Selling your car today is a different experience than it was 10 or 15 years ago thanks to the tools available on the internet. Online appraisal tools and internet classified ads have made the process faster and more convenient.
Quick Guide to Selling Your Car
All you need to know in 5 easy steps
September 18th, 2020
Edmunds has an in-depth 10-step guide to selling your current car, but this article condenses the process into five simple steps that can help you turn your used car into cash in the shortest time possible. You can also print out this article and use it as a checklist to keep you on track.
1. Research and price your vehicle
Picking the right asking price can mean the difference between getting multiple calls right off the bat and having your phone not ring at all. To come up with an effective asking price, you'll first need to find out what the car is worth and how much other people are asking for similar cars. Appraise your vehicle on Edmunds and pay attention to the "private party" price. This figure is adjusted for a number of factors including mileage, condition, options, and the region in which the vehicle is being sold.
Next, search for similar vehicles on Edmunds, dealership websites or online classified sites. This research will give you a better idea of the market value for your particular model, and help determine whether the number you had in your head is in the ballpark. With this knowledge in hand, use the same technique you see at dealerships to price your vehicle competitively. In other words, if you're thinking of a $20,000 asking price, list the car at $19,900. Finally, be sure to leave a little wiggle room when setting the price. Ask for more than what you actually want to get for the car and keep in mind that people tend to negotiate in big chunks ($500-$1,000) rather than small increments ($100-$200). Set your car value accordingly.
A fast and hassle-free alternative would be to get an offer through Edmunds. All you need to do is enter your vehicle details to get an instant, redeemable and no-obligation cash offer. It's good for seven days and can be redeemed at any CarMax location. You can use this offer as a baseline for your asking price. Or, if you're comfortable with the offer, you can accept it and skip the rest of the steps.
2. Advertise your vehicle
Paid listings such as those on Autotrader or CarGurus are effective, but these sites charge a fee to list your vehicle. You can save a few bucks by advertising for free on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or eBay classifieds.
You should consider other ways of advertising, such as posting a "For Sale" sign in the car's window. This tried-and-true technique can yield results. It's also to use social media to let your friends know you're selling your vehicle.
When you post your car online, make sure you upload plenty of photos of the vehicle from all angles. As you write the description, make sure to mention if the vehicle has any scratches, dents or mechanical issues. Follow the steps in this article if you need help with the photos. You can also use a few key phrases to communicate how eager you are to sell the car. "OBO" ("or best offer") indicates that you are willing to entertain offers below the stated price. "Asking price" communicates the feeling that you will negotiate. "Firm" is less common, but it indicates that you aren't in a hurry to sell the car — you are most interested in getting your price.
You can also upload a video of the car to YouTube so potential buyers can do a virtual walk-around of the car. Include a link in your Craigslist or eBay listing (Autotrader unfortunately doesn't permit links).
Another alternative is online peer-to-peer car selling and buying through companies such as Carvana, Vroom, Tred and Zipflip. Each operates a little differently, so check the sites for details of their policies and services for sellers and buyers.
3. Show your car
If you've done all the previous steps, you should receive a number of calls and texts about your vehicle. Now someone wants to see it in person. Bear in mind that when you sell your car, people will not only be evaluating the car but also the person who owns it. Buyers will feel more comfortable if they know you took good care of the car and answer their questions openly. Make sure the car has been washed and that you've removed all your belongings from the inside. It is also a good idea to have your maintenance records ready to show interested parties.
Potential buyers will want to test-drive the car. Meet in a public place rather than at your home. Follow the safety tips from Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace to avoid common scams. These safety tips are also good advice for making a sale from any online classified site. Ride along with the buyer so you can answer questions. Some buyers will want to take the car to a mechanic to have it inspected. If you have a report from your mechanic, this might put their doubts to rest. But if they still want to take the car to their mechanic, this is a reasonable request.
4. Negotiate your best price
It's not uncommon for people to ask for your "best price" or try to negotiate before they've seen the car in person. If you give out a number first, they may try to lower the price even further once they've seen the car. Try to avoid these situations by letting shoppers know you would rather negotiate after they've seen the car.
When a person test-drives your car and likes it, you can expect him or her to make an offer. If the offer is well below your asking price, you will want to either hold firm with your asking price or make a counteroffer. An easy counteroffer is to meet the would-be buyer halfway or slightly increase the offer made to you. Give the negotiation process some thought ahead of time so you won't be caught unprepared when the time comes.
In some cases, the buyer might want to have an agreement that is contingent on you performing repair work. This can lead to misunderstandings down the line, so avoid such deals if you can. The best thing to do is discount the car so the buyer can handle the repairs without your involvement.
5. Finalize the payment and paperwork
The laws governing the sale of motor vehicles vary from state to state. Check with the governing agency in your state. Most of this information is now available online. When selling your car, it's important to limit your liability. For example, if the buyer gets a parking ticket or is in an accident, you may be held responsible. Most states have a release of liability form that you can fill out to prevent such a situation. This article on closing a used car sale has more detailed information and a handy checklist.
Once you have the money from the sale — it's customary to request a cashier's check or cash — sign the title over to the buyer or provide the person with a bill of sale. Finally, remember to contact your insurance agent to cancel your policy on the vehicle you've sold.
Bonus tip: trust your gut
Occasionally, unexpected bumps arise in the sale process. You can handle these easily if you are dealing with a reasonable person. As prospective buyers contact you, use your intuition to evaluate them. If they seem difficult, pushy or even shady, wait for another buyer. With the right person, selling a used car should be simple and easy.