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  • Guide to Selling Your Car

    Evaluate Your Vehicle

    Let's face it, consumers can be fickle. What was once the rage goes quickly out of vogue. The American car-buying public is notorious for wanting the trendiest vehicles with the lowest sticker prices. Take an honest look at the marketability of the car you have for sale. If it's a popular make and model, you'll probably sell your car quickly. If not, be prepared to do a little research to find the best markets for your particular car.

    Remember the Chevrolet Corvair or the Ford Pinto? Those vehicles, and others that have fallen out of favor, may be next to impossible to sell unless you offer it to members of a collector's car club. Compact economy cars may be hot tickets if you happen to live around a college campus; muscle cars may sell best near a military facility; station wagons may attract an interested buyer in a bedroom community; and ragtops will sell better at the beach. Knowing your vehicle and who would be most likely to buy such a car is imperative to the successful sale of your vehicle.

    Be brutally honest with yourself about the popularity and desirability of the make and model car you want to sell. Take the time to research the going rate for your car through a company such as the Kelley Blue Book. Only then will you know where and how to market your vehicle, and only then will you have realistic expectations of how much money you can get from the sale of your car.

    Determine Your Asking Price

    Doing a little homework is your first step in deciding your asking price. Spending a Sunday afternoon scouring the classifieds for comparable vehicles or clicking onto used car websites over several evenings are valuable tools to determine the going rate for your make and model of car. Once you have a range of prices for your particular model and year of car, you'll need to factor in a few other considerations:

    • Mileage
    • Condition
    • Special features

    Other factors that determine the selling price of a vehicle that some people do not consider are: location of the car (weather plays a big factor on the look and longevity of a vehicle); who has driven the car (young drivers are known to put hard miles on their cars); and gas mileage (more and more drivers are sensitive to this issue for both economic and environmental concerns).

    If you have made major cosmetic or mechanical improvements to the car recently, be sure to boost your price accordingly. A new set of high quality tires, a rebuilt engine, a replaced transmission still under warranty, or a top-of-the-line paint job will add to the value of the car and you should be compensated for those upgrades that make your vehicle more reliable and desirable. Locate the paperwork regarding any major work and create a file of receipts (with dates) to show any potential buyers.

    Once you have decided on 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.

    Decide Where to Sell

    Tried-and-true methods for selling a used car include hanging a "for sale" sign in the vehicle; buying a classified ad in the local newspaper; posting a sign on neighborhood bulletin boards; and trading in the car at a nearby car dealership. All those traditional approaches will have varying degrees of success―all of those methods inherently include an investment of time and energy.

    Nowadays, car sellers also have some non-traditional ways to sell a used car. With the popularity of the Internet, you can now find sites that will assist you in a variety of ways to sell your vehicle. Many sites exist where buyers, usually for a small fee, can post their car's details and interested parties can contact you online for more information. One benefit from dealing with that type of posting is that you can make initial contact with potential buyers via email; from that initial contact, you can field any questions they may have and weed out any unqualified buyers prior to showing the vehicle. Companies such as Car Soup; Cars Direct and Craigs List can help streamline the sale of your car.

    Other online businesses take even more of the hassle out of selling your car. Today, there are brokers that will consign your vehicle and will sell the vehicle online for you for a fee. A note of caution: Be sure you are dealing with a reputable company by researching the company before you sign a contract with them.

    Another online option is to offer your car for sale to the highest bidder. A number of online auction houses, such as Ebay now include car divisions on their sites. Again, before committing to any agreements with the company, be sure to read carefully all rules and stipulations.

    If you are especially eager to be rid of a car, consider donating your car to a legitimate non-profit organization. Many of these groups can be found via the Internet or in your local phone book; one source is Donate a Car. Be sure to read and understand the current tax deduction guidelines; many tax code rules change from year to year.

    Detail Your Vehicle

    Your investment in a little car maintenance and cleanup can reap big dividends when selling a car. Some cosmetic changes can make the difference in making a great first impression on potential car buyers, and can vastly improve your chances of getting your asking price. Minor maintenance that will cost you little but will enhance the appeal of your vehicle include:

    • Wash and wax the car
    • Tidy the interior and empty the trunk
    • Clean the carpet and upholstery
    • Shine up the tires and hubcaps

    To take this preparation a few steps further you can make any minor repairs, throw in an inexpensive oil change, make sure the tire pressure is at the recommended level, and hang up an air freshener.

    It is sometimes helpful to ask a friend or relative to take the car for a test drive. Many times they are able to hear or see something that you might not notice because you have become accustomed to your own car's idiosyncrasies.

    Additional steps to make you look like a conscience car owner are compiling all the car's service and parts records in a folder in the glove compartment, and considering taking your car in to your regular car mechanic to have them provide a statement of condition or diagnostic results.

