7 Ways to Protect Yourself When Selling a Car Privately

Selling your car yourself can be easy and profitable, especially if you start with an online ad on Kelley Blue Book’s new Private Seller Exchange. Even so, you’ll want to keep some essential things in mind. Use our simple steps to help protect you and make the process go smoothly.

What’s below isn’t an exhaustive list of everything involved in your sales transaction, as each sale is different. But it contains the top things you’ll want to know in order to be prepared for most, if not all, of the possibilities when selling your car. Be sure to check the laws and regulations in your particular state.

  1. Screen Callers Thoroughly
  2. Take Precautions with the Test Drive
  3. Ensure a Safe Transaction
  4. Maintain a Paper Trail
  5. Block Out Your Personal Information
  6. Complete the Title Transfer
  7. How to Avoid Scams and Fraud When Selling Your Car Privately

1. Screen Callers Thoroughly

Listing your car on Kelley Blue Book’s Private Seller Exchange marketplace, shared with its sister site Autotrader, may bring emails, texts, and calls from interested parties. We suggest that you insist on speaking to the most serious buyers over the phone before scheduling a test drive. A conversation will allow you to screen potential buyers. Also, you can ask several questions, such as their needs and if their financing is lined up. Invite buyers to ask questions, which will help gauge their seriousness about your car.

Take precautions with anyone who offers to buy your car sight unseen. Of course, it’s easier to sell to someone you can meet in person in your area. But these days, more car buyers need to stretch their boundaries. When using Kelley Blue Book’s Private Seller Exchange, the service you pay for handles the transfer of funds and the car title, making it easy for sellers. More on that below.

For your protection, check your insurance coverage to ensure it extends to other drivers and mention over the phone that you’ll need to see the potential buyer’s driver’s license before handing over your keys.

RELATED: How to Sell a Car: 10 Steps for Success

2. Take Precautions With the Test Drive

If the caller seems legitimate, ready to buy, and wants to set up a test drive, pick a safe, central meet-up location in a public place, ideally near a relaxed test drive route. Always plan ahead and ask a friend or family member to join you for the ride. Meet prospective buyers during the day in a public area (such as the parking lot of a police station, mall, or near their bank). Park the car in a high-traffic area where people can see you.

Plan a test drive that’s short and sticks to populated areas. Most buyers don’t expect an extended test drive. If your buyer wants more time, let the person ask you for it.

Before the test drive, don’t forget to ask to see the prospective buyer’s license. Typically, it’s advisable to accompany the driver on the test drive — regardless of what kind of collateral they offer in exchange for driving it. These steps help take the guesswork out of the test drive when it happens.

3. Ensure a Safe Transaction

If the person seems serious about buying the car, they will likely want to negotiate the price. Ideally, you’ve discussed forms of payment in advance.

When selling your car yourself, refuse any unusual requests, such as driving the would-be buyer to another location. Often, such a request gets framed for obtaining money or arranging a loan to complete the sale. Instead, let the buyer make their own arrangements with the service. Then, you can ask the person to contact you when ready to conclude the sale.

Due to safety reasons, be sure not to do test drives that begin and end at your home. Prepare the paperwork beforehand and keep the car’s title unsigned and out of sight, even if using the Private Seller Exchange service.

If not using the Private Seller Exchange service, be sure the form of payment is legitimate. Stick to well-known payment options, like a cashier’s check.

Touchless payment options may also be available, depending on vehicle cost:

  • Zelle
  • Venmo
  • PayPal
  • CashApp

These online payment services allow users to send and receive funds directly and securely without exchanging bank information. If the person prefers to provide a cashier’s check, these payments are generally safer and less susceptible to fraud than certified checks.

Escrow Services

Beware of fraudulent escrow services. Private Seller Exchange handles the transfer of funds using a secure escrow service.

However, if selling peer-to-peer and not using the service, an escrow service holds the buyer’s payment for a fee until the seller has delivered the item purchased. Such a third-party service can protect both parties from fraud. However, scammers often set up fake escrow services. For example, they claim an affiliation with well-known companies like Kelley Blue Book and TRUSTe to create a sense of security. Kelley Blue Book, however, does not endorse any escrow services, and TRUSTe does not operate an escrow service.

Tips Before You Agree to an Escrow Service

What You Need To Know About Escrow Services

  • What the escrow service charges.
  • Which party pays the escrow fees.
  • What conditions must be met before the payment gets released to the seller.

If any escrow-related email or website implies an affiliation with Kelley Blue Book by displaying our logo or by other means, report it to KBB.com and law enforcement.

Using Private Seller Exchange

Here’s what you can expect when selling a vehicle on Kelley Blue Book’s Private Seller Exchange.

  • The marketplace checks IP addresses, emails, phone numbers, and uses Stripe to verify IDs to ensure a safe transaction with all buyers and sellers.
  • Buyers submit payments online, while sellers securely receive funds by one of the following methods: wire transfer or other electronic transfer of funds,  credit or debit card.
  • The service pays off your loan, providing a seamless transfer of ownership to the buyer.
  • Buyers can drive the vehicle home after the test drive. Just take precautions and follow the steps provided to ensure the transaction is complete. Read below for title transfer.
  • PRO TIP:  To complete a sale or purchase using the Private Seller Exchange, both seller and buyer must first complete and pass ID Verification. It’s best to do that before meeting to speed up the sale.

