Car & Driver

Sell Your Car: Tips for Success

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The time has come to sell your car. While parting ways may be such sweet sorrow, the potential to sell it for top dollar is certainly rewarding.

No matter how you sell your used car, whether to an individual or a dealer, online or with a sign in the front window, it takes a little legwork to close the deal successfully (and legally). Here are some steps to make sure everyone walks away happy.

Do your homework.

When it comes to selling a car, a little research and comparison work will help you know what to realistically ask for your vehicle. You can start by:

  • Getting accurate information regarding your car’s model, additional accessories or features. This could be making sure it’s a six cylinder instead of four, or that it’s a sport versus a base model.
  • Evaluating the local (or national) market to know how to price your car.
  • If your car is financed, make sure you know what you still owe on your loan.
  • Checking classified ads and online sites for comparable makes and models in your area.

Decide to sell to an individual or dealer.

What’s the best way to sell a car? Should you sell it privately or to a dealership? The answer depends on your time and inclination. You'll usually get more for your car if you sell it yourself. But the convenience of a fast transaction with a dealer might be too good to pass up (as long as you’re comfortable dealing with a car salesperson).

If you sell it privately, chances are you’ll use a website like craigslist, eBay or Autotrader. Make sure you:

  • Take good photos showing all sides of the vehicle.
  • Be accurate but brief when describing the car’s condition, maintenance history and performance.
  • Be prepared for several different inquiries, questions and offers.
  • If you’re not comfortable with people coming to your home to view the car, pick a public place that’s well lit and safe.

Before selling a used car to a dealer:

  • Check out car's Kelley Blue Book® Trade-in Value.
  • You can also get an instant offer from Autotrader.com, which can be redeemed immediately at a participating dealer.
  • Sites like Carmax.com will accept trade-ins and buy your car even if you don't buy one of theirs.
  • Be prepared for them to ask questions about the car’s history, as well as a possible on-site inspection.

Get your car in “showroom ready” condition.

While your vehicle may never reach “like new” looks again, a little sweat equity and proactive steps can give it the best showing possible, which equates to higher offers.

  • Spiff up your car to show it strong. Run it through the car wash. Clean the dashboard and floor mats and do a thorough vacuuming.
  • It doesn’t hurt to air up the tires, fill it with some gas and top off the fluids. These simple tasks help prevent a discriminated buyer from making a big deal about a small detail.
  • Fix what makes financial sense. Ask a mechanic to inspect it for must-do fixes. It may be worth replacing an old brake system to get more offers, or even get a tune-up (which you can mention to potential buyers).
  • Do a thorough search of your car to take out all personal property and documents. Take a few extra minutes to look under the seats and dig through the glove box and center console.

Get ready to negotiate.

Most of us are not natural-born salespeople, so the idea of haggling back and forth, whether it’s with an individual or a dealer, doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. But the following tips can help you work through the negotiating process:

  • Have a number in mind of how low you’re willing to go — if you’re not dead set on your price, meeting in the middle is not a bad approach to reach a deal more quickly.
  • Also realize that the buyer has probably already made up his or her mind how much they want to spend. Anticipate they’ve done their homework as well and know what the car is worth versus how much you’re asking.
  • Be prepared for a lot of questions from the buyer — and don’t be surprised if they try different tactics on you, such as haggling, hesitating, “tire kicking” or walking away.
  • Be realistic about what the vehicle is worth and honest about its condition. This will help you avoid any questions or residual issues after the sale.

To-dos at the point of sale.

Once the buyer has agreed to a price, there are several items — including some paperwork — needed to complete the transfer of ownership. Because laws on car sales vary by state, check with your state's Department of Motor Vehicles before getting started. And follow these best practices:

  • Make sure your registration is current.
  • File a release of liability form with the motor vehicle registry.
  • Hand over maintenance records to the new owner.
  • Sign the title and make sure all information is correct.
  • Complete a bill of sale, if your state requires it.
  • Get payment in cash, a cashier's check or through an escrow service.
  • Remove the car's plates and take them with you.

Selling a used car can be a rewarding, educational and profitable experience when you put the time and effort into putting your best wheel(s) forward.

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