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3 Easy Ways to Sell Your Car
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How to Sell a Car
10 Steps for Selling Your Car
Ready to turn your current car into cash — or a better car? Follow our 10 steps for selling your car, from pricing to advertising to showing to negotiating the sale.
10 Steps for Selling Your Car
Whether you’re looking to unload your car quickly or get the best offer for it, it’s smart to start with a little preparation. is here to help, with tools and information for every step of the process: from determining your car’s value to setting your asking price to getting a firm online offer.

1Gather Your Car’s Information
Many people overlook this step until the very end, but the selling process really starts with rounding up your paper work. The car’s title, service records and original sales paperwork are the big three.

Here’s why: While you may already know the basics (year, make, model, current mileage), you’ll need to know your car’s style (not just a 2003 Honda Accord, but a 2003 Honda Accord LX) along with optional features like keyless entry, a CD player, leather seats or navigation system. Options can bump up your car’s resale value, so be sure you have a complete list. If you want to see if you missed anything, check your original sales documents or the window sticker.

Finally, gather up as many maintenance receipts as you can find. “These days, regular oil changes are an even better indication of good upkeep than tune-ups,” says Dan Ingle, Kelley Blue Book’s Vice President of Vehicle Valuations and Industry Products. “If you changed your oil every 3,000-8,000 miles, in keeping with the manufacturer’s recommendations, that’s a good signal to a buyer that the car has been cared for.”

If you don’t have your service receipts, ask your dealer, regular mechanic or oil change center if they can print a statement that summarizes your visits. This kind of information reassures a buyer that the car is in good shape, which can help you get a higher price.

Know Your Car’s True Condition
You may think your car “drives like new” and shines like a baby seal, but its value will depend on its actual condition, so you’ll need to be both knowledgeable and realistic about it.

Owners tend to overestimate the value of their car, which can lead to unrealistic expectations. If you ultimately set your asking price too high, you’ll probably have more trouble selling it. Consider going to your mechanic for an assessment. He/she can identify problems with the engine, plus things you may overlook, like a broken tail light or features you don’t use.

A pre-sell inspection can be worth the investment because:

You’ll arm yourself with the information a buyer will find if they do their own inspection
A recent inspection will put buyers at ease and may even head off a buyer’s need to have the car inspected on their own
To ensure that you describe your car’s condition accurately, be sure to verify your vehicle’s condition after you check your vehicle’s value.

Decide Whether to Trade-in or Sell Yourself
Once you know the true condition of your car, the next step is to decide whether to sell it yourself or trade it in to a dealership — since the value of your car varies depending on which method you use. There are pros and cons to each option:

Why Trade It In?
Fast and convenient
No costs for listing and selling
No personal calls/emails at home
Pay less sales tax on your new car
Why Sell It Yourself?
Negotiate directly with buyers
Usually get more for your car (about 15-25% more)
No dealer overhead cost
Your decision may ultimately come down to whether you have the time or inclination to do the selling yourself, or whether you prefer the convenience of letting someone else handle the process.

To get a sense of how much more you can expect, compare the Kelley Blue Book Private Party Value and Trade-in Value. The difference could be the deciding factor.

Another option is to get an instant offer from, which can be redeemed immediately at a participating local dealer, often with no new car purchase required. The online offer can serve as a starting point for the price you can get for your car today. It’s a great option that just gives you more information about the value of your car. And there’s no obligation once you receive an offer.

A vehicle with an unusual color or aftermarket features may ultimately sell for less than a vehicle that’s desirable to a larger audience. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to find the buyers interested in your special features, your car’s unique appeal could actually bring in more.

Increase Your Car’s Resale Value
Whether you sell your car yourself or trade it in to a dealer, you will want to do the little things – and maybe fix the big things – to boost your car’s value.

Most potential buyers will expect the bare minimum of car prep when they look at a used car. “Unless your car is a rusty bucket of bolts, a professional detailing job is always worth the money,” says Richard Homan, senior vehicle evaluation editor at “If you don’t want to spend the money for a professional job, be sure that you at least wash and wax your car and change the oil.”

