Guide to Selling Your Car
Whether this is your first time selling a car or you have some experience, a quick scan of this page will refresh your memory and prepare you for every step of the process.
If you’re ready to put your car up for sale on the market, visit the following links for all the information you need to easily negotiate a fair deal:
- Paperwork When Selling a Car
- Bill of Sale
- Release of Liability
- Title Transfers
- Smog & Emission Checks
Before selling your vehicle, learn about your state's required documents for a title transfer, release of liability, and smog certification. A trip to a local DMV office may be in order to ensure you have clear proof of ownership within arm's reach.
In many states, both the seller and the new buyer have responsibilities during and after the transfer of a vehicle. Be sure to learn about the state regulations on the necessary paperwork; you can also take a look at some Buying and Selling FAQs.
The fastest-selling cars are usually the ones with trendy styling and the lowest sticker prices. Therefore, you may want to consider the true marketability of the car you have for sale. If you own a popular make and model, you'll probably sell your car quickly. If not, be prepared to do a little research to locate the best markets for your particular vehicle.
Here are some examples:
- Compact economy cars may be hot tickets if you happen to live around a college campus.
- Station wagons may attract an interested buyer in a bedroom community.
- Ragtops will likely sell better at the beach.
- Classic or older models, such as the Chevy Corvair or Ford Pinto, could find buyers at a car collector club.
Be brutally honest with yourself about the desirability of the car you want to sell. Take the time to research the going rate through a reputable company. Only then will you know where and how to market your vehicle, and have realistic expectations of how much money you can get.
As a credible seller, be ready to answer any potential questions about your vehicle. Buyers will likely have done some research on the going price of cars they’re interested in.
- Spend some time online or read the local classified ads to compare other examples of the same year, make and model.
- If your asking price is significantly higher than the price of like models, you’ll need reasons to support your higher asking price (i.e., special features, perfect maintenance records, newly upgraded or replaced major engine parts, etc.).
- Browse several vehicle-pricing websites and print out copies of the reports to show potential buyers that your asking price falls within the range.
- Use correct and specific terms to describe your car in your ad.
- This makes it more concise and informative―and the car shopper will know that you know about your vehicle.
- Take the time to have a friend read over your ad to make sure you haven't forgotten or omitted any crucial information.
What Is Your Asking Price?
Do a little homework before deciding the asking price for your vehicle. You can browse the automotive classifieds in the newspaper for comparable vehicles or visit a few used car websites to determine the going rate for your make and model of car. Once you have a price range in mind, consider some other factors such as:
- Vehicle condition.
- Special features.
- Weather plays a big role on the longevity of a vehicle.
- Previous drivers.
- Young drivers are known to log hard miles.
- Fuel economy.
If you have made major cosmetic or mechanical improvements to the car, be sure to boost your price accordingly. That could include:
- A new set of high-rated tires.
- A rebuilt engine.
- A replaced transmission with a warranty.
- A new paint job.
Any of the above factors could add to the value of the car, and you should be compensated for upgrades that make your vehicle more reliable/desirable. Create a file of dated receipts and paperwork regarding any major work.
After deciding what you plan to charge, remember to boost your figure by a few hundred dollars. That cushion will provide a bit of negotiating room between you and potential buyers.
All of the traditional approaches to selling a car have varying degrees of success, and require an investment of time and energy. Some tried-and-true methods for selling a used car include:
- Placing a "For Sale" sign on the vehicle.
- Be sure to park your car in the areas that generate the most interest and appeal to buyers.
- Buying a classified ad in the local newspaper.
- Posting a flyer on the neighborhood bulletin board.
- Trading in the car at a nearby car dealership.
- Utilizing a website that assists with private sales.
- Buyers can post details about their cars for a small fee, and interested parties can reach out directly for more information.
- Hiring a broker to consign your vehicle for a small percentage of the sale.
- CAUTION! Make sure you are dealing with a reputable company by researching the company before you sign a contract with them.
- Using an online auction website (e.g. eBay). Make sure to read all rules and stipulations carefully.
Investing in maintenance, cleanup, and organization can yield big dividends when selling a car. With a few cosmetic improvements and organizational skills, you can make a great first impression and vastly improve your chances of getting your asking price. These include:
- Detailing the exterior and interior of your car.
- Shining up the wheels and tires.
- Making any minor repairs, getting an oil change, and checking your tire pressure.
- Organizing all of the car’s service and parts records in the glove compartment.
- Having a mechanic perform an inspection.
When you think your car is ready, ask a friend or family member to take the car for a test drive. Many times they’ll be able to hear or see something you did not notice.
You’ll need to make appointments with potential buyers. Try your best to put them at ease and answer any questions to the best of your ability. During a test drive, you should accompany the driver to protect your property and answer any of their questions along the way. Make sure that the person driving your car has a valid driver's license, and your insurance policy covers other drivers.
The way you present yourself is just as important as the condition of the vehicle. Car buyers may shy away if you come across as a high-pressure salesman. You’re better off being friendly and honest.
If you are anxious about showing off your car alone, there is nothing wrong with having a friend or relative with you. Just be sure that you address any concerns or questions on your own―you are the expert on this vehicle.
Negotiating the Selling Price
If you have not already discussed your terms for the price of the car, now is the time to start negotiating. After giving yourself a little cushion on your asking price, you can let the interested party take the lead. The art of negotiation requires you to take your time and listen to any offer. Expect to receive several counter offers, and be prepared by setting your bottom-line price beforehand.
If they make a reasonable offer, be prepared to say yes. Should they offer a ridiculously low amount, be prepared to thank them for their time and move along—but be sure to give them a card with your name and telephone number. They may reconsider and make a higher offer.
You should also inform the buyer if you will provide any sort of warranty, or if the vehicle will be sold "as is." If the car is to be sold “as is,” be sure to write up a statement to that effect and have the buyer sign and date it for your records.
NOTE: Don't let the buyer quote from any one source that determines car values (i.e. Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, etc.) – a single source should never solely determine much your car is worth. Show them the paperwork you’ve printed from your research showing different pricing sources.
As long as you have been forthright in your representation of your vehicle, you should have nothing to worry about. To assure the potential buyer that you are not keeping any secrets, hand out the vehicle's VIN number and encourage them to run a check on the car with a vehicle history report.
Some car shoppers will ask if they can take the car to their own mechanic. This has become an acceptable practice when buying a used car. However, a prior report from your mechanic may suffice.
If you have built a rapport with the potential buyer, you can give your permission for them to take the car and set a return appointment at a specified time and place, or you can drive with the buyer to obtain a diagnostic check. If you have any suspicion that the car shoppers are possible thieves, it only makes sense for you to refuse them the option of driving the car away―and you should end the meeting immediately for your own safety.
Acceptable Methods of Payment
You need to decide how to be paid for your vehicle. In private party sales, car transactions are generally handled through the following payment methods:
- Personal check.
- Cashier's check.
As the seller, it’s always good form to mention your payment preference while setting up an appointment to see the car. If the buyer simply falls in love with your car on the spot, you will be able to finalize the transaction quickly―without any time lapse, confusion, or embarrassment for either party.
If you followed the steps outlined in this guide and did your research before putting the car up for sale, it is likely that the transaction went well for both you and the new owner.
Depending on your state of residence, you may need to file a release of liability to protect yourself in the event the buyer keeps the vehicle titled and registered under your name.