What Everyone Ought to Know About Selling a Car


Supply photos from every angle when marketing your car.

Selling a car is a slam dunk, right? Once you put your car on the market, the buyers will line up from all over. After a few test drives and perhaps competition between buyers, you’ll close the deal and reap a handsome profit. Keep dreaming.

On the surface, selling a car privately sounds likes a terrific idea. But it often comes with all sorts of hassles, including shoppers without a desire to make an offer or the funds available to finalize the purchase. And then there is the matter of your time, which explains in part why many people prefer to sell to their dealer or make a trade, even when they know they could get a better deal through a private sale. If you insist on trying a private sale, we’ll examine what everyone ought to know about selling a car.

1. Get your car ready to show.

Sell your car “as is” and your offers will reflect its condition. It always pays to spend some time making it look market-ready.

Wash and detail your car, adding a fresh coat of wax to restore it to its former luster. You can handle small scrapes and scratches, and quite possibly remove a few dings. Clean out the interior and trunk, vacuuming or wiping down seats, carpets and other surfaces. The same attention you paid to the exterior should apply to the interior. Replace burnt-out bulbs and fuses, and ensure the audio and navigations systems are in working order.

Handle all maintenance due items, most importantly the motor oil and filter. Ensure that the battery, hoses, belts, brakes, suspension, and other components are in top order. Provide copies of your repair invoices. Offer a CARFAX vehicle history report to demonstrate to buyers that your car is in the best condition.


Prep your vehicle to make it more appealing to shoppers.

2. Survey the market.

So, how is the car market where you live? Specifically, what kind of demand do you see for your type of vehicle?

For example, if you live in a warm climate and own a convertible, demand should be strong. On the other hand, if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle and live in Florida, chances are demand will be quite low. Review local ads, such as on Craigslist to gauge interest in your type of vehicle.

3. Know your price range.

There are online tools to help you determine the price for your vehicle. Typically, you’ll find two sets of prices — dealer and private party. Review both to understand the spread between the two. Private party prices are always higher than dealer prices.

The more details you supply about a car, the better. This means entering not just the make, model and model year of the vehicle, but its mileage, trim level, and special features or options. Features such as navigation and driver-assist technologies mean you can fetch more for your car.


First impressions are everything when marketing a car.

4. Market your car.

Now that you know prices, you need to determine your bottom number for selling your car. This isn’t a number you’ll display or share with shoppers — it is the price you’re willing to accept.

Pricing can be tricky, but the 5 to 10 percent added to your bottom price gives you some wiggle room when negotiating. Further, when you set your price, avoid a round number such as $10,000. Choose $9,995 instead as it sounds better to shoppers. You’ve noticed that retailers use a similar pricing strategy. The reason? Because it works!

As for advertising, newspapers are a thing of the past. Online services, such as Craigslist and eBay are popular places to market a vehicle. It is important to understand the terms of use for any online site, including whatever fees or commissions may be charged. Be thorough with your ad, offering complete details about the car along with numerous interior, exterior, under the hood and trunk or storage area shots. Review other ads for ideas on how to set yours.

5. Show your vehicle.

Now for the hard part: show your vehicle. But somewhere between running your ad and showing your vehicle, place at least one “for sale” sign inside the car. At a minimum, supply a contact number, but be forewarned: you’ll get your share of spam calls. Perhaps securing a temporary phone number would be the best approach here.

Strategically place your vehicle so people will see it. Unless, of course, you don’t want people knocking on your door at all hours if it is sitting on your front lawn.

When an individual inquires about the car, engage them in a conversation to determine what they’re looking for. If you’re not comfortable with this individual, go no further. Always meet in a public place and when it comes to test driving the vehicle ask for a valid driver’s license and ride with them. Explain the features and answer their questions. Never give your keys to a stranger as this may be the last time you see your car.


When all is said and done, you’re ready to conclude your deal.

6. Let’s make a deal.

Only negotiate with buyers who show genuine interest in the vehicle. Explain your terms upfront — cash or a certified check. Ask them if they have the means to close the deal TODAY. Not tomorrow or some other time, but today. Let them know that the first buyer who meets your price gets the car.

You can expect negotiating to commence at once with potential buyers presenting their offer, which may be far lower than your asking price. If you feel that you’re being lowballed, say so. If their offer is within an acceptable range, counter with your own price. If both parties give a little, then a deal should be reached. The idea here is to provide a win for both — you’ll get at least your bottom dollar amount and the buyer saved money off the sticker price.

If the buyer insists on having his mechanic inspect the vehicle as a condition of the sale and you’re okay with that, be careful: the mechanic may discover a problem and the buyer may counter with a lower price, costing you money if you agree. If you’re not okay with the inspection, show copies of the repair records and the CARFAX report. Explain that the vehicle is being sold “as is” without room for further negotiation.

Accept cash or a certified check, ensuring the latter clears before signing and handing over the title to the buyer. Clean out the car (including DMV and insurance paperwork), remove the tags and hand the keys to the new owner. Cancel your ads.

7. Wrapping up.

The cash is good or the check has cleared and everything is done, right? No, not quite.

You may need to take care of certain Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) business, depending on where you live. If you have the vehicle’s tags (license plates), return these to the DMV. Make sure the registration is canceled and all taxes and fees settled. Get a receipt and keep it for your records.

Lastly, contact your insurance company to ensure coverage is discontinued. This is also an ideal time to review your policy to ensure it meets your current needs.

Final Thoughts

What if you’re not able to find a buyer for your car or are tired of dealing with customers? If you already struck a deal for a new car with your dealer, they may be interested in purchasing it. If not, there are other car buying services that may be interested, allowing you to quickly put this experience behind you.


See AlsoUsed Cars: Where the Bargains Are

The second, third, and fourth photos are courtesy of Pixabay.

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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