Selling your car may seem like a daunting experience. You need to know the market and pick a Goldilocks price. You’ll need to clean it and have it inspected. You’ll need to wrangle all of your paperwork from the depths of your filing cabinet.
Then you’ll need to decide how to sell it. Will you sell it to a dealer, a transaction that involves less hassle but also less money? