Car Sale

People avoid selling their own cars because they dont want to deal with strangers. But it can be done safely. | March 22, 2011 | iStockphoto

A man who listed his car for sale on Craigslist is killed by a man who wanted to strip the turbocharger and other parts from the vehicle. A New York man lists his BMW online, only to be stabbed and stuffed into the cars trunk by an ex-con who arranged a meeting on the pretext of buying the vehicle.

Craigslist, one of several sites that facilitate private-party car sales, says that its buyers and sellers complete billions of transactions with an "extremely low" incidence of violent crime. Still, selling your car does put you at risk of fraud, scams, robbery and possible personal attacks.

The safety advice in this article comes from the police and my own personal experience selling more than 50 cars from Edmunds long-term test fleet. Theres also another very knowledgeable but less obvious source of good tips: real-estate agents. They often meet strangers to arrange a sale and sometimes the transactions put them in vulnerable positions. Just like private-party car sellers.

The Big 4 Tips for Car-Selling Safety 1. Vet callers thoroughly. When Steve Goddard, former president of the California Association of Realtors, takes a call from someone hes never met, he makes sure the caller is serious about buying a property and isnt trying to lure him into a trap to rob him. "I ask them lots of questions about what they are looking for and what their needs are," he says. "The more I engage them in conversation, the more you get a feel for them."

2. Dont go to a meeting alone. Its that simple, says Rico Fernandez, a sergeant with the Long Beach Police Department in California. "Take someone with you. People are less apt to harm you if there is someone else there."

3. Meet in a public place. Goddard says that when he meets someone for the first time, he does so at his office. While you cant do that when youre selling a car, you can arrange to meet would-be buyers in a public place, such as a shopping mall parking lot.

4. Trust your gut. Qualifying callers is a combination of intuition and experience, Goddard says. And if youre not comfortable meeting with strangers under any circumstances, you should turn the sale over to an auto broker or trade in the vehicle. Youll have to accept that you might not get the best deal, but peace of mind is priceless. So is your life.

Screening 101 If you do a good job screening buyers before you meet them face-to-face, selling your car will go much more smoothly. Listing your car on Craigslist or Autotrader.com will bring e-mails, text messages and calls from interested parties. Use your intuition to spot anything suspicious about these prospective buyers:

Dont be overly eager for a sale or you might miss a warning sign. If a caller seems suspicious to you, simply hang up. Only schedule a test-drive with serious buyers you are able to reach by phone. Invite questions when you talk with them. This prevents you from having to show the car to someone who isnt really interested, or someone youd rather not deal with. If the caller doesnt seem to know what to ask, volunteer the basics about the car: year, make, model, color, number of doors, number of miles on the car and its key features. Beware of professional buyers who just want to "flip" cars, which means reselling them quickly at a profit. Flippers bargain aggressively. You can usually identify these callers because they quickly want to get to your lowest selling price. If you have doubts, ask them if theyre buying to resell. While flippers might not pose a hazard to your personal safety, its better to avoid dealing with them. Ask who is coming on the test-drive. Evasive answers might indicate that the caller is setting up a trap. Tell the caller you will want to see a driver license before the test-drive. This might discourage anyone with criminal intentions from going any further.

When you ask to see the buyers driver license before the test-drive, make a copy of it, if possible, and leave it with a third party. Have a friend or family member come along with you. If no one is available, at the very least let someone know where you are going and with whom youre meeting. Take your cell phone with you so you can call for help if anything goes wrong. If you are suspicious and dont want the would-be buyer to know that, arrange a code word beforehand with a friend or family member. Using the code word will be your way of telling your friend you need help. Meet prospective buyers during the day in a public area such as the parking lot of a mall. Park the car in a high traffic area where people can see you. Dont leave any valuables in the car on the test-drive. Dont leave your wallet in the center console. Accompany the buyer on the test-drive. This ensures that he cant just drive off with your car, never to be seen again.