Meeting with strangers to sell a used car can be risky. These safety tips for selling a car privately will help you steer clear of stranger danger.

Risks of Selling a Car Privately

We don’t mean to fearmonger. The sad truth is there are some bad people in the world.

Now, most people are good and honest. But think of this:

  • According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics, violent crime in the US happens every 24.6 seconds.
  • One murder every 30.5 minutes.
  • One rape every 3.9 minutes.
  • One robbery every 1.7 minutes.
  • One aggravated assault every 39 seconds
  • A property crime occurs every 4.1 seconds.
  • One motor vehicle theft every 40.9 seconds.
  • One burglary every 22.6 seconds.
  • One personal property theft every 5.7 seconds.

When you advertise your car for sale, total strangers will contact you. You know nothing about them or their intentions.

Most of the time, they just want to see if your car is right for them.

The bad news is, car ads can also catch the attention of people who want to rip you off…

...or rob you…  or cause you bodily harm.

So it only makes sense to regard these safety tips for selling a car.

Safety Tip #1 - Screen Potential Buyers

When potential buyers contact you, ask them questions to see if they are serious about buying a car. This will not only help you to avoid scammers but will help weed out tire-kickers as well.


  • “Thanks for calling, Bill. May I have your last name please?”
  • “Is a hatchback what you’re looking for?”
  • “Do you live in this area?”

If they try to avoid answering, be suspicious.

A little conversation will help you get a feel for what they’re about and how serious they are about buying a car.

Here are some signs that you might be dealing with a shady character:

  • The person is contacting you from somewhere far from you. If you’re selling a McLaren F1, a Bugatti Chiron, or another limited-production gem, you may attract interested buyers from far away. But no one searches a 600-mile radius to find a Ford Taurus.
  • They make an offer on your car without a test drive or even seeing the vehicle. It’s probably a ruse to get you to reveal your banking info.
  • They only communicate through email or text messages. It’s true that a lot of people prefer to have conversations that way. But a serious buyer wouldn’t refuse a short phone call.
  • They want to pay by ACH or wire transfer. They’re probably trying to get your account number.
  • They won’t meet with you face-to-face. A real buyer wants to see the car and drive it.

PrivateAuto verifies the ID of both buyers and sellers. When you list your car, you don’t have to worry about giving away personal info to strangers.

And you can rest assured that your prospects are who they say they are.

Safety Tip #2 - Meet In a Public Place

Potential buyers will want to meet with you and test drive the car.

It’s best if you can meet them in the daytime. If you have to meet after dark, be sure to use a well-lit area.

Find a meeting place where there are other people around. A strip mall does nicely.

A lot of public places these days have video surveillance. It’s a good idea to seek them out as possible meeting places.

Police departments around the country have set up safe exchange zones. They are specifically designated places where people can meet when privately selling things online. They come complete with video surveillance from the local police.

When you meet with a customer, ask to see their driver’s license. After all, you don’t want to be liable for letting an unlicensed driver take your car for a spin.

Ask a friend, relative, or acquaintance you trust to let you send them pics of your prospects’ driver’s licenses. Arrange to check in with them after each meeting. If they don’t hear from you, they should contact the police.

The PrivateAuto test drive scheduler lets you select a location to meet buyers for a test drive. When you’ve selected the meeting place, add the days and times you’re available.

Safety Tip #3 - Take Along a Friend

When you meet your prospect, have a friend come along…

...or your brother ...or sister ...or aunt or uncle ...third cousin ...

Take someone along with you.  A person with evil intent is less likely to cause trouble if you got back up.

Safety Tip #4 - Keep the Test Drive Short

Ride along during the test drive. This will help ensure that the prospect doesn’t just drive away with your car, never to be seen again.

Once around the block is enough to give the buyer a feel for how the car handles. You don’t want a stranger taking you out to the middle of nowhere.

Safety Tip #5 - Tell Family and Friends

Communicate with family members and friends when you leave to meet a customer. Arrange a check-in after meeting with a buyer.

It’s especially important if you live alone or you don’t expect anyone to be home when you get back.

Safety Tip #6 - Receive Payment

You don’t want a stranger to drive off with your car only to find out that the funds didn’t make it into your account. There are a few ways to make sure you get paid.

  • Accept cash only. Be sure to pick up one of those pens retailers use to check for counterfeit bills. You can find them almost anywhere that sells office supplies.
  • Use PayPal.
  • Take a personal check, but don’t hand over the keys or the title until you’ve confirmed that the funds have cleared. This means the buyer will have to wait a few days to get the car.
  • If the buyer wants to pay by cashier’s check, ask him to provide the name of the bank and the name of a teller that can verify that the check is genuine.
  • Look up the bank’s phone number yourself. A fake check can have a fake phone number. The scammer might have arranged for someone at that number to impersonate a teller.
  • When you close the sale, call the bank and ask the teller to verify the check is good.

Coming soon: PrivateAuto will soon launch premium services which will allow you to transfer secure funds into your account without giving away your banking info.

Safety Tip #7 - Notify the DMV of the Sale

If you can, close the sale at the DMV.

Urban DMV offices have the reputation of keeping customers waiting for hours. If you can go to a nearby rural town with a DMV office, there’s a good chance you avoid the nightmare of waiting in line.

You need to notify the DMV that you no longer own the car. Submit the form your state requires. It’s often called the release of liability or notice of transfer.

Most states give you a number of days to submit the form, but it’s a good idea to take care of it right away. That way you won’t be liable if the new owner:

  • Is in an accident.
  • Abandons the car.
  • Gets a ticket.
  • Uses the car to commit a crime.


By advertising online, you can reach a large audience of potential buyers. Sadly, there could be some bad players in the mix.

Some common sense and these safety tips for selling a car can help you avoid problems.

Always know who your customers are. If someone wants to remain anonymous, they’re most likely scammers.

When you meet with strangers you run the risk of an encounter with someone who wants to rob you. Even worse, someone might want to cause you bodily harm.

Don’t go alone to meet buyers. Just having someone with you is usually enough to deter bad people.

Let your family and friends know you’re meeting with people who are interested in your car. Check in with them before and after you meet with a prospect.

Taking cash only for payment is the best way to keep from getting ripped off. But a lot of people aren’t comfortable walking around with thousands of dollars.

When you receive a cashier’s check, call the bank or credit union to make sure it’s not fake. A phony check may have a fake phone number. Be sure to look up the number on the bank’s website.

It’s best if you don’t accept personal checks. Otherwise, make the buyer wait a few days for the funds to clear before you hand over the title and the keys.

PrivateAuto makes it easy to sell your car safely.

  • Keeps your private info secure.
  • Verifies the buyer’s identity.
  • Advertise until sold.
  • No need to share your personal information.
  • Easily manage and respond to offers.
  • Schedule test drives right from the app.

With PrivateAuto, you get dealer-like services without the dealer.