Dear Tom and Ray:
I am planning to buy a 2006 Subaru Forester this year and don't want to deal with the trade-in hassle and rip-off, so I'm thinking about selling my five-speed Subaru 1997 Impreza Outback Sport privately. I'm a little wary about the whole thing, because I've never done it before. I've had all of the required maintenance done on a regular basis, including timing belts, brakes, new clutch, tires, tire rotations and oil changes. It has 170,000 miles on it. I've been the sole owner. Also, the yellow "engine" light has been on for a few months, but there's no problem with how it drives. Externally, there is a dent in the front passenger nose above the wheel (that I'm hoping my husband can pop out) and no hubcaps. I guess my question is: When I sell it, am I supposed to have it evaluated first and give a list of its known problems? I just don't want to spend any more money on it. How much do I need to do before I sell it? -- Denise
TOM: Laws vary from state to state, Denise. In the strictest states, you could be held liable for problems that prevent the car from passing the state inspection. But it doesn't sound like that's an issue in your case.
RAY: So you don't HAVE to do anything before you sell this car. In fact, you can give it to a consignment lot if you really don't want to deal with it. They'll display the car on the lot and give you a percentage of the final sale price whenever it sells.
TOM: But if you decide to sell it yourself, all you're morally obligated to do is provide reasonable disclosure about anything you know to be wrong with the car, and not lie to the buyer. Traditionally, it's up to the buyer to have it checked out, not the seller.
RAY: But there are things you can do to prevent potential buyers from running away screaming. I'd say the "check engine" light is one of those things.
TOM: Think about it. If you're buying a used car, especially one with 170,000 miles on it, you know that there are going to be some imperfections. So you'll probably shrug off a little dent or some missing hubcaps. But if you get in the car and turn the key, and a bright-yellow light shines right in your face and says "Check Engine!!" you might get a little spooked.
RAY: Now, in reality, the "check engine" light could mean something incredibly minor. It could indicate a loose gas cap. Or, more likely, a bad oxygen sensor or a bad knock sensor. And that'll probably cost you a couple hundred bucks to fix. But that'll be money well spent.
TOM: Then just clean it up the best you can, and write an ad. Something like: "'97 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport, 5 spd, 170K, runs great, well maintained, lost hubcaps while being chased by police at high speed through wooded swamp." You'll sell it in a weekend, Denise.