I'm pleased to report that I'm now qualified to write about the business of selling a car. Tips on Buying a Car in South Africa has by far been my most-Googled and most-read blog post, so I imagine the back-end of it might be interesting to some folks as well. So the car is sold and yes, I'm pleased to have that task behind me. What I am less pleased with is that I now don't have my own wheels anymore, with over two months to go. I'm cursing the stick shift of my little rental, the fact that operating it with your left hand feels just completely wrong, and the sad reality that it almost stalls on the first incline going out of our neighborhood.
But timing has never been our family's strong suit. We always buy our houses at the peak of the bubble and sell them when recessions hit. We move to America just as it is invading other countries and the dollar is at its strongest. We leave again when the dollar has dropped to rock bottom. Not to mention that we also leave just a week before we're meant to be sworn in as new citizens. And, surely at the top of the list as far as bad timing goes, we are leaving South Africa just as the widening of William Nicol Drive is in full swing, promising what can only be improved traffic flow wherever you go when you leave your house.
I should say that selling the car would have been a lot easier if there was a Joburg Expat prequel out there somewhere telling me how it's done. Since there isn't, as of now, I will hereby rectify the situation.
It helps to take some nice pictures of your car to upload to a used car website
First off, don't be scared of selling your car privately and let yourself be roped in to sell to a dealer at a steep discount. I started by looking up comparable cars on www.autotrader.co.za, one of the most widely known car trading websites, and settled on an approximate value of ZAR 250,000 to 300,000 (remember, cars are expensive here in SA). I figured ZAR 285,000 would be a good amount, given that the car had a few dents, was out of warranty and had that pesky engine light blinking on the dashboard. (I have a whole other blog post to write about Audi - or all European models most likely - and their "engine-light-comes-on-as-soon-as-warranty-expired" conspiracy.)
So I called a place called webuycars.co.za, an outfit unique to Gauteng and according to their website offering convenient service and handling of all paperwork right at your doorstep.
Did they say paperwork? As you must have learned from my blog, if you can ever delegate the paperwork to someone else here in SA, it's a highly attractive vision. Because paperwork = pain in the butt. Squared.
I was all ready to have someone come to my house and take the car off my hands. Except the price they offered was too low in my opinion, so I figured I’d give selling it privately a shot. Which is a good thing, or I wouldn't be able to tell you exactly how it’s done. However, I since learned that webuycars.co.za offers some specific services targeted at expats that might come in handy, especially when relocating in a hurry (more on that later).
For the moment, though, I felt like I should be in the business of selling cars for expats. It seems highly profitable. Whereas I've been giving out advice on how it’s done for free.
Since I had plenty of time left before the end of the year, I decided to run an ad on Autotrader. That's something I definitely recommend, considering the fact that all my calls ended up coming from there. They have a nice interface with painless uploading of pics (up to 6) and easy credit card payment. And several options for ad prices, depending on whether you want a more prominent location, an additional ad in their print magazine (not necessary in my mind) and an option to keep the ad up until car is sold, for not that much more money. Cost: R550. (Alternatives to Autotrader are vehicletrader.co.za and cars.co.za.)
In addition I'd also recommend inquiring from your neighborhood association whether they run classifieds in their newsletter. The biggest such classifieds trading place is probably the Dainfern Estate newsletter. Ads are free, and you don't even necessarily have to live there. You just call and give them the text for the classifieds. Due to the high concentration of expats there, most of your items for sale will be highly sought after. In addition to my car, I had advertised for some rather old furniture, and my phone was ringing off the hook for it. In fact, I practically had to hold on to my possessions when people came to the house to look at one thing and ended up walking through every room, greedily pointing at random things they coveted. I rather felt like I was running a Pottery Barn. Hmmm, there is another business I could be in.
Back to the car. You can also contact a relocation firm such as Rockstone or Corporate Relocations, as they deal with many incoming expats and will be interested to circulate your for sale items for free. Word of mouth is your best advertising.
Okay, so much for getting your car out there. In addition of course to putting a sign in the window and perhaps advertising in the school newsletter. Or on your own blog - that came to me only as an afterthought. You can try contacting dealers, as that is surely the easiest and safest option, but again, since as an expat going back home you won't be buying any new cars from them, you'll be leaving a lot of money on the table. If they even offer to buy. One dealer flat-out told me they weren't buying any cars out of warranty. Which is kind of strange coming from a dealer who should have some faith in their own brand, don't you think? Except they probably know all about the "out-of-warranty-engine-light-coming-on-and-charging-you-R8000-for-it-to-be-turned-off-again" racket. Which could explain why they don't want to touch a car more than five years old.
