Skip to main content

What paperwork is needed to sell a car?

minute read

    You’re all set to sell your car, but one thing is standing in your way — the dreaded paperwork. Selling your car can be aggravating, but the documentation doesn't need to be part of the problem. If you're wondering “what paperwork do I need to sell my car?”, we'll provide the answer below. You'll also learn how to organize the required documents in a timely fashion so you can finalize the sale smoothly when the right buyer comes along.

    Suggested paperwork for selling a car

    While you need some paperwork before legally selling your car, some additional documents might help you sell your car faster, for a higher price and assure the buyer they’re getting a good deal. 

    Vehicle history report

    Providing a car history to potential buyers can get you a lot more looks and possibly speed up a sale. The more buyers know, the better they might feel. Running a check on the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can provide a car history from the day it left the factory. You can obtain a vehicle history report from various online sites.

    Warranty paperwork

    Car warranties come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from bumper-to-bumper coverage to limited big-ticket repairs. Depending on the term of the plan, a warranty could add considerable value to your car. So, if you don't know what contract you purchased with your vehicle, or if you bought any at all, it might be worth digging a little.

    Most new car and extended warranties are transferable, but the processes can differ for each provider, so read through the fine print of your contract. If the vehicle is out of warranty, let the buyer know that the sale is “as is.”

    Service and maintenance records

    Advertising that your vehicle received proper maintenance might attract buyers, but having proof could clinch the deal. Provide receipts or statements from dealerships or repair shops, or if you did the car's maintenance yourself, then provide receipts from purchases you made and written logs of dated repairs.

    Owner’s manual

    With all the information accessible via the internet, a written manual might seem archaic. But it sure can come in handy when you get stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire and a dead cellphone, and you can't figure out how to release the car jack. An owner's manual is an excellent back-up to have in the glovebox and a nice document to hand over to the new car owner. 

    What paperwork do I need to sell my car privately?

    When preparing to sell your automobile, you should have all the required documents so you can legally transfer ownership. Here's a checklist of what paperwork may be required when selling a car privately.

    Automobile title

    The title might be the most crucial document needed when selling your car, as it represents the right of ownership. If you misplaced or lost your title, check with your state motor vehicle department to apply for a duplicate. Get your title by selecting which of the following circumstances apply to you:

    • You own the car outright: If you don't owe any money on the vehicle, then you already have the title in your possession. After making a deal with the buyer, fill out the title's transfer portion and sign it. Some states require the document to be notarized, so check with your state’s motor vehicle department where you live.
    • You have a car loan: If you owe money on the vehicle, then the lien holder possesses the title. Call the bank to notify them of the pending sale and get the payoff amount of the loan. When you pay the balance due, you will receive the title and can sign it over to the buyer.  

    Odometer reading

    Federal law requires the seller of an automobile to provide an odometer disclosure to the purchaser at the time of sale. Some states allow you to give the current mileage reading right on the car title, while others require a separate notarized form. Check with your state’s motor vehicle department to determine their requirements.

    Bill of sale

    While many states don't require a bill of sale, providing one might be a good idea because it documents the transaction between seller and buyer, providing a comprehensive list of the terms and conditions of the sale in writing. Consider adding these items when creating a bill of sale:

    • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
    • Vehicle description
    • Odometer reading
    • Purchase price
    • Delivery date
    • Statement of as-is
    • Signatures of the buyer and seller

    State-specific documents you need when selling a car

    What paperwork is required when selling a car privately? Every state has different guidelines for selling a vehicle, so check with your state’s motor vehicle department to confirm you meet all regulations. Here are some additional items your state might require:

    • Emissions certificate: Emissions testing has grown more prevalent throughout the United States, especially in more heavily populated areas. If your car is required to pass safety or emissions testing to stay on the road, then providing documentation to the buyer might be required as well.
    • Release of liability: If a buyer drives away in the car you just sold them and gets into an accident or receives a violation ticket, you could be held responsible. Many state websites offer a liability release form that you can submit online or print a copy and fill it out on the day of the sale.
    • Notice of transfer: A transfer form tells your state’s motor vehicle department that you are no longer responsible for the car and, once completed, releases you from any liability through the state. Even if the owner fails to turn in the new title or register the vehicle, the state no longer lists you as the owner.
    • As-is documents: Most states presume used cars sell "as is," meaning there are no guarantees after the sale. Some states require a separate paper, signed by both parties, detailing the car's condition and an agreed understanding between buyer and seller.

    In summary

    Selling your car to a dealer or trading it in could eliminate many of the required documents when selling to a private party. Taking your vehicle to a local dealership for an appraisal could bring a surprising offer. It might be less money than you can get from an individual, but you might decide that eliminating the extra paperwork is worth it. 

    What to read next