How to sell a car

I'm selling a car
If it’s time to sell your car, there are time-proven steps you can take to maximize its value and ensure both parties to the transaction have a happy outcome. Getty Images

Congratulations! You’ve decided to sell your car, truck, or sport utility vehicle, and like most of us, you’d like to get top dollar for your vehicle. With used vehicle values ​​at an all-time high thanks to Covid-19 and chip shortages, you’re at an advantage. But there are some simple, time-proven steps that can help you really maximize the sale price of your car.

Before you sell, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Are you selling to buy a new or used car?
  • Are you selling because you no longer want a car?
  • Are you ready to invest your own capital to maximize your profit?
  • Do you still owe money on the car you are trying to sell?

Let’s start with the last item on the list, because if you owe money, you’ll need to contact your lender and alert them of the potential sale in order to prepare the vehicle’s title for transfer. Many car dealers will handle this step for you, and the dealer’s efforts may include rolling your existing payment into the loan you’re taking out for the new vehicle you’re buying.

If you owe more money than the car is currently worth using the popular vehicle valuation guides, you are “upside down” on your credit. For example – you bought your car for $30,000 and you still owe $18,000. Your vehicle was appraised by the dealer at $14,000, meaning you are $4,000 upside down.

You’ll have to write a check for that amount or roll it into a new loan if you want to part with the car. Being upside down rarely works in your favor, especially if you have a low credit score.

If you’re not upside down, read how to maximize your profit.

Sweat Equity

I have bought and sold quite a few cars over the years and one thing I always get complimented on is the overall ‘like new’ condition of my vehicles. Dealers have the professionals to make even battered cars look as clean as the day they left the factory. Since that’s the person you’re competing against for potential buyers, there’s no reason your car shouldn’t look just as good.

Car detailing
Be prepared to do some work or pay someone to do it for you. Car dealerships have the staff to make their cars look nice to prospective buyers, but doing this work yourself will get you more money for your car. Getty Images

Clean it up!

If your vehicle looks the best and drives well, you fit a seller’s market. Follow these steps for maximum dollars:

Clean, clean, clean and clean some more – start with the exterior and thoroughly wash and wax your vehicle. Be sure to run the garden hose under your car to wash dirt off the underside and fender wells. Although you want a clean engine compartment, don’t use water to clean under the hood, as water can wreak havoc on the electronics under the hood.

Use clean cloths and a good cleaning spray like Simple Green under the hood to wipe years of grime off engine covers, fluid reservoirs, and anything else you can reach and safely clean. Do not clean under the hood with the vehicle running or if the engine is still hot.

After cleaning the exterior and underside, apply your skills to the interior. Use a quality vacuum to clear dirt, coins, old chips and gravel from the floor or seats. Pay special attention to the gaps between the seats and the center or rear console. Use a carpet or interior cleaning spray for tough stains. Use a suitable cleaner for cloth, vinyl or leather seats.

Carvana Distribution Tower
Online used vehicle dealers like Carvana, Vroom and Shift have been eager to buy used vehicles for several years. They can make your sale easy and painless, but it pays to read all the fine print. Joe Riddle/Getty Images

A complete cleaning and detailing will cost you about 2 to 7 hours of sweat depending on the condition of your car. Inside and out, it’s important to take your time and use the right cleaning sprays and waxes, as using the wrong cleaners can damage your vehicle, reducing your resale or trade-in value.

Don’t want to roll up your sleeves? Most good detailers will charge between $150 and $600 to bring your car back to life, although some high-end detailing jobs can go as high as $2,000. Professional detailers can remove door dings and dents, repair scratches, polish or “touch up” the paint finish to like-new condition, and detail the interior.

Even if you just take your car to a car wash and vacuum it, you will save money by getting your car valued at a higher value.

Sell ​​it!

Now that your ride looks great, how should you sell it? Let’s look at a few ways:

Online Used Vehicle Retailers: Online operations like Carvana and Vroom will ask you for pictures and mileage of your vehicle and based on a successful field inspection, they will issue you a check when they come to pick up your vehicle with a flatbed truck.

