Selling your car to a private party is the best way to get the most money for your vehicle. By contrast, trading your car in at a dealership won’t net you the most cash, but it will definitely save you time and hassle.
No matter how you sell your car, however, it helps to know the nuts and bolts of selling to minimize stress and get the best price for your vehicle.
Follow these nine simple steps to find a buyer quickly and sell your car.
1. Determine Where to Sell Your Car
If you need to sell your car you have three options:
- Sell Your Car to a Private Buyer. Selling your car to a private buyer can involve a lot of time and work. You must advertise the car, accept phone calls, schedule test drives and more. It may take a little work, but selling your car to a private buyer will generally net you more money than selling to a dealership.
- Selling Vehicle to a Dealership. Dealerships are not as likely to give you full market value for your car because they need to resell the car for profit. To that end, you could leave hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the table by selling or trading your car to a dealership instead of to a private buyer. However, you’ll save a lot of time and you won’t have to deal with the hassle of advertising, screening phone calls, taking test drives, and so on.
- Trade-In Car to a Dealership.Thinking about buying a new car? The last option is to trade in your old car to the dealership for credit towards a down payment on a new car. If you owe more than the car is worth, you’ll be responsible for making up the difference.
2. Collect Your Necessary Documents
No matter how you decide to sell your car, you’ll need some important documents on hand including the following: title, maintenance records and documents from the original sale.
- Car Title or “Pink Slip”: The car title gives you the right to sell your car. Call your lender if you still owe money on your car. The auto loan lender likely generally holds the title until you pay it off or trade it in. If you have a buyer, contact the lender to help you make sales arrangements. They may want to check the buyer’s credit before transferring the title.
- The Bill of Sale: You can download and print the bill of sale from the DMV online. The bill of sale form acts as a receipt, detailing information about the car, the buyer and the seller.
- Maintenance Records: Maintenance records show prospective buyers how well you have taken care of the vehicle.
- Original Sale Documents: The original sale documents can give you a list of all the features, upgrades and specifications of the vehicle. This will help to show buyers what they’re getting and aid you as you set the fair market value for the car.
- Vehicle History: Many buyers check with Carfax or AutoCheck to see if a car has been in any accidents. Be proactive and print these reports ahead of time to help answer buyers’ questions.
- Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability:
What happens if you sell the car and the new owner gets in an accident or gets a ticket while the car is still registered to you? Unfortunately, you could be on the hook for damages. That’s where the Transfer and Release of Liability form comes in handy. Once you sell the vehicle, protect yourself by submitting this form to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as soon as possible.
3. Determine Your Ideal Price
Check with Kelley Blue Book (KBB) or Edmunds to determine the value of your car. Also, search online auto listings for similar cars in your area to assess the price range of your competition.
Based on your findings, determine your fair market price, then give yourself some wiggle room for negotiation. For example, if the fair value of your car is $7,400 then set your asking price at $7,900 to allow room for negotiation.
If you choose to trade-in your vehicle at a car dealership, the fair market value should give you a good indication of what to expect from the dealer. However, the dealership will do its own appraisal and will likely determine a different price.
4. Clean and Clean Out Your Car
Common sense dictates that clean cars typically get better offers than dirty cars. Before you advertise your car, give it a good wash and wax. Clean and shine the tires and rims.
Remove all personal items from the car, including the trunk. No one wants to see old crumbs and dust so make sure to vacuum the interior floor and seats. Finally, wipe down the interior of the car so there’s no dust on the dash or coffee stains in the cupholders.
Repair small issues like broken headlights and make sure your fluids levels are adequate.
Of course, you can use a professional detailer instead, which is a great idea if you are selling an expensive vehicle.
5. Advertise Your Car
When selling a car online, pictures are everything; the more the better. An online listing with plenty of pictures instills confidence in buyers and helps your car stand out from the competition.
Choose a good location and photograph your vehicle just after sunset for optimum lighting.
Shoot the car from various angles. Don’t forget the car’s interior; take pictures of the driver’s seat, the odometer, the back seat and the trunk.
Facebook Marketplace is a popular place to list your car and nearly everyone uses Facebook.
Craigslist, Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book can also expose your listing to a wide audience. For specialty cars, such as rare vehicles or classic muscle cars, search for collector or club websites that advertise cars for sale.
For the ad, mention the vital details in the headline, including the year, make, model, mileage and price. Most online ad sites ask you this information during the listing process. In the body of the ad, include additional information about the car like upgrades and unique details that boost your car’s appeal, such as “Recently Passed Smog.”
You can skip this step if you’re going to trade your car in at a dealership.
6. Protect Yourself and Screen Callers
When you list your car for sale, you may receive a myriad of phone calls, emails and text messages from potential buyers. Before you invite anyone to test drive the car, it’s wise to speak with only the most serious buyers on the phone.
Consider using a separate email and a free Google Voice phone number just to sell your car.
Be on the lookout for buyers who sound like they’re calling multiple car sellers. Generally, these people are car flippers who are looking to buy low and sell high. If they offer a lowball price or try to negotiate the price before seeing the car, that’s a telltale sign of a car flipper and it’s probably best to move on.
By talking to interested parties on the phone and asking several questions, you can get a sense of how serious they are.
7. Set Up a Test Drive
Safety is a top priority when it comes to test drives with potential buyers. Arrange to meet during daylight hours in a public place such as a mall parking lot. Park in a populated area where plenty of people can see you.
Before the test drive, ask to see their driver’s license. Experts recommend that you always accompany the driver even if they offer collateral. Plan ahead and ask a close friend or family member to accompany you and the interested party on the test drive.
Plan a short test drive through populated areas, which is usually acceptable to most people.
8. Negotiate Price
Earlier we mentioned building a little “padding” into your price to allow for negotiating. It’s also a good idea to know the lowest price you’ll accept ahead of time. If you’re selling to a private party, you’ll want to negotiate a price that is within your target range or be prepared to walk away.
If you’re selling or trading your car at a dealership, it’s a good idea to get quotes from several local dealerships to help you leverage a good deal. Expect a low initial offer from a dealership and be ready to counteroffer with a higher offer.
Expert negotiators know not to make the first offer. For example, the buyer may ask “what is the best price you can offer?” to kick off the negotiation. You can politely answer “the listed price is fair market value but I welcome your offer.”
9. Close the Deal
Before you agree to a deal, repeat the numbers to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Also, let the buyer know you only accept cash or cashier’s check.
When selling to a private party, sign over the title to the buyer. Also, sign any documents the buyer needs to register the title in their name, such as a bill of sale, a lien release, or an odometer disclosure.
If you don’t have the pink slip and you still owe money on the car, you may need to close the deal at your bank. Again, protect yourself by filing a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability at your local DMV in case the buyer gets a moving violation or into an accident.
Once the sale is complete, cancel your car registration and auto insurance.
For dealer trade-ins, the dealership will have you sign several papers. Make sure you understand the documents completely and that the deal you agree to is accurately detailed on the contract.
The Bottom Line
Selling your car doesn’t have to be a headache. Be patient and know your car’s value. Be ready to walk away from a poor deal and stand firm until you receive a fair offer.