How to Sell a Used Car

Most buyers are honest people, and are happy to be working with a private party instead of a dealership. To get the best price from your car, follow these steps:

  • Prep your vehicle. Check the vehicle to be certain that everything works. You may consider having a mechanic examine your car and issuing a report about its condition.
  • Research the market. Spend a few weeks scouring your local used-car classifieds to learn what people are asking for similar vehicles. Use the Kelly Blue Book or NADA Guides to get additional information.
  • Set a competitive price. Determine what you think your car is worth, and then add a little to the price for wiggle room. (You don't want to start negotiations from the price you think the car is worth.) Decide on a rock bottom price below which you will not entertain offers.
  • Gather records. Prepare a folder containing all maintenance records. If you had a mechanic inspect the car, include his report. Consider purchasing a vehicle report from CARFAX — it can help set potential buyers' minds at ease. Also have a bill-of-sale ready to go. (What you need for a bill-of-sale will vary by location; here's a list of state motor vehicle division web sites.)
  • Clean your vehicle. Wash the car thoroughly. Don't just run it through a car wash — scrub it down. Wax it. Clean the interior. Get all the junk out of it and vacuum it. Make it look its best.
  • Create an advertisement that sells. Mention top options and improvements. List any recent upgrades, such as new tires or battery. Has your car lived all its life in a garage? Say so! Do you have all the maintenance records? Mention that, too.
  • Spread the word. Get as much exposure for your ad as possible. The more demand you can generate, the more money you'll make. Online, try craigslist, Autotrader, and Cars.com. (Quality photos are important for online ads.) Run your ad in a newspaper over the weekend, when it will reach the largest audience.
  • Be prepared to answer questions. People will call or e-mail to ask for more specific information. Be ready to provide it. Keep a list of key facts by the phone.
  • Show your car to interested buyers. If you're nervous about your ability to deal with people, get somebody to help. You're selling yourself as well as the car, so make a good impression. Allow the buyer to take a test drive, but be sure to ask for a valid driver's license first! Permit buyers to take the car to their mechanic, even if you've already taken it to yours.
  • Negotiate a fair price. A good price is fair to both parties. Having done your research, you'll know what your car is worth. Be confident in this knowledge. When you're sure of a vehicle's value, it's easy to stand strong when somebody tries to lowball you. Have a firm bottom price in mind, but if a reasonable offer is only a couple hundred dollars from this figure, consider accepting it.
  • Make the sale. Complete a bill-of-sale transferring ownership. Again, what you need for a bill-of-sale will vary by location. (Here's a list of state motor vehicle division web sites.) Ask for cash or a cashier's check. (Here's a page about avoiding fraud, including fraudulent cashier's checks).
  • Take care of details. After the sale is complete, cancel your insurance on the vehicle. Offer your phone number to the buyer so that you can answer questions, but be clear that the sale is final.

If anything about the transaction makes you nervous, call it off. If the buyer seems shady, he probably is. If the buyer wants to pay more than you're asking and then be issues a refund, he's probably trying to pull a scam. Don't do it. Trust your gut.

If your car has trouble, if it's a lemon, don't sell it to a private party. Sell it to a dealer. You'll get less money, but you won't be screwing over somebody else. And the dealer will be better equipped to repair the trouble. Remember: your goal is to provide an excellent transaction for yourself and for the buyer. You're not there to rip anybody off.

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Charles
Charles
14 years ago

Let me add the most important thing you can do to save you from legal liability and a ton of hassles. It is VERY important to write a bill of sale, have the buyer sign it (keep a copy for yourself) and include this language: “This vehicle is sold as-is. Buyer assumes all liability and guarantees the vehicle will be registered in their name immediately.” I know people who sold cars, then the buyer never registered it in their name, then they drove it for months, racked up parking tickets and crashed the car, leaving the previous owner with legal… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
14 years ago

That’s insane!

I’ve heard similar horror stories, but all of my bad experiences have actually been on the *buying* end of used car transactions. Those were when I was young, insecure, and foolish, and I like to think I’d do things differently now, but who knows. It’s because of these early bad car-buying experiences that I’ve bought my last two cars new…

rich
rich
14 years ago

“If your car has trouble, if it’s a lemon, don’t sell it to a private party. Sell it to a dealer.” Selling a car with problems to someone who doesn’t mind *buying* a car with problems is a great way to get rid of a problem car. There’s always someone out there that wants to buy a winter beater they can drive for four months and then junk, or a preassembled box of parts for a car they already have, or a platform for their latest project, or whatever. Be honest with buyers, but not too honest — and specifically,… Read more »

Roger
Roger
14 years ago

Here in Washington, the state requires that sellers report the sale (via a conveinant online form, too). Once that is completed, all liability transfers from the seller to the buyer, which brings great peace of mind. Don’t forget to cancel your insurance, too. I would take minor issue with not selling a car with defects. As long as you’re disclosing the defects–and if it’s something serious, repeatedly, so that you know the message is getting across–there’s no reason you shouldn’t sell the car. If it’s safety related, don’t allow a test drive and don’t allow the buyer to drive away,… Read more »

rich
rich
14 years ago

Sorry for spreading this over two comments, but:

“Permit buyers to take the car to their mechanic, even if you’ve already taken it to yours.”

really ought to read “Offer to take the car to the mechanic of your buyers’ choice”. Don’t permit potential buyers to do anything to the car that doesn’t involve you sitting in it, lest it not come back!

Doug
Doug
14 years ago

from a financial perspective, selling your car yourself is definitely a great deal. people should be aware that i can create significant headaches, as some have already mentioned. i sold my subaru last year at a good price to a motivated buyer. i repeatedly told him that, mechanically, the car had been sound but that we should take it to a mechanic of his choosing. he was satisfied with my service records and didn’t want to take the time to get the car checked out. i should have insisted because the head-gasket failed a month or so after he took… Read more »

Vehicles Inc
Vehicles Inc
13 years ago

Anyone needing help on selling a car can go to:

http://www.vehiclesinc.com

Or, call us at 610-799-6000 and ask Lou.

Jarick
Jarick
12 years ago

This is incredibly helpful. Bookmarked.

Dan
Dan
12 years ago

This is probably one of the most complete guides I’ve seen on the internet for car sales. I would add one thing – if the car you’re selling is older and has some defects, make sure that you’re brutally honest about them upfront, and be prepared to make some amends on the price for those defects.

Great quality!
Dan

sjoman-1
sjoman-1
10 years ago

I purchased a Lemon/manufacturer buyback from a private party. I did a carfax and found it had an issue. So i did some investigating. I called the number where the car was sold at. They faxed me an internal report on the vehicle. Turns out the owner complained about the a/c only. I called and spoke directly the service manager who worked with the owner of the vehicle and who worked on the buyback. Apperantly the owner worked for a/c units that where installed in the car. They replaced it and he kept coming back with low freon. Basically, the… Read more »

Mike Fischer
Mike Fischer
8 years ago

Thanks for all the tips. Selling a used car shouldn’t doesn’t seem all that troublesome now.

Twitter: @unocardealers

good used car values
good used car values
6 years ago

In this matter it iss as per the standards declared by the insurance providers foor what leveel of imairment to call as unable
of revival. Even if you pay an independent
mechanic tto inspect the car annd then decide not to buy it, you should not consider it a waste
of money. Don’t fortet that this product can be somewhat difficult to get on aand off.

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