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How To Safely Sell Your Car To A Stranger In 6 Easy Steps

Follow These Six Steps To Safely Sell Your Car To A Private Buyer

how to safely sell your car

Selling your car to a private party will usually get you a higher price than what a dealership will offer, but if it’s your first time selling a car, you may wonder how to safely sell your car to a stranger. News accounts frequently report instances of car sellers being victimized when meeting up with private buyers. But this doesn’t have to be the case for you. You can follow these six simple steps on how to safely sell your car to a stranger and minimize your risk.

Selling your car on the private market has never been easier. You can post an ad on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or a variety of other online sites. You might even use the old reliable method of sticking a “For Sale” sign in the window and parking it on the street. With either method, you will likely end up working with a total stranger. Follow these six steps to safely sell your car when you are contacted by an interested private buyer.

1. Be Alert For Scams

There are a variety of scams you might encounter when you first post an ad. You might wonder how anybody falls for these scams, but even in the seemingly obvious cases, the players are skilled master manipulators. Here are a few red flags to be on the lookout for.

The Check is More Than The Selling Price

After listing your car, you might get a text saying that your car is perfect — just what the buyer was looking for. He doesn’t even want to see it because he is 1) a soldier in Afghanistan, 2) a missionary in Nigeria, or 3) a diplomat in Belgium. So he wants to buy the car sight unseen by sending a friend, transport driver, or fellow clergyman with a cashier’s check.

But when this friend shows up, the check is for more than your asking price, and they want you to cash the check and give them the difference for the transport fee, a church donation, or to pay import/export fees. If you concede, although the check might cash at the bank, eventually the bank will determine the check was bogus. And then you’ll be out the cash you gave the emissary as well as the car.

The Buyer Offers to List Your Car

Another ploy is if your car doesn’t sell quickly, someone from a “great” website will offer to sell your car by listing it on their site for a small fee. They might even guarantee that they can sell your car within 30 days. But after you wire them the posting fee, you never hear from them again. The posted ad may make it onto a third-rate website with no traffic, which is sure to result in no prospective buyers.

Charity Requests

You may have a kind heart and some “buyer” might tell you a sad story or ask you to donate the car to a “charity.” Be aware that if you sign the title to a person who has no intention of routing it back to the said charity, you have no way of recovering the car or ensuring it ends up at the charity you had intended to benefit.

Requesting an Official Vehicle Report

An interested buyer contacts you and wants to purchase your vehicle. But he asks for an “OVR” — an Official Vehicle Report — and explains that he only buys cars that come with an OVR. He even sends you a link to a website that will only charge you $29.99 for the OVR. The buyer says he’ll reimburse you for the OVR fee. Of course, after purchasing the OVR, you never hear back from the buyer, and they now have your name and credit card number.

Using Escrow Services

The buyer may indicate that they want to use eBay’s escrow service, even if you didn’t list your car on eBay. But eBay doesn’t offer any such escrow service, and when you try to access your “money” the escrow service will not be active.

2. Make A Phone Call

It may be convenient to respond to questions from sellers via text or email. But before arranging to meet a prospective buyer, you should insist on at least one phone call. Though thieves can fake a phone number when texting, it is harder to fake a phone number for a voice call, especially if you insist on calling them back.

Additionally, the phone call can give you clues to the buyer’s interest and knowledge of your car. Many crooks will use sophisticated software “bots” to scan listings for phone numbers and carry on a text “conversation” that seems real and related to your listing. If you get strange texts, be sure to ask the person contacting you which car they are calling about; they often will not know or forget this simple detail.

3. Choose A Public Location

When setting up a place to meet, arrange to meet the buyer at a public location near you. If you have a friend who can go with you all the better, as there is safety in numbers. Don’t drive to an unknown location or one that is far away. Pick a well-lit spot if you have to meet at night.

Consider locations where the public has views of the meeting place and there are likely to be people around. Ideal locations are police and fire stations or even gas stations. Coffee houses are another option as they are usually open at decent hours and have windows for customers to look outside. If during the meeting with your prospective buyer, you have the slightest concern or alarm, go into this safe spot, and seek assistance.

4. Know Your Buyer

When you do meet the buyer ask for their identification, snap a picture with your phone, and send it to a trusted friend who is expecting it. In fact, tell the buyer in advance that you will need to see their identification. If they are leery or raise an objection, move on, and ignore that potential buyer. Eventually, if you do sell the car to them, they would need to provide identification, so this step just ensures that the transaction will go smoothly.

5. Limit The Test Drive

It is normal and expected that the buyer will want to hear the car run and take it for a short test drive. Plan ahead and remove all excess keys from the key ring. Even take the remote fob off if it isn’t needed to start the car. Limit the test drive to the buyer only and ride along with them. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged and easily accessible. Establish in advance where the test drive will go. A few right-hand turns and a short acceleration on a main roadway should be sufficient.

6. Finish The Transaction At The Bank

Cashier’s checks can be easily forged, and currency can be counterfeited just as easily. You should always have the final transaction conducted at a bank. You probably will need to have a notary acknowledge the transfer, in which case the bank is the perfect place.

If the buyer brings cash, take it to the teller and let them count and authenticate the currency. If the buyer wants to deliver a cashier’s check, meet them at their bank and tell them to wait and get the cash there. Watch the teller count the cash for you. If you had a friend come with you to give you a lift home, have them swing by your bank to deposit the cash.

One other thing to be aware of is a potential payment scam where the buyer may suggest sending you the payment via PayPal or a similar site and want your e-mail address and account info. You’ll then get an email verifying that you have received the payment with a link to access the funds. This link sends you to a cloned site that looks legitimate but after you confirm your password, you find the “servers” are down for maintenance, and you just gave the crooks your account password.

Sell Your Car Safely

With these six steps, you know now how to safely sell your car to a stranger. There are always risks when money is involved but with these simple steps, you can minimize your risk and be on the alert for potential scams or fraudulent buyers as you navigate selling your car on the used car market.

About Mark Bach

Mark C. Bach is a well preserved automotive junkie with 30W oil in his veins and remembers feeler gauges and brake springs. He has a love for all things that move, especially old-school muscle cars. Bach covers the car auctions and the automotive scene and writes for a variety of outlets, including Chevy Classics, Round-Up Publications and eBay Motors, and maintains Route66pubco.com.