Selling a Used Car? Watch Out for Trouble

With the economy in the ditch, used car sales are on the rise.

According to, used car sales have outpaced new car sales so far in 2009. Used car dealers are also peeling some dollars off the cost – Edmunds says that used car prices are down 10% so far this year. More appealing to value-hungry buyers, used car prices are about 32% less than the price of a brand new car.

With demand on the rise, it might be a good time to unload that 2005 Sebring sitting in your garage. If you do, make sure you cross every "t" and dot every "i," especially when it comes to actually getting paid for your vehicle.

Why is that? It’s all too common for used car sellers to get fleeced by unscrupulous buyers. Usually the scam comes in the form of accepting personal checks that don’t clear the seller’s bank account. Another common shakedown is the seller agreeing to a bank wire transfer – only to wait and wait in vain for the money to hit the account. Even cashier's checks may be counterfeit, if the buyer knows what he’s doing.

So how can you protect yourself on transaction day? Start with these simple, but effective, steps.

Ask for cash. At first blush, accepting thousands of dollars in cash seems like something you’d see on a Sopranos rerun. Certainly, you shouldn't just take any cash payments on the street, in a parking lot or even at the buyer’s home. Your best move is to meet the buyer at your bank, take the cash payment, and immediately deposit it in your bank account. If the buyer balks, move on. Any above-board buyer won’t mind meeting at your bank. It’s a big red flag if the buyer refuses to do so. A quick note: bring a bill of sale along if the cash value is more than $10,000. Your bank will need that to report the deposit.

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