So I placed my ad with two months to go, not wanting to leave such a big ticket item till the last minute. And then waited. I got no calls at all for a whole week and was convinced the price was wrong. I was stewing over the fact that Noisette was getting the much more exciting end of the deal, going shopping for a new car while I not only had to sell this one but apparently change flat tires on it too. So while we're at it, another piece of advice: In Africa, don't go buying cars with wide rim sports tires. Get the other kind. You know, the ones with a profile.
If you are selling a car, I suggest you give it some time. Most buyers will do a lot of research, especially those looking in the upper price ranges, and it may simply take them time to evaluate everything that's out there. This happened in my case. In the end my price was probably a bit too low, considering that when calls started coming in a week later I had two guys practically slug it out imploring me alternately not to sell the car to the other. I had to make a choice, and went with the guy who a) had cash and didn't need any financing approval from the bank and b) didn't want a road worthiness test. I shudder to think how long it might take to have financing approved from a South African bank. When it's already a day's errand to buy $500 in foreign currency for your trip to Tanzania. Although I admit the cash deal wasn't without its pitfalls. Because my buyer, when I first met him, and when he heard I was American, asked if I'd take US dollars in payment. Which he happened to have plenty of on him, due to his business as a diamond dealer in Kimberly.
I gulped. I had visions of Leonardo di Caprio, somewhere on a mountaintop in the Congo, handing over a blood-smeared diamond to him, just as he was drawing his dying breath, whispering "take good... care of this for.... me. Buy yourself... rhhhhh... A nice Audi... Q.... Q7 with it."
So the dollars were a no-go due to my queasiness vis-a-vis money laundering. We settled on an electronic funds transfer in South African Rand into my bank account, and while he got busy sorting that out, I went and had a quote done for that engine light. Did I tell you it came on the very day after my 5-year motor plan ran out? And that they couldn't find anything wrong with the car, but that to turn off the light and get the internal computer to consider it fixed, a little plastic valve would have to be replaced? And that said valve was going to cost R8,000 to put in? So, on second thought, you probably shouldn’t buy yourself an Audi or any other European car when moving to South Africa. You probably should buy a Toyota where spare parts are actually affordable.
While I was out and about, I also went to my old friends at the Randburg Licensing Office to pick up a Transfer of Ownership form. And guess what came in handy to figure out how to get there from where I was? My blog post on buying a car in South Africa, or course. It had a link to the correct place, and an address. I’ve become my own best customer, it seems. Maybe I should go and make a donation to myself real quick.
Selling the car was very easy after this (remember that I went with the buyer who had cash and didn’t insist on a roadworthiness test. If you sell a car to someone who needs financing from a bank, the bank will make you fill out some forms and have the car tested, which I imagine will add a few more days to the enterprise). The buyer made an electronic funds transfer into my account for the agreed-upon amount, and we sat down together to fill out forms and make copies.
Application for Registration on the left (buyer) and Transfer of Ownership on the right (seller)
These are the documents you need to exchange with the buyer:
Yellow Transfer of Ownership form to be signed by both seller and buyer (original goes to buyer, copy to seller; you can obtain the form from the nearest licensing office)
Blue Application for Registration of Motor Vehicle (this is completed by buyer so he can register the car and you really don’t need to do anything with it, but it makes sense to pick up or download both forms while you’re there and save your buyer the extra errand)
Current Certificate of Registration (which you should have in your files; original needed by buyer to complete registration, copy needed by seller to deregister the car
Receipt for the transfer of money (to be made out by the seller for the buyer to show at registration; I created a Word document with my address, the buyer’s address, the car details like VIN and registration number, and the sale price, which I then signed and made a copy of)
Copies of each other’s IDs
Once we had waited overnight for the money to clear and show up in my account, we met again, I handed over the keys, and the car was sold. Just like that.
Another note on selling privately: One thing you will be warned about in South Africa is offering test drives for your car. People might pretend to be interested in your car, only to take it for a spin, force you out at gunpoint, and drive off into the sunset. It’s all happened before, I suppose, and I admit I was a bit nervous about this part, considering Noisette was off somewhere else buying new fancy cars instead of helping me with this one. My plan was to ask a male friend of ours to come with me if the need for a test drive arose, but when it did it was a weekday morning and everyone was at work. So I asked the manager at the estate security office if he wouldn't mind coming along and he was happy to oblige, but in the end it wasn't needed because the buyer was happy to stay inside the estate, where I figured we were safe enough.
