer an itemized list of repair costs from a mechanic to show complete transparency and ensure a fair price for everyone. If you go the second route, be prepared to either deduct the repair costs from the asking price or make a case that it’s already priced with those deductions.
If your vehicle still has a factory warranty on the powertrain or, better yet, bumper-to-bumper coverage, be sure to include the paperwork to prove it. Not all warranties are made equal, but in many cases, warranty documents could potentially boost your sale price depending on the terms and time of the warranty.
When you’re buying a used car, you probably feel a sense of relief when you see the owner’s manual tucked away in the glove compartment. Your car’s future owner probably feels the same way. It’s important to have safety information handy in case of an emergency or when you need information about your car and don’t have internet access for the virtual manual.
Sold: DMV Forms Needed At Time Of Sale
Once you and the buyer have agreed to make a deal, you’ll need a few legal documents to complete the sale. Requirements will vary by state, so be sure to check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office to learn what your state requires.
Here’s a list of the paperwork you’ll likely need when you sell a car privately.
A vehicle title, or “pink slip,” is likely the most crucial DMV form you need. In some states, selling a car without a title is possible, depending on the year and make of the vehicle. Check with your local DMV to find out if that applies to you.
It's not uncommon for first-time sellers to make a written mistake on their car title. Make sure you know how to fill out the pink slip when selling your car before you take pen to official government paper.
Be sure to have an odometer disclosure handy once you and your buyer are both ready to exchange keys for cash. Many states will conveniently embed the odometer disclosure in the paper title. Others may require you to acquire a separate form, which you can often find on your state DMV’s website.
Bill Of Sale
A bill of sale is a separate document buyers and sellers use to document the transaction. Some states don’t require this form, so be sure to check with your DMV to see if you need it.
Even if your state doesn’t require it, you might want to get one anyway because the bill of sale can serve a very useful purpose. After you hand over your title to the buyer, keeping a bill of sale will legally prove the purchase and release of liability.
Emissions Test Documents
Some states require the seller to provide a recent smog certification in order to legally transfer ownership. In an effort to reduce car pollution, these states have implemented laws that limit top-polluters from staying on the road. A smog check typically involves a visual inspection of your car’s exhaust and a test to determine the amount of carbon emissions coming from the tailpipe. After confirmation that your vehicle meets your state’s standards, you can include the smog certification with the rest of the documents you give to the buyer.
There may be exceptions to the rule based on the age of the vehicle. For example, the California DMV does not require emissions certification if the vehicle is less than 4 years old or if it’s model year 1975 or older.
The Bottom Line
Sellers shouldn’t show up to a car sale empty handed. It’s your duty to compile the correct paperwork and have it available. Once you get paid for your car, you pass the keys to the buyer, who will then complete the transfer of ownership process.
With the information you’ve just learned, you should feel more confident about gathering the paperwork you need to sell your car. If you have any doubts, it’s a good idea to visit your local DMV (or their website), to get the documents you need.
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