5 Mistakes To Avoid When Selling a Used Car by Yourself

Pitfalls await you as a private seller, but with care, you can smooth the road.

Couple looking at laptop researching in living roomShutterstock

Article QuickTakes:

Thanks to tools like the internet, it can be simple to sell a used car by yourself. Even with the ease of online ads, there are still plenty of pitfalls to circumvent. Here are five common mistakes to avoid.

1. Trying to sell a dirty car

A dirty and cluttered car is unlikely to gain much attention from buyers.

The first step in selling a used car should be a thorough cleaning. Professional detailing isn’t necessary but be sure to take the time to at least run your vehicle through a carwash, clear out any personal items, wipe down the interior surfaces, and vacuum the carpets.

It may take some effort, but you’ll likely reap the rewards of a higher selling price.

2. Posting too few photos and skimping on description

Another common mistake people make when selling a used car on their own is snapping a handful of photos and calling it a day. That's a big mistake, as a comprehensive photo gallery is one of the best ways to provide buyers with an accurate representation of your car. Include full-frame photos of the exterior, wide-angle shots of the interior, a few pictures of the engine and trunk, and detail shots like a close-up of the odometer.

When creating your listing description, it’s important to avoid the mistake of glossing over the specifics. It may be tedious to fill in all the boxes for details like trim level and factory options, but it can go a long way in getting your car in front of the right buyer. Used car shoppers may seek a vehicle with specific features, so be sure to provide as much information as possible.

Also, it’s ideal to mention the bad along with the good. Prospective buyers may want to hear about your car’s recent service or unique equipment, but they can be just as interested in any imperfections it might have. An honest listing description is one tried and true way to prevent unwelcome surprises that could turn off an otherwise interested buyer.

3. Setting a price without research

When selling a used car on your own, do some basic research before setting a price. There are plenty of free resources, such as Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds, to give you a general idea of your car’s value. It’s also a good idea to reference what other people nearby are asking for vehicles similar to yours. If you skip this critical step, you could leave money on the table or price yourself out of the market.

4. Closing the sale without proper paperwork

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when selling a car is to go through the entire process only to find that you lack the proper paperwork to complete the sale. Rules and regulations vary from state to state, but you'll need a clear title of your vehicle (meaning there are no ownership issues or liens that prevent the sale) or critical information about your loan payoff in almost every case before you can transfer ownership. It’s also wise to create a bill of sale to document the details of the transaction. In some states, a notarized signature may be required for the transfer to be legal. You can often find a notary at your local bank, and state-specific templates for bills of sale are widely available on the internet.

A quick internet search will turn up your state’s motor vehicle department website with helpful tips for the items needed to transfer ownership.

5. Delivering the car without having confirmed payment

Don’t hand over the keys and title without verifying the buyer's payment first. The most common forms of payment are cash and a cashier's check, the latter of which can be confirmed by a call to the seller’s bank. It’s wise to complete the transaction at a secure location such as a bank or police station.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
Drew Johnson
I have been a professional automotive enthusiast since 2007, featured on several nationally-recognized sites. I attended Miami University, where I earned a business degree. Car nut at heart.