On the plus side, selling this way makes for a quick and easy transaction. Some offers may also be higher than you would get at brick-and-mortar retailers. On the other hand, be sure to read all the fine print. These are still new companies and some have run into ownership and payment issues.

Used BMWs in a car dealership
Dealers are really looking for quality used cars, but because they have access to many different sources and replacements arrive every day, they won’t necessarily pay you top dollar. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sell ​​to dealership: Typically, dealers will underestimate your valuation. Many pay more for sought-after models or, during the recent spike in fuel prices, vehicles that get great fuel economy, but generally they will pay as little as possible.

It may be to your advantage to get estimates from several dealers if you choose this route. Note that you can sell your car to any dealer, even if you plan to buy a car from another dealer. Look for the best price you can get! Don’t be afraid to negotiate with a dealer for a higher estimate or walk away if they don’t meet your expectations.

Sell ​​it yourself: This option usually generates the best returns. By selling yourself, you cut out the middleman, but you also have to do all the work of said middleman. Make sure your vehicle looks its best!

Datsun 210 station wagon
Dealers are also generally not interested in vehicles past a certain age. But there are actually a lot of people who will give money for this 1981 Datsun 210 station wagon. Facebook is the best place for such a car as there are many groups of enthusiasts who share similar listings, but old car auction sites also work . Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Here’s a template on how to sell your car to a private buyer:

Advertise. Neighbors and friends may be good places to start letting people know that your car, truck, or SUV is for sale, but you’ll also want to cast a wider net. Craigslist isn’t as visited as it used to be, but it’s still a good place to list a vehicle.

Many people now advertise on Facebook Marketplace, where you can post to multiple groups or a general “Vehicles for Sale” page. I have had great success using this portal to buy and sell my cars. If you have a valuable or classic car, consider sites like Bring a Trailer, Hemmings and Cars & Bids. How much some cars from the 90s are worth today might surprise you.

List it on an online sales portal. CarGurus, Autotrader and TrueCar are designed for dealers, but individuals can also list cars there and this gives you nationwide exposure for free or very low listing costs.

In some cases, these sites will also work with local dealers to provide you with a cash offer. You simply fill in your vehicle details and schedule an inspection at a local dealer. Once your vehicle is valued, you receive a check. If you decide to sell it yourself, you enter details about the car and upload your photos.

eBay. Selling cars for over 25 years, eBay’s listing fees are low and you can either put your car up for sale in an auction format (with or without reserve) or a fixed price. You can also set up the sale for a local or national level. I live in Maryland and once bought a car online and had it shipped from San Diego, CA for $1800 enclosed, insured shipping. The car arrived in seven days in perfect condition.

Bad photos of car ads
Once you’ve cleaned your car and decided to list it, putting up terrible photos will undermine your hard work. If buyers can’t see the vehicle or the listing looks terrible, you’re less likely to attract buyers. Craigslist
Good photos of car ads
Give your audience the best possible picture of your vehicle. You don’t need to hire a professional photographer, but very clear, descriptive images will attract more potential buyers. Alex Kwanten

Be creative with your listing

Whatever site you choose to sell your vehicle on, be descriptive. Which ad would you call first?

  • 2015 Lexus LX570. Good condition, 95 thousand km. 44,000 dollars.
  • 2015 Lexus LX570, well maintained by original owner with all service records. Clean body with no dents or paint. Like new interior! Great stereo with Bluetooth! New tires! Guarded garage and always a baby. Only 95k miles. Take a look at the attached 12 photos and contact me (via email or phone) with any questions. Don’t miss out on this Lexus gem! 44,000 dollars. Come see and drive it!

I’m sure we agree that the second description is better. Be sure to include clear photos of all exterior corners, photos under the hood to show how clean you made it, photos of the trunk or hatchback, and photos of all rows of your like-new interior. Horrible photos or ones that crop out most of the car are sure to turn off potential buyers. Great photos will get them calling.

As a general matter of safety, it is probably wise to arrange for a potential buyer to meet you at the local police station or other well-lit, secure area such as a grocery store or shopping mall. Take a friend with you when you meet a potential buyer.