Time for a Reminder: How to Safely Sell Your Car

199 Toyota Tercel

When I was in my early 20s, I sold a car in my living room.

The car was a 1994 Toyota Tercel, which back then, wasn’t any more than 5 or 6 years old. I loved that little car and its manual transmission. I couldn’t take the lack of air conditioning and sticky vinyl seats. With an ad in the local want ads, I had a buyer come look and make me an offer after the test drive.

I think back on that day and am shocked at how lazy I was in protecting myself, and the car. Then again, times are different today, so it’s a good idea to learn from mistakes of the past.

I’ll quickly tell the story, you see if you can point out all that I did wrong.

On the day I sold my Tercel, I took a call from an interested party. I gave my address and set a time to meet. When the woman arrived with a friend, I immediately handed over the keys. She took them, got in the car and drove away with her friend. When she returned, she expressed her interest and asked if I’d take less money. I agreed and invited her inside to finish the transaction. She wrote me a check, I signed off interest on the car title, gave it to her, and she left, with her friend driving the car they arrived in.

I can count no fewer than 6 things I did wrong selling that car. It all worked fine, but it could’ve gone horribly wrong. Here are the mistakes I think I made:

  1. I gave the caller my home address. When selling a car privately, it’s a better idea to meet somewhere public, such as a grocery store parking lot.
  2. I gave the potential buyer the keys. Of course test drives are essential, but as a seller, either go with the buyer on the drive or keep the keys of the car he or she arrived in. Just because you never know…
  3. I accepted the first offer. That was a rookie mistake. Always negotiate, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want out of the car.
  4. I invited the buyer into my home. Obviously there’s plenty that can go wrong in that scenario. Ideally, meet at a bank to finish the transaction.
  5. I accepted a personal check. I didn’t know any better back then, but accept only a cashier’s check or direct account transfer from the bank.
  6. I signed the car title and gave it away. What if the check didn’t clear? What if it was fake? What if the buyer never transferred ownership and committed a crime in the car? Again, you just never know. This is another reason to meet at a bank, where you can find help, at least on the financial side of things.

Selling a car on your own can mean more money in your pocket than trading it in, but please be safe and protect yourself when dealing with people you don’t know. The 22-year-old me would thank you.

Do you have any advice for selling a used car on your own?


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Used Toyota Tercel

1 Comment

  1. Things have changed a lot. Some years ago I sold two newer cars at the same time. I live on a busy street so I put them in the front yard with a sign and my phone number. I was surprised at the interest, and more surprised when a single buyer wanted both. His work vehicle had been stolen and he wanted the econobox, and his wife needed a new SUV so we made a deal.
    I met him at his credit union with the titles and my payoff notice (one car was already paid off) and the credit union handled the payoff and cut me a cashier’s check for the balance. Easy, safe, and everyone left happy.

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