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What’s The Best Way To Sell A Car in California?

Thinking about selling your car in California? The good news is that there are a ton of options for selling your vehicle. The bad news is that it might get a little complicated. We’ve broken down the various methods you could use, plus included a quick guide on how to sell privately. 

Sell privately

Pros: The best way to get the most money for your vehicle

Cons: Requires a lot of research, prep, and legwork on your part 

Sell to a dealership

Pros: Little-to-no effort on your part, can walk away with cash immediately

Cons: Might not get the best deal for your vehicle

Sell to CarMax

Pros: Reliable, offers fair appraisals 

Cons: You only have seven days to decide if you want to accept CarMax’s offer, or if you want to try selling the vehicle yourself (or get a better offer elsewhere)

Use Autotrader 

Pros: Can use their Instant Cash Offer, which lets you sell your vehicle at a local participating dealer after receiving an instant online appraisal

Cons: Might not be available in your area

Use WeBuyCars

Pros: They come to you, provide an instant appraisal, and take the vehicle away that same day

Cons: Might not get the best offer 

Trade vehicle in

Pros: Easiest solution 

Cons: Worst of all the pricing options; you’ll be getting wholesale value vs. retail value (when you sell privately). 

Selling privately? Here’s our guide for selling a car in California below:

Man holding money
Man holding money

Step 1: Figure out how much your vehicle is worth

Before you even begin to think about selling your car, you need to know how much your vehicle is worth, and whether or not selling will be profitable (versus simply trading the vehicle in). You can estimate your vehicle’s worth from websites like Kelley Blue Book, Autotrader, and NADA Guides.

When pricing your vehicle, it can be helpful to check existing online ads for cars like yours. Once you’ve completed that step, use Edmunds Appraisal tool to find out a fair value for your car. 

Step 2: Have the right documentation

To sell your car in California, you’ll need to have the following documentation:

  • Title (you’ll need to sign this and give it to the new owner)
  • Maintenance records (although not necessary, having maintenance records on hand will increase the value and trustworthiness of your vehicle)
  • Release of ownership (sign on the appropriate line on the title certificate)
  • Release of liability (keeps you from being responsible for damages after the vehicle is sold)
  • Valid smog certificate (if you renewed your registration in the last 90 days before the official transfer and you already submitted a smog certificate, you do not need a new one. You will, however, need to sign a document that states this)
  • Odometer reading (if car is less than 10 years old)
  • Bill of sale (good to have in case of a dispute)
  • Warranties
  • As-is documentation (if there are no warranties, you’ll want to confirm that the new owner will be responsible for all repairs and damages once the vehicle is sold)

Step 3: Clean the vehicle

You want to put your best foot forward for the potential buyer. Clean the interior and exterior of the vehicle before putting pictures online.

Working on laptop and phone
Working on laptop and phone

Step 4: Advertise the sale

Take pictures and write up a description (the more detailed information, the better). Here are some things you should think about including in your write-up:

  • Asking price (is your price firm or will you accept the best offer?)
  • Mileage
  • Vehicle condition
  • Accident or damage history
  • Modifications or upgrades
  • Repairs
  • VIN number
  • Number of owners (if applicable)

When advertising your vehicle online, it’s best to post to multiple sources. Here are some reputable sites for selling:

  • eBay Motors (free)
  • Cars.com
  • Autotrader.com
  • Craigslist (free)
  • Print advertising (such as a “For Sale” sign with a phone number)
  • Social media (Facebook Marketplace) 

Step 5: Screen and meet with buyers

This is the hard part. Once you’ve posted the ad, you’ll likely start getting a good number of inquiries. It’s up to you to weed through the noise and let serious buyers through to the test driving stage. Another thing to consider is: do you want to respond by email or by phone? It might be good to mention that in your ad as well. 

When you’re meeting with potential buyers, make sure you’re emphasizing the benefits of your car. Don’t get overzealous, though; car buyers will be naturally skeptical, so it’s good to be upfront and honest. 

Step 6: Negotiate price

If your ad stated that the price is negotiable, this is where you start negotiating on price. Always start with a price that’s higher than what you’re willing to accept, and have an absolute lowest amount in mind. 

Signing documents
Signing documents

Step 7: Finalize the sale

Once you’ve finalized the sale and accepted the form of payment, you’ll need to hand over copies of the paperwork mentioned in Step 2 to the new owner. The buyer will be responsible for completing the ownership transfer with the California DMV. 

You will need to notify the California DMV that you no longer own the car. To do so, complete the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability online within five days of the sale. 

Step 8: Remove the vehicle from your insurance policy 

Don’t forget this important final step! 

Images sourced in order of appearance: Kyler Boone, Vitaly Taranov,William IvenHelloquence.

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