4. Maintain a Paper Trail

It’s essential to keep a paper trail when selling a car. At a dealership, the paperwork gets handled for you. When you sell a vehicle to an individual, it’s your responsibility to ensure the transfer gets dealt with properly. Doing the legwork upfront can eliminate hassles down the road.

Each state has different rules regarding proper title transfer, but most require the seller and buyer to fill out paperwork to ensure the transfer is legal. If using the Private Seller Exchange, the service will securely transfer the title for you. However, if you do not use the service, read on.

In many states, the seller signs the back of the existing title, along with the date, sales price, and exact odometer reading, before handing it over to the buyer. You should also make a copy of the signed title (both sides) for your records.

RELATED: How to Sell a Car Without a Title

PRO TIP: An accurate odometer reading is critical when you sell. Once you sign off on the title, the odometer reading provides proof of the moment in time the car is no longer legally yours. Don’t round it up — the buyer could have an accident within two miles of the sale and claim you are responsible.

Most states recommend buyers and sellers complete a “bill of sale” along with a “release of liability” form to provide proof of the transfer and protect the seller from future tickets, violations, or other problems with the vehicle. DMV.org, a clearinghouse of all state DMVs, provides a sample Bill of Sale and Release of Liability information.

Send in the signed “release of liability” to your state DMV. This is important to ensure that the seller is not held responsible for anything that happens to the vehicle after the sale.

In many states, you must turn in your license plates to the DMV and get a receipt, which cancels the vehicle registration in your name. Whatever you do, remove the plates from the vehicle before you release the car.

5. Block Out Your Personal Information

Before you hand over any service records to the buyer, be sure to block out any personal information. Using a black permanent marker, you can cross out vital information you do not want public. If you originally bought the car from a dealer, remove any contracts or completed credit applications from your glove compartment or owner’s manual. In the wrong hands, this is a perfect tool for identity theft, as it may contain your social security number and previous address information.

6. Complete the Title Transfer

Kelley Blue Book’s Private Seller Exchange securely transfers your car’s title. However, if you are not using it, check with your state’s rules regarding title transfer. In many states, the seller must sign the vehicle’s title to the buyer. Then, the buyer needs to complete the following:

  • Register the car
  • Pay transfer fees, including state taxes

All steps can be completed at a DMV or local tag office location.

Most states require the seller to provide the buyer with a recent vehicle smog check showing it passed or a state inspection certificate before transferring ownership. Be sure to have these papers available at the time of sale. (You can find your state’s rules on title transfer here.)

Some states also recommend that sellers take the additional step of notifying the county tax assessor’s office of the vehicle sale, which provides another layer of protection if the future owner fails to title the vehicle appropriately.

Remember that the overwhelming majority of private car sales go off without a hitch — delivering more money for the seller than a trade-in offer. But like any transaction, staying smart and taking preventive measures is essential.

7. How To Avoid Scams and Fraud When Selling Your Car

The internet is a fantastic tool, but it can also invite scams and fraud, just as people can. If you have questions or suspect fraud or scams when selling a car yourself, please email [email protected]. Or call the Fraud Prevention Team at 1-877-210-5209.

You can also check out our tips below for avoiding scams and fraud.

What To Do If You Suspect Fraud

Kelley Blue Book investigates submitted reports to protect our customers against future fraud. We support law enforcement agencies in prosecuting internet criminals and work diligently to prevent fraud.

Government Agencies That Address Concerns About Fraud 

Tips on Spotting a Scam

No foolproof way to prevent fraud exists, but awareness can be your best defense. Review our tips below and use your best judgment in all transactions.

TIP 1 

Beware of email requests for personal or financial information.

Online fraud often begins with a scam email requesting financial information. These emails, also known as spoofs, often impersonate a reputable company, such as Kelley Blue Book, by illegally displaying a company’s name, logo, or trademark.

The intent is to deceive customers into revealing information such as:

  • Username
  • Password
  • Social security number
  • Bank account number
  • Bank routing number
  • Credit card number

The only time Kelley Blue Book, or KBB.com, will ever request your credit card information is when you’re purchasing a listing on our website. We will not remove your listing because you don’t provide account information. If you receive an email asking for the information listed above, don’t respond. Instead, report the email to us; if it’s fraudulent, report it to law enforcement.


Beware of emails implying Kelley Blue Book, or KBB.com, is selling, buying, shipping, or warehousing vehicles.

We don’t own, buy, sell, warehouse, or ship vehicles listed on our site. Simply put, we help facilitate transactions between buyers and sellers.

Any email that requests a deposit or payment for a transaction or shipment of a car stored in a KBB.com warehouse is a scam. KBB.com doesn’t own a vehicle warehouse, and we don’t ship cars. Many reputable warehousing and shipping services can make long-distance transactions easy. Just be sure to check out the services proposed on your own.

If you receive an email implying we’re selling or buying a vehicle, or a seller recommends a bogus warehousing or shipping service, please report it to us and law enforcement.


Beware of requests for payment to enter sweepstakes.

KBB.com may offer promotional contests occasionally, but we do not require payment to enter a sweepstakes or to claim a prize. If you receive an email that claims we’re holding a promotional contest or sweepstakes, check our website for accurate information. If you don’t get confirmation from us that we’re hosting a contest, don’t participate.

Don’t click any links embedded in email messages. A link may look correct, but its code could take you to a different website. Copy and paste a link into your browser’s address bar.

If you’ve received a fraudulent email involving a promotional contest, report the email to Kelley Blue Book and law enforcement.

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