Motor Category Motor: car insurance and finance

About documents needed to sell a car

Many consumers prefer to purchase their cars through private sales in which one car owner agrees to sell his vehicle to another. Through private sales, a buyer is able to negotiate a reasonable price, while a seller is able to screen his buyers and close the deal under his terms. As easy as this may sound, however, there are many documents that both the buyer and seller need to be cognizant of when it comes to selling a car to a private citizen.


Once you and the buyer have ironed out the details of the sale, you must transfer the title to the buyer. You will need to provide her with the documents she needs to file an application for a title transfer through your state's Department of Motor Vehicles. Some states also require that you submit the vehicle's identification number (VIN), odometer recording and a receipt for the vehicle's sale.

Form of Tender

Being a private seller, you are entitled to choose what forms of payment you will or will not accept from a buyer. Engaging in an all-cash sale is the least risky for a seller, though some potential buyers may not have the funds on hand, depending upon your selling price. Cashier's checks are also popular options. Personal checks are not typically recommended unless you are extremely comfortable and confident in the buyer's financial situation.

Vehicle Performance Documents

Every state has different requirements when it comes to maintaining, registering and selling a vehicle. All paperwork, including past performance evaluations and maintenance and repair slips, should be turned over to the vehicle's new owner. This may also include the latest smog certification and oil change documents.


Most states require that the buyer register the used vehicle in his name within 10 days of the final sale. This applies to anyone who purchases or obtains a vehicle from another person, including family members or friends. If the sale involves an out-of-state buyer, that buyer must register the vehicle in his name in his state of residency within 20 days of the final sale. In most states the DMV will automatically send the buyer a new registration slip when he applies for a title transfer.

Receipt and Number Plates

Make sure that both number plates are affixed to the vehicle before completing the sale, as the new owner will need to place his registration stickers on the car once it's registered in his name. You'll also want to provide a receipt to the buyer that includes the year, make, model and colour of the car, along with the seller's full name and buyer's full name. Finally, be sure that the price, method of payment and any special conditions related to the sale are noted on the receipt. It's best to use the seller's notepads that contain three differently coloured copies, which will allow for an original receipt, seller's receipt and buyer's receipt.

About the Author

Nellie Day is a freelance writer based out of Hermosa Beach, Calif. Her work can regularly be seen on newsstands, where her specialties include weddings, real estate, food and wine, pets, electronics, architecture and design, business and travel. Day earned a master's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California.

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