    Show it Off

    If you have a sign posted on your vehicle, be sure to park your car in the areas that may generate the most interest―places that are appealing to those who would most be interested in your particular make and model.

    Remember too, that potential buyers are going to be evaluating you as well as your vehicle. Car buyers may shy away if you come across as a high-pressure car salesman, so try to present yourself as friendly and honest. If you present yourself (both in appearance and demeanor) as a responsible and detail-oriented person, that impression will help assure possible buyers that you have carefully maintained your car.

    For most methods of selling a used car, you will need to arrange and keep appointments where potential buyers can view and test drive your vehicle. Many people can find this process a bit intimidating―be sure to try to put potential buyers at ease, and answer any questions to the best of your ability. For your own protection, you should verify that anyone who will be driving your car is in possession of a valid driver's license issued in your state, and make sure your insurance coverage will cover other drivers. To safeguard your property, it is always best to accompany the driver. During the drive, you can answer any of their questions as you travel along the highway.

    If you are anxious about showing off your car alone, there is nothing wrong with having a friend or relative drive along, just be sure that you address any concerns or questions on your own―you are the expert on this vehicle.

    Be a Savvy Seller

    Anticipating a potential buyer's questions about your vehicle is one way to build confidence in your honesty. Buyers looking for a certain make or model will likely have done some research on the going price of similar cars. Because of that, you should do your homework too.

    Spend some time online or reading the local classified ads comparing the same year make and models. If, for example, your asking price is significantly higher than the price of like models, it makes sense to have ready reasons to support your higher asking price. Special features, perfect maintenance records, and newly upgraded or replaced major engine parts are all logical explanations of a higher price--just be sure that you can justify your answers with receipts.

    Many people refer to Kelley Blue Book to find a range of price on used vehicles. While the figures they use are an established source for car values, it is not the only source available any more. Don't let the buyer quote chapter and verse from any one source that determines car values. It may well behoove you to research several of the car evaluation sites and print out copies of the reports so you can show potential buyers that your asking price falls within the range of acceptable prices. You might want to check out NadaGuides or Edmunds.

    In addition to being smart about pricing information, it is in your best interest to learn some car terminology prior to writing up your ad. Using correct and specific terms to describe your car makes your ad more concise and informative―and the car shopper will know that you know about your vehicle. Once your ad has been written up, take the time to have a friend read over your copy to make sure you haven't forgotten or omitted any crucial information. If, for example, a potential buyer is looking only for a car with an automatic transmission, they will probably never take the time to call you and ask if you neglect to include that information.

    Bumps in the Road

    As long as you have been forthright in your representation of your car's pluses and minuses, 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 vehicle via a vehicle history report.

    Some car shoppers will ask if they can take the car to their own mechanic for a once-over. This has become an acceptable practice when buying a used car, although if you have obtained a prior report from your mechanic, that 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 inkling that the car shoppers are possible car thieves, it only make sense for you to refuse them the option of driving the car away―and you should end the meeting immediately for your own safety sake.

    Close the Deal

    Only you can decide how payment will be paid: by personal check; cash only; or cashier's check. It is always good form to mention your payment preference while setting up an appointment to see the car. In that way, 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 on the part of either party.

    If it hasn't been discussed before, now is the time to state your terms for the price of the car. Any negotiations should take place at this time. If you have given yourself a little cushion on your asking price, you can let the interested party take the lead. If they make a reasonable offer, be prepared to say yes. The art of negotiation is not easy for many people; take your time and listen to any offer. Counter offers by both the buyer and the seller are expected at this time in the process. Know beforehand what your bottom line amount is and don't get caught up in thinking that this will be the only person interested in buying your car. Should a potential buyer 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. After a cooling off period, they may reconsider and make a higher offer.

    During this part of the deal is also the time to convey whether you will provide the buyer with 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.

    Sign on the Dotted Line

    Before undertaking the sale of any vehicle, get informed. Learn what your state's requirements are for such documents as title transfer, smog certification, and possibly an odometer reading statement prior to advertising your car for sale. If there is any question as to the validity of any paperwork pertaining to your vehicle, a trip to the local Department of Motor Vehicles may be in order to 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. If you have other questions, you can also take a look at some Buying and Selling FAQs.

    After the Sale

    First, take a minute to celebrate. You have undertaken a procedure that can sometimes generate some level of stress and concern. If you have followed the steps outlined in this guide, and done your research before putting the car up for sale, it is likely that the transaction has been accomplished to the satisfaction of both you and the new owner. They are now the proud owners of a vehicle that will provide them safe transportation at a price they feel comfortable with, and you can make that bank deposit and begin shopping for the car of your dreams.

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