What Paperwork Do I Need to Sell a Car?

202206 what paperwork do i need to sell car scaled jpg Paperwork to sell a car | illustration by Paul Dolan

The inventory shortage has boosted used-car values, which means selling your car now might bring in more money than you’d expect. Assuming you already have a plan for replacing your vehicle, the extra cash from the sale can go a long way. When preparing to sell in the current landscape, time is of the essence — especially if you have your eye on a new car. Make sure you’re ready to hand over the keys when a good offer presents itself by gathering essential documents like the car’s title and bill of sale.

Related: How to Transfer Ownership When You Sell Your Car

There are also some additional items that aren’t required for selling a car but can increase the vehicle’s value in the eyes of a buyer: a vehicle history report, maintenance records and extended warranty details. Getting all your docs in a row prior to listing the car or heading to the dealership translates to a faster sale (and potentially more cash in your pocket).  

Car Title

The most important document you’ll need when selling a vehicle is the title; trying to sell a car without one can pose a challenge. The title serves as legal proof of ownership and includes details like the car’s make, model, year and vehicle identification number. Selling a vehicle privately without proof of ownership is illegal in many states, plus you could be held liable for any traffic and toll violations incurred by the new owner. If you’re missing the title, you’ll want to find it or get it replaced prior to the sale.

If you still owe money on the vehicle, the lienholder is likely listed on the title and may physically hold the title until the loan is paid off. If you’re trading in your car, the dealership can handle the details of paying the lender and obtaining the title. Selling privately without a title in hand involves more steps: You’ll need to get the payoff amount from the lender and determine the protocols for the transaction.

Bill of Sale

Some states also require the seller to present a bill of sale to the buyer. A bill of sale typically includes information like the car’s VIN, a detailed description of the car, the date of the sale and the purchase price; it should be signed by both parties when the car is sold. Unlike the title transfer, a bill of sale doesn’t legally transfer vehicle ownership. Instead, it outlines the conditions of the sale and serves as a receipt for the buyer and a waiver of liability for the seller. Even if a bill of sale is not required in your state, it’s smart to complete one. Templates are available to download on most states’ DMV websites.

The Extras

When selling a vehicle privately, presenting some additional documents can give the buyer more confidence, help the car sell faster and potentially increase its value. These items include a vehicle history report, maintenance records and any transferable warranties.

A vehicle history report uses the car’s VIN to pull information like the number of past owners, total miles and any previous accident or repair history. Sharing the vehicle’s maintenance records with the buyer shows that you were diligent with routine maintenance and repairs, giving them insight into the car’s reliability. Don’t worry if you didn’t save all your maintenance receipts, you can contact your service department and ask them to share the records with you.

Finally, if the vehicle is still under the manufacturer’s warranty, the remaining warranty coverage can be transferred to the new owner, bringing reassurance and added value to the sale. While a factory warranty is tied to a vehicle’s VIN and should automatically transfer to the new owner, transferring a third-party extended warranty involves more steps — and sometimes a fee. Gather your warranty details, including contact information for the warranty company, then inquire about the steps to transfer it when you’re ready to sell the car.

Proof of Sale

After you successfully sell your vehicle, there may be one more document to complete in order to waive all liability: Some states require that you report the vehicle sale to the DMV within a specified number of days. For example, sellers in California have five days to complete a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form, which can be found on the DMV’s website; sellers in Illinois should complete a Notice of Sale form as soon as the vehicle sale is final. Make sure to check your state’s DMV for paperwork requirements following the sale.

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Former News Editor Jane Ulitskaya joined the team in 2021, and her areas of focus included researching and reporting on vehicle pricing, inventory and auto finance trends. Email Jane Ulitskaya

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