Do You Need a Bill of Sale To Sell Your Car Privately?

May 17, 2010

More Americans are selling their cars on their own instead of trading them in. It’s another consequence of the economic downturn. Yet most of us only sell a handful of cars in our lifetime. Learning how to do it is a process.

One of the most difficult areas for private sellers to navigate is to safely complete the paperwork. Common concerns are, “Is it legal?” “Am I fully protected?” One of the most common questions I’m asked is if a bill of sale is actually needed.

It Depends…

Did you know that in most states a bill of sale does not actually transfer legal ownership of your car to the new buyer when you sell it privately? For those states, the actual transfer is done through the DMV. However, some states require a bill of sale for a private deal to be completed.

When I was researching my new book on how to sell your car online, I discovered that most experts recommend that you complete a bill of sale  whether your state requires one or not. Here is why, and it comes right out of my book, HELP! I Gotta Sell My Car NOW!:

  • A Bill of Sale makes the sales transaction explicit by identifying what is for sale,                         any conditions attached, and the price.

Selling Privately?

If you plan on selling your vehicle privately, it could be useful to know what a bill of sale should include in case you want to create your own:

  • The vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • year, make, and model
  • odometer reading (mileage)
  • date of sale
  • purchase price
  • be sure to include the phrase "sold as is," unless you have agreed to something else
  • names and addresses of buyer and seller
  • signatures of buyer and seller

To make sure you get it right, it's actually easier to download an attorney-prepared bill of sale online. For a small fee, you can get a professional document that has been specifically designed for your state. Use the search terms “auto bill of sale” to see what is available and at what price.


L. James Johnson's new book, HELP! I Gotta Sell My Car NOW! New Rules for Selling Your Vehicle Online! is available for download at You can also download his FREE report, The 8 Biggest Mistakes Used Car Buyers Make & How to Avoid Them!

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