Selling a car

I’ve never bought or sold a car privately, always trading one in at the dealer.

I now need to sell my late mother’s car, which is now in my name. I’ll advertise it, and hopefully someone will stop by, interested in buying it. I’ll give him the keys and off he’ll go. Now, what’s preventing him from just driving off with it, never to be seen again? Even if I ask for ID, how do I know the ID itself isn’t fake?

What if he wants some sort of guarantee of the car’s condition, and what if he wants to take it and have his mechanic check it out?

And if he decides to buy it, he’d have to pay me in cash or personal check. How long should I wait, to be sure the check has cleared? And then, do we simply meet at Motor Vehicles and get a new title in his name, and that’s the end of it?

I can’t believe I don’t know these things.

More than likely, he’ll drive another car to your home to take the car for a drive. So he may drive away, but at least you’ll still have a car, right?

Having a mechanic checking it out depends on the cost of the car. If you’re selling it for $500, it’s more than likely a “your risk” type situation. If it’s a $15,000 car, the seller may want to have a mechanic check it out. You can negotiate who will pay for that.

If you’re in possession of the title, when he pays you, you just sign the title, give it to him, and you’re done. If the bank has it, things get a little more complicated. You’ll have to pay off the rest of the amount to get the title and give it to him.

Cash would be the easiest, since that way you’re guaranteed the money. I wouldn’t take a personal check for a car. He could go to the bank and get a cashier’s check.

Exactly. I’ve sold cars privately before. If they want to take it for a test drive, just tell them you’ll trade them keys - yours for theirs. The same thing applies if they want to take it to their mechanic (which is a perfectly reasonable request) to check it out. Just have them leave their car and keys with you while they do.

It’s also possible to accept a personal check by calling the purchaser’s bank while he’s standing there in your living room, and asking them if there’s enough money in the account to cover the check. (Reputable purchasers don’t have a problem with this.)

And then taking it personally straight to HIS bank if possible (not yours) and cashing it.

I’ve never done this with a car, but I did do it with a $400 aquarium setup. Fortunately he had the same bank, so I only had to trot over to my local branch.

If you are worried about someone driving off with the car, you can accompany them on the test drive. There’s no law that says they have to be able to take the car out on their own.

You also probably don’t want to guarantee the car’s condition. Ask a fair price and sell the car as-is. When you buy a car from a private seller you generally don’t expect a warranty. That said, there’s nothing wrong with letting them take the car to a mechanic, but they should pay for the mechanic’s time.

I’m not sure what the rules are in Ohio. In PA you have to have the title notarized when you sign it over. In many other states all you have to do is sign the title over to them. You can call the DMV and ask what the procedure is.

If the buyer gives you a check, wait a week. Also, check that the address on their driver’s license matches the address on the check, and also look their name up in the phone book and make sure the address there matches as well.

Sometimes. But not in Ohio. An Ohio title needs to be notarized when the owner is selling it. So unless you have a notary on hand your best bet is to go to the buyer’s bank. Buyer withdraws cash or buys a cashier’s check, and you use the bank’s notary to assist with executing the title. If the car is 1998 or newer you will also need to complete the odometer disclosure statement on the back of the title so have the mileage reading handy. 1997 or older (10 model years or older) is exempt from the federal odometer disclosure rules.

If buyer wants a mechanic to check out the car, it is not on your dime unless you’re desperate to sell. Otherwise you might buy the mechanic’s time and the buyer says, “Nevermind…” You’re under no obligation to warranty the car, even at most used car dealerships the deals are “buyer beware” or if you’re lucky you may get a 30 day warranty. You’re just someone selling a car, the lack of warranty is reflected in the lower asking price you can command.

Also, go to to get an idea of what the car is worth. Then go to,, etc. to get an idea of what others are asking for a car similar to yours.
If you want to advertise online Craigslist is always free.

And if they want to test drive it just go with them. I doubt they’d say “no, I want to drive it alone.”

A word of warning about cashier’s checks: while they used to be the “gold standard” of payment (short of a wire transfer), there are forgers out there that make superb fakes (we’ve received one). I would be VERY careful about accepting a cashier’s check drawn on an out-of-area bank. Ideally, go with the buyer to his bank when has the check drawn.

The following is in no way meant to discredit the good people at Kelley Blue Book, but you will get a better idea of your car’s value from a Ouija board, hound dog using a stick in his mouth to draw you messages in the dirt, tea leaves, or perhaps astral alignments. Autotrader is a good resource for determining a reasonable asking price, as are or other publications. Kelley is right sometimes, but so will be the hound dog and it’s cuter.

And to add to Raza’s warning about cashier’s checks–even if you accompany your buyer to the bank and are dead sure the check is not a fake, YOUR bank may place a temporary hold on the funds when you deposit it.

What a coincidence. Not 10 minutes ago I just finished buying a car from a private seller. Here’s how she handled it:

  1. Want to take a test drive? Fine. Just let me copy the information off your driver’s license, give me the keys to the car you drove up in and I’ll see you in 30 minutes.

  2. Want to have it inspected by your own mechanic? Fine, either give me the keys to your car, or I’ll drive it to your mechanic myself.

  3. Want to buy it? Fine, I’ll meet you at your bank with the car, the title and the keys,and you can either give me cash or draw a cashier’s check right on the spot.

We’re meeting her at the bank at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. is a good source for valuation as well.

Also, since I live in Ohio, I thought I’d mention this. You can find a notary at a lot of car dealerships. If they won’t do it for you, ask around. I worked at a carry-out, and our owner was a notary, so he did it whenever someone needed it done. He charged about 3-5 dollars per title. Usually, if you were a regular, he’d do it for free (he did it for us when my wife needed a paper notarized for work) - good luck.

Brendon Small

Yep, no to the “Blue book”. Either Edmunds or your ideas.

If you belong to the auto club, why not transfer the car there? And for a small fee they can often inspect it too.

I’ve sold a lot of cars private party. Go to the buyer’s bank & have him get cash for you. This was 25 years ago and it was amazing how many buyers backed out when we got to this part. Nowadays it can’t be any better.

Edmunds is great.
NADA is ok, but keep in mind that it’s by dealers, for dealers.
KBB is junk., and the like are good sources to see what others are asking, not what they sell the car for.

And note that listing on craigslist is free, but your listing goes off the front page almost instantly, and the audience is significantly smaller than these others in most parts of the country. If it works, great, otherwise, list on one of the others.

(My profession is in this field, BTW.)