How to Sell a Car in Washington

Trying to sell a  car in Washington? Need a refresher course on getting the best price for your vehicle? No problem, we’ve got you covered in this handy guide. Below, we take you through the necessary steps to price your car, prepare the documents, and find buyers all the way to completing the sale!

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The Guide to Sell a Car in Washington is an in-depth tutorial on how to get the most money selling your car on the private market in Washington State. Following the included instructions will reduce the time investment, uncertainty and stress a transaction of this size can typically cause.

Step 1. Set a Price for Your Car

The first thing you need to do is figure out what your car is worth. A good place to start is free online resources such as Car Graphs, Kelly Blue Book, and Craigslist. The five major factors that contribute to the price of your vehicle are:

  • Condition – What kind of mechanical and cosmetic shape is your car in?
  • Location – What is the market you are selling in? People on the east side of the state may prefer a certain type of car more than those living in Seattle.
  • Year – The model year of your car
  • Make – Brand of your car
  • Model – Specific designation of your car within a range of models (Usually differentiated by size or capability)
  • Mileage – How many miles does your car have?

Try to find comparable sales/listings by looking for listings that are similar to your car by make, model & miles. Determine a value range for your vehicle based on sale listings. Local preferences also have an effect on prices so looking at listing near your zip code can give you a better idea of what the car is worth in your area of the country.   

Step 2. Gather Documents

Once you have determined the value range for your vehicle sale, there are various documents you need to collect before you are ready to sell. Collect all the documents listed below and have them available for the buyer:

  • Title
    • If you have lost your title, go to your local DMV and apply for a duplicate title ahead of time.
    • If you have a loan or lease, your title document is held by the bank. So, you have two options. You can either:
      • 1: repay your loan and collect your title before listing your car for sale. This takes 30 to 45 days. Or you can,
      • 2: find a buyer who is willing to pay for your vehicle and wait 30 to 45 days to receive the title. If you do the latter, keep in mind that many buyers will be unwilling to pay you before you can provide them with the title. Also, keep it mind that it’s important to double check with your bank to know whether your payoff amount is more than your car’s likely selling value. If it is more then you are likely to be “underwater” on your loan/lease, and you should make sure that you will have enough money to pay off your loan/lease. If you don’t, then you’re not ready to sell (and you’ll have to keep making payments).
      • It’s also worth noting that when you sell as a private party, your buyer will most likely not be able to take out a loan themselves to pay for your car. That said, private market car buyers are generally aware of this limitation and choose to take the risk of buying with cash on the private market anyway to get a lower price than a dealership would charge.
  • Bill of Sale
  • If you have a warranty, check to see whether it’s transferable. If so, it’s valuable to your buyer! Collect your warranty documents
  • Maintenance records, the more the better
  • CARFAX Report
    • Consider running a CARFAX report on your car for $40 and printing out for your buyers to review your vehicle’s history. Providing buyers assurance will help you get more money
  • Inspection Report
    • Consider having a “buyer’s inspection” performed for $40 to $200 at a local mechanic, and keep the records for what they find. Again, providing buyers assurance will help you get more money for your vehicle

Step 3. List Your Car for Sale

  • The next step is to consider how you will handle marketing for your car sale.
    • It’s time to find a place to advertise. This can get somewhat pricey, but we recommend using as many outlets as possible like Autotrader, Car Gurus, and EbayMotors are all good choices. You can also go with free options like Craigslist or TRED.  
  • Clean your car. Remove stickers from outside and french fries from under seats!
  • Create your listing
    • Photos
      • To make your listing look professional, we recommend at least four exterior and four interior photos. Exterior photos look best when you back up and get low. Back up at least 0 feet from your vehicle and take photos from bumper height.
    • Asking price
      • We recommend listing for 10% above the price you wish to achieve, which will leave you room to negotiate with your buyers
    • Description
      • Be descriptive about your car’s condition. If you purchased a Carfax or an inspection, mention that in your vehicle description. If your car has blemishes such as rust, dents larger than a first or interior stains/rips, we recommend that you include photographs. Providing an accurate description of your vehicle’s quality will speed your selling process and minimize surprises once you start meeting buyers offline.
      • If you have performed any modifications to your car, mention them in your description.
      • If your car has been in any accidents or had recent repairs performed, mention them in your description.
      • Include your VIN number and number of owners in your description.
      • In general, the more info you provide the better.

Step 4. Show Your Car

  • Screen potential buyers and set up test drives.
    • Ask buyers how they intend to pay for your vehicle and do your best to assure yourself that they are a serious buyer. Work with your buyer to agree on a mutually agreeable time and place to meet for a test drive.
    • Before allowing any buyers in your vehicle for a test drive, be sure to check their driver’s license and insurance information.
    • Items to bring to your test drive:
      • A pen
      • All documentation mentioned above
      • A screwdriver (to remove your license plates when you sell your vehicle)
      • A ride home if you sell your car on the spot
  • Negotiate a selling price.

Step 5. Sell Your Car

  • Now is time to finalize the deal!
    • Collect payment
      • Collecting large payments on the private market can be tricky. To avoid fraud, we recommend that you do not accept personal checks, bank checks or cashier’s checks, and for your safety, we recommend that you do not even accept cash. Instead, we recommend that you use Paypal, Venmo, or some other online payment platform that you trust.
    • Sign over the title and give it to your buyer
      • As mentioned above, if you have a loan/lease that you haven’t already repaid, you will need to ask your buyer whether they are comfortable waiting 30 to 45 days to collect your vehicle’s title while you repay and collect it. If they are not, you will need to find another buyer who is, or repay your loan/lease in advance of collecting payment from your buyer.
    • Complete a bill of sale
      • You will fill out a portion and your buyer will fill out a portion. Keep a copy for your records.
    • Provide warranty and maintenance records
    • Remove your license plates
      • If you don’t do this, and your buyer gets a speeding ticket, parking ticket or incurs a toll, guess where the bills get sent?
    • Hand over the keys

Step 6. Report the Sale

Cancel your insurance policy and make sure to report your sale to Washington State. This is an important step that many people forget and it needs to be done within 5 business days of the day you sell your car. Reporting your sale protects you from any fines or penalties that the new owner incurs. Go here to report your sale:

Things you’ll need to report your sale:

    • License plate number
    • Date of the sale
    • Sale price – if applicable
    • Name and address of the person or organization who took ownership of the vehicle
    • Email address and/or printer
    • Vehicle ID number (VIN) *optional

Also, remember to cancel your insurance policy. You don’t want to pay for coverage on a car you no longer own!

So there you have it, six steps to sell a car in Washington state for top dollar. Did we stress you out? Does it all sound too complicated? Don’t fret, we’d be happy to help, simply click the orange button below to get started. And happy selling!

Sell your car for thousands more than Craigslist or the dealer with TRED. Sell my car