In June we made a move to a more central city neighborhood in San Francisco where we were guaranteed one garage parking spot (a luxury!) but where street parking is incredibly risky (we see broken glass from bashed windows and side mirrors every day – it’s a real problem in parts of San Francisco). We had 2 cars, so this was an issue.
Our previous apartment was on a quiet street with plenty of street parking so we kept both of our cars purely out of convenience. I had never bought or sold a car before and the idea of selling mine was both daunting and emotional – it was the car that my grandparents gifted me when I turned 16 and (besides my engagement ring) it was my most prized possession. Her name was Rhonda and she was a sweet silver 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid who never let me down.
With that said, I was closing in on 13 wonderful years with Rhonda and I knew it was time to let her go. What I didn’t know was just how much joy selling this car would bring.
So I knew that Rhonda’s time with me was coming to a close but I had NO CLUE how to sell a car. Should I trade it in at a dealership? CarMax? Another online car dealer?
In the end, I chose to use Craigslist.
Considering my car was 10+ years old with 100k+ miles, no dealer was willing to offer me more than $2.5k for her. But when I looked on Craigslist I saw cars in worse condition than mine listed for $3k+ and I knew mine would out-shine the rest. Spoiler alert: I was able to sell my 13 year old car for $4k and the process was far less intimidating than I thought it would be.
Here’s how I did it:
CLEAN THE CAR
First I got to work creating the best listing possible. I removed all personal possessions from the glove compartment and trunk and I paid for a fancy car wash. I had the guy drying my car remove my old parking stickers so that Rhonda would be perfectly clean and ready for a new owner.
TAKE CLEAR PHOTOS
Once she was clean I immediately took her to a parking lot with good lighting to take photos. I took exterior photos from every angle, interior photos to show the condition of the upholstery, a photo of the dashboard, inside of the trunk, and of the front engine area. I also took close-up images of any scratches or imperfections that an interested buyer would ask about when they saw the car in person. I think it’s best to be transparent about what an interested buyer should expect to see when they test drive the car. Lastly, I used photoshop to blur out my license plate in photos (for safety purposes – these were going on the internet after all!) – editing sites like Canva or Picmonkey could work for this too.
WRITE THE LISTING
Next I sorted through all of my car files to pick out the dates of recent work that had been done on the car (e.g., most recent oil change, replaced spark plugs, etc.) to include in my listing. I also went to the Honda website and researched my particular car model so I could accurately list all of the relevant features (air conditioning, power windows and locks, etc.). If you’re interested, here is the copy I used for my listing:
CHOOSE A SAFE LOCATION
I chose a parking lot near my office as the location on the listing because I knew it was a safe public space to meet interested buyers who might want to test drive my car.
OFFER TEST DRIVES
Once posted, the emails started coming fast! I picked an afternoon that I knew my husband would be free to set up appointments with interested buyers to see the car and test drive it. I had each person who test drove the car give me their license during the drive and I had my husband sit in the car with us. This part made me a little bit nervous at first so my advice is to trust your gut and have a plan. Definitely have someone with you when you’re showing the car and create a safe word with that person. If a buyer is giving either of you a weird vibe, use the safe word and have the other person discretely call your phone – pretend it’s an “emergency” and get out.
AGREE ON A MECHANIC
After the test drives, people might want to take your car to their mechanic to have it checked out. You should not have to pay for this service – make sure you agree to the mechanic they choose or suggest taking it to your dealership. The service check cost around $125 when I looked into it at my Honda dealership.
EXCHANGE CASH & SIGN THE TITLE
Next it’s time to weigh offers and set up a time and place to exchange the keys for the cash. I had my buyer meet me at my bank with a cashier’s check. I deposited the check and once it went through I signed the title over to the buyer right then and there (if you don’t know how to do this, I recommend contacting the DMV in your state for instructions). I also printed out a Bill of Sale from the DMV website to fill out for both me and the buyer as a “receipt” of the sale.
After I filled out the title, I took photos of EVERYTHING that we filled out, then I ripped off my portion of the title for ‘Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability’, handed the buyer the keys, and said goodbye. I left the plates on the car (typical to do in CA) but check with your state’s DMV for what’s appropriate.
COMPLETE NOTICE OF TRANSFER AND RELEASE OF LIABILITY
Immediately after the transfer of the car I submitted ‘Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability‘ online. I also called my insurance provider to cancel my coverage for the car and called the DMV to make sure that my notice of transfer and release of liability went through properly. This step is very important – and then you’re done!
It might sound silly but after completing this process I felt empowered, independent and really proud of myself. Best of all? I felt free! I had just pocketed a decent sum of money and no longer held the liability of an aging car or a monthly insurance payment.
Sharing a single car with a spouse might not be an option for everyone, but maybe you have a really expensive car payment that’s weighing you down. Would you consider selling that car and replacing it with a more modest one? I am no car expert and as I mentioned, before this experience I had never bought or sold a car before. If I can figure out how to do it, anyone can. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by financial obligations right now, taking action on minimizing your car payment is definitely worth considering.
Please comment if you have your own personal experience to share, advice, tips, or questions. I’d love to hear from you!
*DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this post is solely based on my personal experience selling my car in California. Please note that I am not providing professional advice. Before taking any action you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from your local DMV or a licensed car salesman.
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