Finalizing the Sale

Transferring ownership to the buyer is easy, but details vary by state. We list a few guidelines regarding this part of the transaction, but check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles for location-specific details:

  • Before potential buyers take their first look at your car, make sure you have the title in your possession — provided the car is paid off. You'll need to sign this over to the new owner. If you don't know where your title is or how to obtain one, see Prepping Your Car.
  • Ownership-transfer legalities vary from state to state, so get the details from your local DMV.
  • To avoid future liability, notify the DMV that you sold your car. States have different mechanisms for gathering this information — some require you to file a notice of sale after you've signed over the title to the new owner. Make sure you research your local requirements completely and fulfill every condition.
  • It's a good idea to fill out a bill of sale, even though it doesn't legally transfer ownership. Some states make this a requirement. A bill of sale lists the car's vehicle identification number, a description of the car, the date of sale, the purchase price, and the names and signatures of both parties in the transaction.
  • Make copies of all paperwork.
Turning Over Your Car to the Buyer

You decided to post an ad and you found a buyer — now it's time to say goodbye to your car. A few last-minute reminders:

  • Don't jump the gun; make sure the sale is secure. If you accepted payment via a cashier's check, follow the steps in the Securing Safe Payment section to ensure it's valid before you sign over the title. If you used an escrow service, wait until it tells you that payment has been received.
  • If you're dealing with an out-of-town buyer, arrange for that person to pick up the vehicle, or consider employing a professional delivery service. Delivery services transport vehicles on large hauling trucks. Prices vary depending on the length of the transport and the vehicle's weight. The cost usually starts at about $500. Work out the cost and payment issues with the buyer first.
  • In most states, license plates stay with the seller, not the car, though California is a notable exception. If the plates remain with the original owner, remove them so you don't retain a legal tie to the car. If the plates stay with the car, you need to fill out the proper paperwork at the Department of Motor Vehicles so the plates transfer to the new owner.
  • Call your insurance company and have the vehicle removed from your policy.
  • As long as you were forthright with information about your car in the selling process, you shouldn't be liable for anything once the sale is complete. In most states, the law assumes that private-party sales carry "as is" status. Still, it doesn't hurt to get that understanding in writing. Have both parties sign off before the transaction is complete.
© Cars.com 4/26/13