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 (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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