You’ve decided to sell your car. Perhaps you want to buy a new vehicle. Perhaps you want some extra cash. Whatever the reason, you want to become a seller. In addition to the basics, like having your paperwork ready and ensuring your vehicle is in good condition by having it cleaned and inspected, you’ll have to decide the best way to sell it.
Selling to a dealership can be convenient, but a dealership may not always pay the best price for a used car. You might get more cash if you look for an independent buyer. Whomever your buyer is, you’ll want to know about the vehicle’s market value – and you’ll want to sell it for a good price.
If you’d prefer to trade-in your car to a dealership instead of selling it, you may want to read our guide to trading-in a vehicle.
Selling your car can be complicated, but knowing how the process works can make it easier. By following these steps, you’ll be ready to attract a buyer and receive offers on your vehicle.
1) Study the Market
Research is essential to the success of most endeavors, and selling your car is no exception. You can peruse the U.S. News listings of dealer inventory to find the prices of comparable vehicles in your area. That should give you some estimates for your vehicle’s worth.
That said, keep in mind that seeing a listing doesn’t mean the car will sell at that price. How much buyers will offer varies, with key factors such as the vehicle’s condition and mileage along with elements such as the season and region deciding the final price.
For instance, certain vehicles are more in-demand at certain times of the year. Nobody wants to buy a convertible or sports car during winter, but you may receive better offers during the summer. The demand for SUVs and vans may be evergreen, but you’ll likely get top dollar on your Ford F-150 if you sell it in a rural area rather than an urban one.
2) Assemble Paperwork
It may not be fun, but paperwork is essential to most transactions. One advantage to selling to a dealer is that dealerships can handle most of the paperwork for you as part of their car-buying service. If you’re selling to a private party, then you’re responsible for having all the paperwork.
The documents you’ll need vary by state, but generally include a bill of sale, an odometer certification, and the vehicle’s title. Many sellers will also provide prospective buyers with a copy of the car’s vehicle history report.
If you cannot locate your vehicle’s title, you must get a copy from your local DMV before proceeding with the sale. Sellers who still owe money on the car will need to find out the exact amount of the loan payoff. This way, you can take your check to the bank, pay off your current loan, and deposit the rest. It may take some time for the bank to retrieve the title, and it’s up to you to let the buyer know they’ll need to be patient.
Most states require sellers – especially out-of-state sellers – to provide several documents before recognizing the sale. These can include a bill of sale, information about a lienholder, a title transfer application, and a notice of sale or transfer to a new owner.
3) Inspect It
Potential buyers may want to test drive a vehicle to be sure it works fine. Similarly, before listing your current car for sale, you may want to take it to a dealership or independent mechanic for a professional inspection. That way, you can fix problems that might otherwise force you to sell for less money, such as body damage, broken headlights or taillights, and chipped windows.
Before you decide to do any maintenance or make repairs, you’ll want to consider how much value they add to your car. Spending $200 to fix that chipped windshield, for example, would be a waste of money if it only adds $50 to the amount you can get for the car. Buyers don’t expect used cars to be perfect, and you shouldn’t empty your wallet trying to make yours so.
You can spruce up an old car by investing in new floor mats or replacing old tires with a new set. Doing so can command higher offers once you can show prospective buyers that your car has been cared for, though you always need to consider whether you’ll get the money out of the sale that you put into refurbishment.
“One of the biggest questions facing a used car buyer is the mechanical condition of the car they're thinking of purchasing,” says Philip Reed, automotive writer for NerdWallet. “Taking a car to a mechanic for an inspection is a hassle and an additional expense. So getting that step out of the way makes a car more appealing for buyers because it streamlines the process.”
4) Detail It
A vehicle is usually worth more if the buyer thinks its previous owner took care of it. You might be able to negotiate a better offer if your car is clean rather than deciding to sell as-is. Getting a higher price means more than taking out the trash or vacuuming the seats. For roughly $100 to $200, you can get your car detailed to restore the seats and the carpets to as close to their original condition as possible, clean out the crevices between the seats, and leave the glass and other interior surfaces spotless.
“If you give your interior a good fresh, clean scent, this will also make the car feel like it’s clean and leave a good impression,” says RJ de Vera of Irvine, California-based car care product company Meguiar.
5) Decide How to Sell
If you decide to sell your vehicle, there are plenty of ways to do so. First, decide who your purchaser will be. Do you want to sell to a dealer, a private-party buyer, or a third-party service? Selling through a dealer is easier, but earns you less money; selling the car online or through the classifieds requires more effort, but could net you a larger payment.
You’re likely to get the best price with a private-party sale, and less money if you sell to a dealership or used-car superstore. If you place a high price tag on the car, it will probably take longer to sell than if it’s one of the less expensive cars in the marketplace.
Another option to consider is the instant cash offer. Essentially, you provide your car’s information, and buyers will provide an estimate for what they’re willing to pay based on that. It’s a hassle-free way to sell your vehicle. You can use our tool to get started and search for cash offers right away.
If you don't want to interact with dealers or buyers, look into one of the online marketplaces created by third-party services such as Shift. These companies take a cut of the proceeds as their fee, but they help make the sales process easier.
6) Craft Your Ad
Now you’re ready to craft your ad.
Take the time to write a compelling description of the vehicle you want to sell. Remember that your car will compete with dozens of others for attention. You’ll want to distinguish yourself with a snappy headline, clear photographs, and a detailed summary. If you’re not sure where to start, consider common areas of concern for many buyers, such as condition or mileage. You could also lead with one of your car’s main selling points, such as your favorite feature.
It’s critical you are honest in your ad. If you’re caught in a lie about your vehicle, your credibility with buyers will evaporate right along with any chance of a sale. In some cases, it could cause a sale to be declared null and void, and force you to take the car back.
7) Clear Out Your Personal Information
With older cars, removing your personal information meant you just had to empty the glove compartment. Today, you have to take a few more steps. In addition to removing documents from the car, you’ll need to clear out your electronic footprint before you sell.
That means deleting your personal information from the vehicle’s navigation system and cancelling any subscriptions, such as OnStar telematics. Many navigation systems have a single command to remove all previous destinations and personal information.
If you have satellite radio, you’ll want to cancel your plan or transfer it to your new car.
More Tools From U.S. News & World Report
Here at U.S. News, our goal is to provide you with the information you need to make important decisions, including car-buying and selling. We offer various tools to make it a breeze.
If you’re not sure what to feature in your car’s advertisement, check out the U.S. News used car reviews to get an idea of the car’s strengths and how it appealed to many auto shoppers. You could also check out our advice section for even more helpful tips for selling or trading your motor vehicle.
When it comes time to shop for a new car, check out our new car rankings to see how your favorites stack up to the competition. Then, when you’re ready to buy, use our Best Price Program, which saves shoppers an average of more than $3,000 off MSRP.
When you sell your car, be sure to cancel its insurance policy. As you shop for a replacement, it’s a great time to consider a new insurance company or changes in your auto insurance coverage. Our auto insurance hub will help you find the best insurance companies to fit your situation, money-saving car insurance discounts, and the right coverage for your new ride.