How To Sell a Car in California the Easiest Way?

How To Sell a Car in California the Easiest Way?

Selling a used car in California is far from a straightforward affair. This legislation-heavy state has a lot of restrictions and requirements when it comes to selling used vehicles, especially if they aren’t eco-friendly.

If you want to get a used car off your hands, you might wonder how to sell a car in California the easiest way. Let us break the answer down for you in detail.

What You Need To Sell a Used Car in California

When you sell a used car in California, you have to fill out several official forms and take care of a few checklist items. This ensures the transaction is legal and protects you from either major fees or from being taken advantage of by a buyer. Specifically, you need to:

  • Complete a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability. Both of these forms tell the DMV that the ownership of the used vehicle has officially changed. More importantly, these paperwork items protect you from liability for traffic, parking, or other violations associated with the sold vehicle after you complete the transaction. Basically, if the new car owner breaks a law, you won’t be on the hook if you fill out both of these forms and file them with the DMV
  • Get the car’s title, registration, and other key information
  • Complete both of those forms by getting the new owner’s name and address, the vehicle identification number, and the license plate number. These forms can be filled out online, after which you can print out a copy for your own records and then file them with the DMV
  • Record the odometer reading of the vehicle on the day of the sale. This means you need to record the odometer reading on the day that you sell the car if you drive it to the buyer or the transaction place, not before
  • Get a smog certificate. You can only get a legally binding smog certificate from an authorized smog testing station. Fortunately, there are smog testing stations throughout California, and a certificate is good for 90 days before you need to get it again
  • There are a few exceptions to the smog check requirement, including any vehicles manufactured before 1975, diesel-run cars made before 1998, electric vehicles, and more

Lastly, some vehicles require extra documentation before you can legally sell them in used condition to another person. These include:

  • Form REG-227 for any vehicles with missing titles
  • Form REG-4008 for any commercial vehicles
  • Form REG-256 if you are selling or transferring the vehicle to a family member
  • Form REG-101 if there’s an error in the car title
  • Form REG 166 if the car has a lienholder (i.e. you don’t own the vehicle outright)
  • Form REG-156 if there’s a missing license plate or sticker

Take the time to make sure you fill out all the appropriate forms and have all the paperwork taken care of before you go through with a sale. This is the best way to avoid legal trouble and extra fees later down the road.

Tips To Sell a Car Quickly

When the time comes to actually sell a car quickly and easily in California, keep these major tips in mind:

  • Take tons of photos of the used vehicle. Any serious buyer will want photos of the used vehicle before they make a decision. Include photos of both the inside and outside of the vehicle
  • Be upfront about any defects or problems with the vehicle. Most buyers will discover any problems when they examine the car before purchasing it
  • List the car for a reasonable price. Don’t try to list the car for standard market value for a new version of the same model — you won’t get any buyers. Generally, a price of about 50% of the standard dollar value is a good range to start at 

Best Ways To Sell a Car in California

When you want to sell a used car in California, there are many ways to do so with a minimum of hassle.

Sell to a Dealership

Firstly, you can sell directly to a car dealership. This is arguably the easiest way overall since it’s a great way to get some cash immediately for your vehicle, especially if you have the right paperwork in order. It takes very little effort on your part. So long as the car is in decent condition, a car dealership may take the vehicle off your hands in the hopes that they can turn around and sell it to another driver quickly.

On the downside, you may not get the absolute best cash deal for your vehicle. If you want the best price possible, you’ll need to haggle with another driver. Dealerships will usually win the haggling game unless your vehicle is in great condition or very desirable to the dealership in question.

Sell to CarMax

Alternatively, you could sell directly to CarMax, which is a known used car seller without the same haggling culture or risk of lemons as “normal” car dealerships. CarMax offers very fair appraisals of used vehicles, and they are reliable buyers. If you want to get your used vehicle out of your garage in a timely fashion, CarMax could be the way to go.

That said, CarMax usually has a strict deadline and they don’t haggle with their offers. Once they make an offer, you only have seven days to accept. They won’t normally bother with extra negotiations. So if their offer is too low, you may have to look elsewhere.

Sell to a Private Owner

Of course, you can only sell your vehicle privately to a future owner without involving any other organization. For many, this is the best way to get as much money as possible for their used vehicles, but it requires tons of research and preparation on the part of the seller.

You have to:

  • Make sure the buyer is legitimate
  • Make sure you can drive the vehicle to the pickup location
  • Haggle with the buyer for an appropriate price
  • Make sure the vehicle is up to snuff — any good buyer will want to do an inspection and test drive with you before handing over cash

All of this hassle could make selling to a dealership or CarMax more attractive to used car owners.

Which Way Is the Easiest?

That depends on your budget, your time constraints, and how much personal effort you wish to put in. Generally, selling to a dealership or CarMax is easiest in California. These organizations will also remind you to have your paperwork in order, preventing you from accidentally having to pay extra fees.

That said, if you have a private buyer already lined up, selling to them could be the easiest way to get the best bang for your buck and make the most profit from the sale.


Ultimately, selling a car in California can be easy, provided you prepare ahead of time and have a great buyer lined up. If you’re looking for someone to buy your used car, consider rental agencies, many of which are rebuilding their fleets after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once you sell your car, you’ll need another set of wheels to get around. Whether you need a short-term rental or a long-term arrangement for commuting or vacationing, Advantage Rent-a-Car can help. Check out our fleet of rental vehicles today and contact us for more information!


Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability | California DMV
Auto Shop Locator | Bureau of Automotive Repair
Smog Inspections | California DMV

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