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How To Sell A Car
Learn about each step involved in selling a car privately so you can get the best value for your vehicle.
Selling your car can free up some cash to help you upgrade your ride or get ahead in other areas. But it takes a bit of planning. In this article, we’ll cover how to sell a car from start to finish in 10 steps. While we’ll also include tips on selling your car to a dealer or car buying site, we’ll primarily focus on selling a car privately because the process takes more time and effort. If you want to compare car buying sites and selling platforms, check out our list of the best places to sell a car.
When selling a car, there are a few proven steps to follow in order to get the best deal for your used vehicle. Following these steps will allow you to prepare yourself for a sale and give you negotiating power. In the sections below, we will break down our recommended process for selling your car privately.
1. Get Your Car’s Value
A good place to start is to get the market value of your vehicle. You can use free resources like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds.com, and Carfax to estimate your car’s value based on its make, model, trim, year, mileage, and condition along with comparable sales data in your local market.
In some cases, these tools might not apply to your vehicle. For example, if you have a classic car that has appreciated over the years, these tools won’t provide accurate data. Instead, you can use a tool like Hagerty’s classic car valuation calculator to get a more accurate value in this situation. You may also need to contact a specialty appraiser if you have a very unique vehicle.
Another example of when these tools might not work is when you have a junk car. In this situation, you might want to sell your car directly to a company that specializes in junk cars, like Peddle.
2. Gather Documents You’ll Need To Sell Your Car
You’ll need to gather a few documents to sell your car privately. The list here includes what you’ll likely need, but each state’s DMV has different requirements. Always look up your DMV’s requirements before selling your car.
Sales documents you might need to get together include:
Bill of sale
Vehicle history report
Third-party warranty details, if applicable
Other required forms from the DMV
What If You Still Have A Loan?
If you’re still paying off a loan, you won’t have the title to your car. You need to contact your lender and ask for a payoff amount along with protocols for selling the car privately. The lender may have you meet the buyer at a bank or at another financial institution. Your buyer may also need to have their bank work with your lender directly to pay the balance.
Your lender won’t release the car’s title until it receives the entire remaining balance of your loan. If you can’t negotiate a sales price above that amount, you’ll need to cover the difference.
3. Decide Where To Sell Your Car
There are a few ways you can sell your car: you can sell it privately, to an online car buying company, or to a dealership. Let’s get into the pros and cons of each place to sell your car.
Selling your car to a private buyer gets you the best price. If you sell to a business, whether to a dealership or an online car buying company, that business will turn around and sell the car to make a profit. So, it can’t offer you the best price.
When you sell on a marketplace like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, you cut out the middleman. You can expect a fair price near your car’s market value in this situation.
ProsYou can get the most money for your vehicleYou are in control of the priceThe buyer can often save money compared to purchasing from a dealership
ConsYou have to advertise the car yourselfYou need to find legitimate buyers and may deal with tire-kickers or even scammersThe process takes more time than selling to a dealer or car buying site
Car Buying Company
In the last few years it has become very convenient to sell your car to a car buying company like CarMax or Vroom. Since the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted microchip production and in turn new car manufacturing, new and used car prices grew throughout 2022. Online car buying companies were offering high prices to grab up any inventory they could. However, since the fall of 2022 the used car market has declined quickly according to the CarGurus Index. Now, in 2023 the prices you find may be more in line with the prepandemic used market.
In any case, it’s very easy to sell your car to one of these platforms. Most companies can complete the entire transaction remotely and send a representative to inspect your vehicle, provide paperwork, and pick up the car. CarMax is a different case because you need to bring your car into a location to complete the sale.
ProsThe transaction is easy and can be completed from homeYou can get cash offers or trade-in values from multiple sites and compare themMost car buying sites handle all the paperwork
ConsYou might make less compared to selling privatelyIf you aren’t located within a certain distance you might have to drive your car to a drop-off spotThe final offer may change depending on the in-person inspection
Finally, you can also sell your car directly to a dealership. In many cases, local dealers in your area may even offer online cash valuations through Kelley Blue Book. This makes it easy to see what the dealer would pay before heading in. If not, you’ll need to bring your car into the dealership.
Selling to a dealer may involve the extra step of negotiating the price, whereas offers from online car buying companies are typically non-negotiable. After you agree on a price, the dealer will complete the rest of the paperwork like transferring the title and notifying the DMV.
ProsIt’s convenient to drive to your local dealer and sell your carYou can get a trade-in vehicleDealers handle all the paperwork
ConsYou might make less money compared to selling privatelySales staff may hassle you to lower the price
4. Set An Asking Price
Since you got a value estimate on your vehicle, you have a good place to start for setting your asking price. You can also print out a valuation to have when you meet buyers just in case they want to negotiate too far down.
If you think your car is worth more than the online estimate, back it up with how well you’ve maintained the vehicle or its low mileage or that it comes with an extended warranty.
5. Prepare Your Car For Sale
Before you put your car online for sale, consider fixing minor issues that could turn a buyer off. Taking it in for a tune up beforehand can give buyers more confidence in the value of your car, as well.
It may be worth getting larger issues fixed, too. However, if you don’t have the time or funds, you can sell a car with issues if you’re honest and knock the price down accordingly.
6. Advertise Your Car
Now you’re ready to put your car on the market. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are two popular platforms. eBay Motors is another option if your car is highly desirable. For instance, a like-new Toyota Camry with low miles is a good fit for this platform because it will sell easily. If you have an enthusiast vehicle from the 1980s to today, you can also use Cars & Bids.