I’m just telling you these things so you can plan accordingly, should you ever want to sell your car.
Once the car is sold, you have one other errand on your list: Change of ownership notification. In anticipation of our move I actually made a list of places to revisit before we leave. For Nostalgia's sake. Let's just say I didn't include the Randburg licensing office on that list. But that is exactly where I was told I had to go to notify the powers that be of the new ownership status of my car. So that I'm not liable for any traffic violations by the new owner. (Not that I feel very liable, quite frankly, for my OWN traffic violations, at this point, with an impressive pile of speeding tickets piling up on my desk.)
Remember how I told you not to worry about the queue at the licensing office, because it is only for people renewing their driver’s license and such? Well. It turns out "and such" includes the small matter of changing ownership of cars.
I had committed the cardinal sin of squeezing this errand in between my morning coffee and Sunshine's orthodontist appointment. Have I not learned anything yet about life in South Africa? An errand at an official agency takes a whole morning at best and more realistically three separate trips. But I was feeling a bit cocky, considering my expert standing consulting fellow expats, and so I violated my own rule. And paid by arriving at the licensing office, getting all my documents stamped at the help desk, and being sent to a long queue where the gentleman I zeroed in on somewhere in the middle informed me he had already been waiting an hour and was planning for at least another one. I didn’t even give it a try.
Thus I felt somewhat chastened before my second attempt a few days later. My problem, you see, is that I'm not technically the owner of the car I just sold. I'm only the spouse, as you might remember, which here in South Africa doesn't count for much. And you'll also remember that when I bought the car Noisette had to show up in person for the traffic register number and registration.
Well, guess who is now not here to show up in person?
So I was feeling rather exposed wandering into the licensing office the second time this week, carrying a certified copy of Noisette's passport that our school's commissioner of oaths was kind enough to sign even though the original was missing. I was fully anticipating this becoming a big headache involving repeated visits and all sorts of forms and stamps, and this time I had armed myself with my Kindle and an endless supply of reading material.
But of course as these things go, I could barely get through three articles in the New York Times before I was called to a window. I showed all my documents, including the copy of the buyer’s ID which had not been on the official list I had researched but which living in South Africa for a few years had given me enough savvy to bring anyway, was handed an “Acknowledgement of Receipt of Notice IRO Motor Vehicle" (Yikes, what a mouthful - but wait for the Afrikaans version: "Erkenning van Ontvangs van Kennisgewing TOV Motorvoertuig"), and walked out of there not fifteen minutes later.
This is what you get after applying for change of ownership for your car
These are the documents needed to complete the change of ownership for your car (or feel free to look at the requirements on the official SA Government Services website):
Copy of yellow Transfer of Ownership form signed by both seller and buyer
ID/Passport of seller (or certified copy if he is not present)
Copy of ID of buyer (they DID ask for it)
Your own passport/ID
Copy of Certificate of Registration (the one you handed the buyer the original of)
Traffic Register Number certificate
Copy of receipt for transfer of money (the one you made for the buyer; it’s not technically required but can’t hurt to bring)
Your foreign driver's license (not sure on that one either but better be safe)
Lock of hair of your firstborn son (sorry, I couldn't resist)
That’s it. You've now successfully sold your car. Don't forget to cancel your insurance and tracking service as well, as it’s no longer needed.
And make sure you've given the seller the spare keys, service book, and, most importantly, the tire lock nut, should your car come with one! Or somebody will someday stand on a lonely stretch of road with his car jacked up cursing you to smithereens.
I hope I've given you a good idea of how to go about privately selling a car in South Africa. However, if you'd rather not bother with the details or are pressed for time, consider making use of the services offered by webuycars.co.za specifically for expats:
"We offer a service where a person who is returning to their country, or a person who is emigrating for that matter, can sell their car in advance to us, we pay them a deposit, we write a contract of sale, and they get to keep the car and use the car until they leave."
"We allow them to keep the vehicle for a month, so we do the transaction a month in advance, that way they don't have a problem with transport, and they know the vehicle is sold. They still get very much the same price as what we would have offered otherwise, maybe R 2000 less at most if it is an expensive vehicle."