Selling a used car in San Francisco might be easier than you realize

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Deciding to sell my car was a long process, and part of what slowed me down was a fear of what would come next—having to actually sell it. The paperwork, the cleaning, sales interactions with strangers…these are a few of my least favorite things. But after so many break-ins and tickets, it was time. Luckily, I was able to find a way to to minimize the annoying parts and benefit from the car’s remaining value without having to put any more money and time into it. I had options—more options than I realized. The hardest part was getting started.

My husband encouraged me to just donate the car—how much could a 2003 Corolla with lots of dents, a scraped up bumper, and a stapled on side-view mirror really be worth? The blue book value was about $2300 for a used CE model in good condition, and given all the money I’d put into parking tickets and other indignities of urban car ownership (see my previous blog) I wasn’t ready to cut my losses quite yet.

But in order to make back my investment in this money pit on wheels, I felt certain I’d need to face my two nemeses: bureaucracy and errands. A short list of the documents needed to sell a used car includes the title, a notice of transfer/release of liability, maintenance and warranty records, a bill of sale, smog certification, and occasionally more (see a full list for California here). Then, to put my best foot—er, wheel?—forward, there are tasks like washing and waxing the exterior, cleaning the rims and tires, vacuuming the inside of the car (don’t forget those ashtrays), and leaving no compartment unopened. For me, this included a trunk full of unfulfilled thrift store trips. Then, once clean, I’d have to take photos of the car that accurately and appealingly represent it, write a compelling ad, list the car in an online used car marketplace like Craigslist or Facebook, screen buyers, schedule meetings, agree on a price, and complete the relevant paperwork together. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

However, there’s more than one route to sell a used car. As this helpful guide from Kelly Blue Book suggests, your choices depend on if you’re prioritizing speed or cash. I decided that my time and sanity were the most important things, and cash was a close third. A friend tipped me off to a company called Shift (unaffiliated with Upshift) which would not only buy the car from me, but would come pick it up from me wherever it was parked, and would handle all the paperwork. A kind of reverse Upshift for used car sales. Hallelujah!

I scheduled a date and time, and a nice young gentleman came to see the car. I met him with the title, registration, proof of insurance, and my ID. I was worried that seeing the car in person would make them drop their offer, but despite the car’s sorry state the quote they had initially given me sight unseen ($1300) remained the same. He walked around the car, took a look at the oil, and then we sat in the car to fill out the DMV forms he brought with him. In about 15 minutes he drove away with 15 years of memories. I felt sad for a moment, but walking home, a new feeling broke through: relief. For the first time in almost 3 years I didn’t have the car somewhere in the back of my mind. Two days later the $1300 was deposited into my bank account

 Signing over the title while sitting in the car. The paperwork took about 5 minutes. Signing over the title while sitting in the car. The paperwork took about 5 minutes.

So what’s life like now? I get flashes a few times a week of that familiar street cleaning-related ticket panic. A kind of phantom limb syndrome for automobiles. It’s a great feeling to realize that I don’t need to jump out of bed to go move the car, or wonder if there’d be a $300 window repair from a break-in waiting for me when I arrive. A few situations have come up where a car would be handy, such a as transporting supplies to an event, and getting out of town for a friend’s birthday, but nothing that could only be resolved by owning a car (and honestly it might have made it more inconvenient due to parking, fuel, and old shocks on country roads).

The fear of the process kept me from moving forward, and kept me paying many an inevitable parking ticket. If I had known it could be so easy I would have done it a long time ago. Did I get the best possible price? Hard to say. But for the time and stress it saved, it was absolutely worth it. In my view, the best way to sell your used car is the way that gets it off your hands and off your mind as quickly as possible. I’m so happy to be able to think about other things, like how to get to Russian River next weekend.