While each platform is slightly different, you’ll want to provide a few common things in your listing:
Multiple high-quality photos of your vehicle
An accurate description the vehicle and its condition
A summary of its service schedule
Your asking price
When taking photos, think about how to make your car stand out and look great. Use good lighting and try to take pictures during the golden hour before sunset if possible. Include photos of the odometer reading, tire tread, dashboard, interior, and engine.
Consider A Pre-Sale Inspection
Many buyers will want to have your car inspected at a mechanic before purchase. However, you may be able to skip multiple inspections with different buyers if you get a pre-sale inspection yourself. You can include in your listing that you’ve had a recent inspection by a reputable local mechanic
7. Sift Through Leads And Contact Buyers
You may start receiving inquiries from interested buyers as soon as your ad goes live. Now comes the hard part. You’ll need to sift through leads and identify legitimate buyers.
Don’t put your car on hold for anyone. Of course, you can respond to questions and talk with multiple people, but if one prospective buyer has cash now, you don’t want to be committed to anyone else.
Also, watch out for car sales scams online. Don’t sell to anyone who is out of town but will buy the car sight unseen. Avoid people who offer to pay above asking price, and request the difference in a cashier’s check. If you’re worried about random people on the internet having your contact information, consider creating a new email address and a Google Voice phone number just for the sale.
8. Set Up Safe Test Drives
Pick the best buying candidates and offer to meet for a test drive. Keep it safe by meeting at a public place around other people like a local store, coffee shop, or mall. Bringing a friend or family member along is a good idea, too.
You can ride with them for the test drive to direct them around the area or follow them in your car. To be extra safe, take a picture of their driver’s license before they get in your car.
9. Negotiate The Deal
You can expect people to negotiate below your asking price. Have a bottom limit in mind and don’t be afraid to tell the buyer you’ll think about their offer overnight. Find out the most they’d pay for your car, as well.
Pay attention to what type of payment they offer. Try to take cash first, of course. A cashier’s check or money order would be the next best option in the exact amount negotiated and preferably from a local institution.
If a buyer wants to pay with a personal check, try to get them to use a cashier’s check instead. If they insist, then you should look up their bank to make sure it’s legitimate. Then, try to go to their bank with them to verify the check and that the account has funds. To be extra cautious, see if the buyer will let you wait until the check clears your bank before giving them the keys.
10. Finalize The Sale
Once you’ve received payment, complete the sale:
Write down the mileage of the vehicle on the back of the title
Sign your name on the back of the title or the bill of sale
Have the new owner fill out their information on the title
Notify your state’s DMV of the sale
Some states require sellers to file paperwork after the sale within a specific time frame. This usually involves a form releasing you as the previous owner of the vehicle. Again, if you still owe money on the car loan and don’t have the title, your lender will give you details on how to finalize the sale.
How To Sell My Car: Conclusion
Selling a car to a private party involves gathering documents, advertising, sifting through buyers, and completing paperwork to finalize the sale. It takes time and effort but you can be rewarded with a good offer for your car. Of course, you can also skip many of those steps and sell directly to a dealer or car buying company.
Selling a Used Car: Best Options
Here are some highlights of our top recommendations.
Cars.com: Cars.com is our top pick for online car buying companies. Not only can you sell your car to Cars.com, but you can also list it privately on the Cars.com marketplace. Cars.com provides many resources for selling your car.
Peddle: Peddle is the best option if you have an old car that no one really wants to buy. Peddle provides instant cash offers online and can pick up your vehicle and tow it away for free. You can sell to Peddle if your car is no longer running, as well.
CarMax: CarMax is another great option for getting an instant cash offer online. In our experience, CarMax tends to offer better valuations for used cars. The only downside is you need to take your car to a CarMax location to complete the sale.
How to Privately Sell a Car: FAQ
Below are some frequently asked questions about how to sell a car privately:
First, look up any car sale requirements from your state’s DMV. You may need to file particular forms or even get an emissions inspection before selling your car. Then, gather documents like the title and bill of sale. Advertise your car, sift through potential buyers, and bring a friend to meet serious buyers before closing the sale.
There are many effective ways to sell a car:
Private sale: You’ll make the most money this way and can sell on a platform or by word of mouth.
Online car buying company:This is the easiest way to sell a car as it involves the least amount of work.
Selling to a dealer: You can trade in your vehicle or sell it outright in a couple of hours at a dealership.
If you’re selling privately, cash is the safest payment method followed by cashier’s check and then money order. Try to avoid accepting a personal check unless you can wait for the check to clear before handing over the keys.
To avoid scams, meet buyers in person and take cash or certified checks. Avoid people who want to buy the car sight unseen or who offer over your asking price.
How We Rate Car Selling Platforms
Our review process aims to deliver consistent and unbiased assessments of online platforms to sell your car. While there are multiple qualities that make a car selling site successful, our review team focuses on those we’ve determined are the most important for consumers:
Industry Reputation: We evaluate each platform’s reputation to ensure it’s a reliable place to sell your car. Companies that have been in business for several years and have a strong rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) score well in this category.
Platform: Our team rates each online platform based on how easy it is to use and its available features. Those that provide instant offers and several sales options are more likely to meet customers’ needs.
Cost: We performed a secret shopper analysis to see how each provider’s offering prices compared to competitors’. Any additional fees companies charge to sell your car also factor into this rating.
Transaction Support:The level of support offered by a car selling platform can make the process much smoother for customers. From free pickup services to sending an in-person inspector to you, companies that offer greater transaction support receive higher scores in this category.
Customer Experience: Our team takes a comprehensive look at customer reviews on sites like the BBB and Trustpilot to get a sense of each provider’s customer experience.