I’m not a car person. For many years, I dreamed about going carless, but it only recently became a practical option. It was so nice to think about a life without making car insurance payments, finding a parking spot, dealing with vehicle maintenance and all the other ways cars annoy me, so I was extremely excited when my husband and I decided last month to sell our car. The excitement faded a bit when a question popped into my mind: How the heck do you sell a car?
Casual conversations, interviews with experts and a lot of online research helped me arrive at the answer. Here’s what I learned.
1. Identify Your Goals
Most people know that you’ll make more money selling your car to a private buyer than you would if you traded it in at a dealership. On the other hand, advertising and carrying out a car sale requires a lot more effort than driving the car to a dealership, trading in a vehicle and getting a ride home.
I wanted to get rid of the car fast, and I knew I didn’t have time to post the car on Craigslist or eBay, vet potential buyers and arrange test drives and a sale. Knowing we wouldn’t get as much money for our vehicle, my husband and I planned to get a few estimates and have a dealer buy it from us.
2. Straighten Out the Paperwork
When we finally decided to sell the car, we set a goal of selling it within two weeks. We were able to quickly execute our plan because it was easy to get everything we needed for the sale: We had the title readily available, and the sales forms required by state law were available online.
“The key to it is the title,” said Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor for car sales site Edmunds.com. “Before you even begin to sell your car, locate the title.”
Reed said a missing title is the most common obstacle people encounter when trying to sell their vehicles. If you don’t have the title (or can’t find it), you can apply for a duplicate title, but it may take a while to get it.
You should be able to find any state-required paperwork online through the department of motor vehicles, and if you have any questions about what forms you need, ask someone in the department for guidance.
3. Appraise the Vehicle
You can find several online appraisal tools to help you determine the value of your car. If you’re looking to do a private sale, accurate pricing is crucial to attracting buyers, and if you’re looking to trade in, you’ll want to know what sort of offers to expect and what you’ll accept. Reed said people commonly overvalue their vehicles and struggle to sell them as a result.
“People are very price sensitive,” he said. “There’s a specific price for cars, and you have to have a relationship with that market price.”
There’s a used car value calculator on Edmunds.com, as well as Kelley Blue Book. I consulted both when I started the selling process.
You can also go to Carmax and get a free appraisal with a written offer that’s good for seven days. You can use that figure to shop around for better trade-in options, or Reed suggests adding about $1,500 to the appraisal and using that as a pricing guideline for private sales.
If you want to get the most money out of this transaction, you’ll need to harness your inner salesperson. Make a list for yourself of all the positives and negatives about your vehicle, and figure out how you’re going to address them when talking to a potential buyer.
Buyers are going to have a lot of questions about the vehicle’s history and condition, so consider getting it checked out and taking care of basic maintenance (oil change, tire rotation) before advertising the car.
“Get an inspection of the car — it’ll cost between 50 and 100 dollars,” Reed said. “You can say, ‘Here’s the inspection report, you can call the mechanic.’ Pull your own vehicle history report.”
Preparedness establishes your credibility as a seller.
At the very least, get the car washed and take your belongings out of it before showing it to anyone. Don’t underestimate the power of appearance. Reed suggests taking a lot of pictures — get everything from the interior to under the hood to the tires — and making sure they’re in good lighting without anything distracting in the background. You don’t need to hire a professional photographer or have a fancy camera, but do what you can to make your car appealing.
Keep in mind that if you’re planning to sell your car to another buyer directly, you need to be careful you’re not misplacing trust. Never hand over the keys to someone you don’t know without first confirming their payment has gone through. Ask for payment via a cashier’s check instead of a personal check that could bounce, for example.
A last bit of strategy advice: Consider widening your sale area. For example, if you live in an urban area where many people don’t drive, try advertising your car in the suburbs. Keep in mind the price estimates will change depending on where you sell it.
5. Tell People You’re Selling Your Car
Originally, my plan was to bring the car to Carmax, get a check and be done with the whole thing. That’s not what happened.
During a Thanksgiving family gathering, I mentioned our plans to sell the car. People shared tips on how to go about the sale, which I appreciated, but the conversation eventually led to me actually selling the car. As it turned out, my aunt and uncle were looking to buy my younger cousin a car. The week after Thanksgiving, they bought mine.
You never know who might be in the market for something you’re selling. Mention it in conversations, post something about it on Facebook, because it may lead you to a buyer, without you having to do much work. If the deal with my relatives didn’t work out, I was going to stick to my original plan — remember, I was much more interested in getting rid of the car than getting a lot of money for it — but I got lucky. We sold the car quickly, got back 67% of what we originally paid for it, and my cousin got a car.
Most important: I will not have to shovel my car out of several inches of snow this winter, only to have someone steal the parking space by the time I return.
More on Auto Loans:
- Are There Car Loans for People With Bad Credit?
- What to Do If You Can’t Make Your Car Payments
- Top 5 Worst Car Buying Mistakes