As for the big things, the final price you set for your car should increase with any mechanical or cosmetic improvements. “Most used-car buyers don’t want to think about fixing their car. So if you can brag about your car’s new brakes or high-quality tires, it will sell much quicker,” says Homan. Just remember to gather the paperwork for any major work and create a file of receipts to show potential buyers (as covered in Step 1).

Depending on the nature of your car’s problems, it can be worthwhile to get them fixed. A few examples:

1. Lights — Lights are generally inexpensive to replace, and they’re important to a buyer. “A quick stop at the auto supply store and a Phillips screwdriver, and you’re usually in great shape,” says Ingle.
2. Windshield chips/cracks –The cost of repairing a windshield is usually less than the amount that buyers will mentally knock off the price if you leave the damage as is.
3. Brakes — If you’re selling a luxury vehicle, new brakes are worth the cost. For non-luxury cars, it’s only a deduction of $100-150 from your asking price.
4. Tires — Buyers are advised to check a used car’s tire treads to get a sense of overall wear and tear. If your treads are worn or uneven, at the very least replace them with some matching used tires (as little as $30-$40 per tire), otherwise the buyer will often expect a significant discount ($300-$700), depending on the model.
5. Dents, dings & scratches — If you have more than four or five dings, especially if they’re glaring to the eye, hire a dent wizard. “Dent removal experts can be very affordable – often charging only $100 to remove several dings,” says Ingle. “You will be saving the buyer the headache of taking it to the body shop.” For a major dent where a panel needs to be repaired, it makes even better financial sense to fix it, Ingle advises.
Keep in mind that dealers can get body work done at big discounts, so if your car needs extensive repair, you may want to consider trading it in.

Set the Asking Price for Your Car
If you’ve spent money improving your car’s condition, your car’s value has probably changed as well. Check your Blue Book® Value the week you’re ready to sell, as this will help you price your car appropriately.

Buyers often look up the Blue Book Value of cars they’re interested in to get an idea of what they should pay. As a pricing guide trusted by both consumers and the auto industry for more than 85 years, Kelley Blue Book takes much of the speculation out of determining a car’s value. Our experts factor in everything from current economic conditions to industry developments to the location of the car.

However, the car’s Blue Book Value and your asking price may be two different numbers. First, you want to build in a cushion for negotiating. Second, your asking price may be lower or higher than your value based on variables for your particular car.

To figure out how to price your car relative to its Blue Book Value, look at the range of asking prices for cars like yours in our Classifieds section. This should give you the best sense of what other people are asking for their cars. Look for cars in your area with not just the same make/model/style, but similar mileage and options. If there’s a range of asking prices, start in the middle and add or deduct from that point, keeping in mind the following:

Price your car higher if:
Your car is still under warranty or has an extended warranty (bumper-to-bumper or powertrain), provided the warranty is transferable
You’ve kept up with regular maintenance, especially if you’ve just completed a major scheduled maintenance, such as a 60,000-mile service
You’ve purchased a new set of tires or installed new brakes
Price your car lower if:
You want to sell it quickly
It needs a major scheduled service, new tires or brakes
It has been in an accident
Regardless of your car’s condition, it’s usually a wise idea to leave some room in your price for negotiation. Remember that asking prices are a starting point for prospective buyers. Most people don’t get their asking price.
Create an Online Ad That Sells
Now that you’ve decided to sell your car privately, it’s time to get the word out to the largest audience possible. Websites like and offer classifieds services that put your car in front of thousands of active shoppers in your area in a matter of minutes. And with a detailed description and several good photos, you can stand out to the buyers who are most likely to be interested in your car.

Online ads also allow you to field questions first, which will help you weed out any unlikely buyers and limit your time showing the car in person.

What to Include in a Car Ad

A: Start with a brief description that highlights your car’s most in-demand features, such as high MPG, low mileage, any remaining warranties and special features.

B: Mention why you’re selling the car. Buyers want to know this most of all, so deal with it up front.

C: Be honest about the vehicle’s condition and list the vehicle’s VIN number to reassure buyers that you’re not hiding anything.

