Selling Power : Preparation Is the Key to Passing On the Pink Slip of Your Car

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The new 1992 cars are out on the market. After scrimping for months and forgoing payments on your credit cards, you’ve finally decided to buy that emerald green sports car with the ivory interior that would clash so superbly with your hair. But first, you must sell your russet 1971 sedan with 125,000 miles on the speedometer and cigarette burns in the upholstery. You’ve also decided to sell this vintage car to a private party. What steps do you take?

How do you decide what to ask for your car?

Most car sellers bear in mind what condition their car is in and how much money they’ve invested for maintenance and extras. Before you haggle yourself out of the market, you can use the so-called blue book to find the low and high estimate of your car’s worth. Blue books can be found at most banks, and values can be quoted over the phone.

Once a seller has found a buyer, what is the seller responsible for?

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, a private car seller is responsible for providing the buyer with the following:


* A signed copy of the car title (pink slip).

* A bill of sale. The DMV has a form (135) which can be filled out, or a bill of sale can be handwritten. Among other information, it must include the names and address of both seller and buyer, vehicle identification number and price of car.

* A smog certificate.

The seller is also responsible for filling out and signing a release of liability. This form usually comes with the purchase of a new car; however, replacement forms (138) can be picked up at the DMV application table.

Instead of giving this form to the buyer, the seller must mail it to the DMV in Sacramento as soon as the car is handed over. This protects the seller from any damage or crime that may occur under the buyer’s ownership.

What is the going rate for a smog check and certificate?

A California smog certificate costs $6. This does not include the smog check, which can cost as little as $14. The average is about $29.95.

If your car does not pass the check, state law requires you to correct the situation.

For a car made in 1971 or before, the most you have to pay to try to fix the smog problem is $50. For cars built between 1972 and 1974, the limit is $90. Models from 1975-79 must pay at least $125, and 1980-89 models must pay up to $175. If your car is a 1990 model or newer, the state requires you pay $300 to attempt to fix an exhaust problem.

If you shell out the appropriate money and your car still fails to pass a smog check, you know it’s time to call in a smog referee. The referee is the last bastion before your potential buyer will probably look elsewhere. Smog referees will advise you what to do next with your car. They can be reached by calling 1-800-622-7733.


What is the buyer responsible for?

A buyer has 30 days from when he takes possession of the car to process the paperwork necessary to make it legally his. With smog certificate, title and bill of sale in hand, the buyer makes an appointment with the DMV (walk-ins are OK, but an appointment saves time) and hands over the paperwork.

The DMV enters the information in the computer and then asks for $9 to cover the transfer of title, and 8.25% tax on the purchase price of the car. If any registration fees are outstanding, the buyer pays those also. Often, says the DMV, buyers of private-party cars fail to notice the expiration date of the car’s registration and get zinged for that payment.

Within 30 days, the buyer should receive the new title bearing his name from the DMV in Sacramento. If the title does not arrive within that time, call the DMV so it can trace the progress of the paperwork.

What if the car collapses in a heap within a block of the point of purchase?

The investigations department of the DMV says the seller is responsible for handing over the car in good working order. This means the brakes, tires, lights, windshield, turn signals, horn and seat belts must work.

Other than that, the dictum “Buyer beware” comes into play.

Because the DMV does not investigate private-party car sales complaints, any beef between seller and buyer must be handled in civil court.

The Better Business Bureau of Greater San Diego County says a buyer basically has no recourse once he’s paid the money and taken possession of the car.


Before the sale is final, a buyer does have the right to ask for a test drive and for a mechanic to examine the car. If a seller refuses these requests, a buyer needs to think twice about whether he’s getting such a bargain.