May 102011

I’m currently selling my 2001 530i private party, and I recently bought a 2002 M5 the same way. When it comes to cars, if convenience is paramount to you and you don’t mind spending more when purchasing or losing money on a trade-in, stop reading this post now.

But if you can devote just a little time and effort, private party is the best way way to go whether buying or selling.  It makes either kind of transaction easier and less stressful as well.

I’ve talked previously on this blog about how to be an educated buyer of cars — here on the M5 purchase and here when Gabriele bought her new Highlander. Now that I’ve been on the other side the past couple of weeks, here are some tips.

Save on advertising costs and go where the buyers are — Don’t make potential buyers come to you, go to them. This is the same counsel I give clients with their social media content. There are forums and online communities focused on all types of cars, not just BMWs. Nissan, Honda, Ford — almost every brand is represented. The enthusiasts are out there and gathered in easy to find communities. They are the primary audience if your car is in good shape.

Note — dealers understand this concept well. In fact, some of them cruise forums looking to pick up cars wholesale, clean up and sell those vehicles retail. Check out this  discussion thread from on that topic – one company has captured a very big chunk of the used M5 market this way.

When it comes to placing a broader ad, skip the paid listings and post your car on Craigslist. It works, which is a big reason the classifieds in the papers have died. It’s inconvenient to have to repost every seven days, but I can see how it controls a bunch of dead listings. I also ran into some pretty sophisticated spam, but Craigslist does warns you to be careful in each reply email from an interested party.

One “buyer” responded to my ad, I replied, then I was emailed a link, telling me he was ready to buy but said my car was listed elsewhere on Craiglist. I was multitasking at the time and came close to clicking on the link, before I realized what was happening. Who knows what virus that link could have caused.

Be Transparent — it’s the right thing and the smart thing — Disclose everything about your vehicle, and be realistic about your expectations. It’s been said that when buying a used car the seller is really evaluating you as much as the vehicle. I’m not saying be naive, just be upfront about all details regarding the vehicle. If a potential buyer feels you’ve been honest, the negotiations will be much more positive.

Also, in some states there is the potential for a Lemon Law liability if you deliberately conceal a defect, even with a private party used car “as is” sale. More states are extending protections to used vehicles. It’s not all that likely but is another reason to do the right thing.

Think about the transaction details ahead of time — Don’t leave important details for the last minute. For example, when you hand over the title and take your license plates off the vehicle, how does the new owner legally drive his or her new car  home? Do you or don’t you need a bill of sale? How do you make sure the check is good or the funds clear prior to handing over the title?

Here are a couple of interesting nuggets I learned for the state of Virginia. You are not required to get a bill of sale, but if you don’t the state will go off Blue Book value to compute the sales tax, they will ignore the price written on the title! And there is something called a trip permit the new owner can get from a local DMV office for $5, which enables them to drive the unregistered car legally for three days.

Those potentially useful links for Virginia residents: 

Bill of Sale form:

Trip Permit information:

The Golden Rule — Most of us remember this one, treat others as you’d like to be treated. So you need to be patient with people who ask lots of questions, seem highly interested, then disappear without a trace. You need to answer every question, even when a careful read of your Craigslist ad would answer most of them. And you need to be as flexible as possible with requests for prepurchase inspections, which is a totally reasonable request from an interested prospect (paid for by them of course).

There is no denying the adversarial element in the relationship between car buyer and seller. But if you follow the advice above, you’ll get a better price than if you traded you car in, and you just might enjoy the experience as well.

UPDATE 5/23– New owner took possession this past weekend – many happy miles Craig! Edit to above information about the VA three day trip permit — despite what the DMV web site says,  Craig was not able to get a permit since he was not a resident of Virginia. He had to register the car here, then he’ll transfer registration to his home state of Indiana.

I offered to let him use my plates, but this was the only legal way for him to drive home. Something to know if you sell your car to someone out of state.

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