D: State your asking price and negotiating terms. Begin by posting your car’s Blue Book Value followed by your asking price, then give an explanation why you’re asking more or less than the Blue Book Value. State whether the price is “firm,” “negotiable” or “best offer” – as this will help you target the right buyers for you.

E: Define acceptable forms of payment, which should include certified checks or money orders. Help protect yourself from fraud by not accepting personal checks and foreign money.

F: Include lots of photos. Buyers love to feel like they’re inside the car, so include several exterior angles and close-ups of the interior, dash and engine.

Screen Potential Buyers
Unless you hire a broker or have a friend who owes you several favors, you’ll need to meet prospective buyers and set up test drives. This can be daunting, so it makes sense to look through all the candidates online first, then call the ones that seem promising. That initial phone call is the best way to put both parties at ease.

If you communicate by email, re-send the details of your ad (potential buyers are probably reaching out to several owners) and offer to answer any questions they might have.

Before setting an appointment to show your car, ask for the person’s full name and offer yours. Clarify which forms of payment are acceptable to you – certified check and money orders are best. You might be surprised how many people still need to line up financing, expect you to accept a down payment, or even plan to pay you in installments! Don’t waste time with these buyers.

Tip: Sell Local
To help protect yourself from fraud, it’s best to sell to someone in your area. Tell prospective buyers that you don’t accept out-of-state checks and that you would like to meet at the buyer’s bank and go in with them to get the cashier’s check. Some banks may also want to see the vehicle if the buyer has lined up financing.

Tip: Round up the Ownership Sale Documents In Advance
Before you meet with any potential buyers, gather all the documents you’ll need so you have the option to sell the car on the spot. Requirements and acceptable documents can vary, so check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website to see what it requires when transferring ownership.

As the seller, you must provide the vehicle title and some form of odometer disclosure listing the vehicle’s mileage at the time of the sale. In some states this is part of the title itself, while in other states it is a separate form. Other key documents include:

Warranty information
Bill of Sale
“As is” statement
Release of Liability form (check with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles)
Any additional documents your state requires (such as Smog Certification in CA)

Negotiate the Best Price for Your Car
At the end of the test drive, remind the buyer of the car’s asking price and how “firm” that price may be. This is also the time to revisit any remaining warranty or extended protection, or whether you’re selling the vehicle “as is.”

Then let the negotiations begin! Ideally you’ve given yourself some padding on your asking price, so let the buyer take the lead in either accepting or counter-offering.

The art of negotiation involves knowing beforehand what your lowest acceptable offer is and feeling confident that there are other buyers out there if you can’t agree on a price.

If a buyer offers an amount below what you want to accept, be prepared to move along. Suggest that they contact you if they reconsider. But if they make a reasonable offer, be prepared to say yes.

If you plan to sell your car on the spot, remember to bring your title/paperwork. Finally, make sure you have a ride home (something that a lot of people forget).

Complete the Sale
Once the buyer has fallen in love with your car and you’ve agreed on a price, the smartest next step is to accompany the buyer to their bank for a cashier’s check. This will help protect you against any fraud. Once payment is complete, take the following final steps:

If the car is sold “as is” – note this on the Bill of Sale
Sign and date the Bill of Sale and have the buyer sign it as well
Sign over the title; fill out and sign the release of liability and submit to your DMV
Include any additional paperwork your state requires
Make a copy of all the paperwork before handing the keys and documents over to the buyer
Remove the vehicle from your insurance

Depending on your state, you may or may not need to remove the license plates, so have a screwdriver handy.

If you don’t already have a photo of the buyer’s license, ask a teller or customer service rep to make a copy of it for you at their bank. Not only does this help protect you against fraud, you’ll also need the information to fill out the release of liability.

In many states, both the seller and the new buyer have responsibilities during and after the transfer of a vehicle. For example, California requires smog certification. Check your state’s DMV website to see which documents your state requires to complete the deal.

Selling a car doesn’t have to be a stressful or difficult experience. With these 10 steps, you are well on your way to getting the price you deserve.

Start Selling Now:

February 16, 2014 |

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