My failed attempt at selling my Mazda3 to a private party had nothing to do with the fact that I took crappy pictures or that the advertised price of the car was way too high. I made the mistake of assuming when you pay off a car loan, you get your title in a timely manner.

Originally, I planned just to trade my Mazda to the Volkswagen dealer when I picked up my 2015 GTI. They had given me a written offer of $11,000. Which I was pretty happy with considering the car was five years old with 33k miles. When I factored in the trade, plus the tax difference I would pay for the new car the total trade value was about $11,700.

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Rather than just sit and wait...and wait for my GTI to arrive, I figured I would throw the Mazda up on a variety of listing sites. If someone offered me the right price, I would sell it. I took some pretty terrible pictures, and posted it up for $13,500 or best offer. I was well aware that my asking price was a bit over market value and probably turned a few buyers off. The way I saw it, in order for this whole private party sale thing to be worth my while, I wanted at least $12,500. This would give someone an opportunity to talk me down to my real price. I know this mentality will make a lot of people unhappy...but no one is forcing anyone to make an offer or even buy the car. I was perfectly happy with the convenience of giving it to the dealership.

Of course before doing any of this, I paid off my used car loan through PNC Bank. I did so with my PNC bank checking account. This is an important detail that will come into play later. I assumed that in a few days I would have my title and be able to turn the car over to an interested buyer.

A week goes by and I get a few offers, one for ten grand, the other for eleven. Then two weeks go by, and I get a little concerned...still no title. I email a representative at the bank who tells me that it was mailed out on the 27th of March. Apparently this particular bank will not release the title until ten days have passed because they need to make sure the “funding source” is legit. That “funding source” was an electronic transfer from their own damn bank.

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Another few days go by, and I am contacted by a buyer who made a low offer a week ago, but was now willing to come up a little. We agree on a price of $12,250. I’m pretty happy about this and arrange to make a sale on Saturday. This buyer will be driving over three hours from Maryland to NJ, so I inform him over the phone that I don’t have the title yet, but it should be here any day now. This was Wednesday.

Thursday...no title.

Friday...still no title.

I call the bank to find out what the hell is taking so long. The representative confirms that it was indeed mailed out, but takes 7-10 business days to arrive. I understand that the USPS is not the quickest to deliver your mail, but it should not take over two weeks to get a letter from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

They also inform me that my vehicle title, a rather important document, was not sent with any tracking. “That’s just not something we do...” they said. So once my title leaves their possession, they have no idea where it is or if it even gets to its destination. Given the importance of a document like this, you would think a financial institution would kick the extra dollar or so for tracking. Now I’m no tax expert, but I’m fairly certain for an organization such as a bank, postage expenses would qualify as a business expense.

I tell my buyer that the title will arrive “any day now,” but I don’t know when. Understandably, he moves on to something else since I can’t legally sell him the car without the title.

On April 10th, or about five weeks since I paid off the loan, the title finally arrives. At this point my GTI is about to arrive and I decide to trade my Mazda to the dealer. I would have been nice to have a few hundred bucks in my pocket, but thanks to the inefficiency of my bank and the snail pace of the USPS, a private sale just wasn’t in the cards.

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So here are some lessons for the rest of you. First, when you pay your loan off, contact the financial institution immediately and confirm the funds have cleared. Second, demand that they send your title with tracking. Third, get an ETA on when your title should arrive. Finally, if you plan on selling your car on Craigslist or wherever, do not list it until you are in possession of your title.

If you have a question, a tip, or something you would like to to share about car-buying, drop me a line at AutomatchConsulting@gmail.com and be sure to include your Kinja handle.

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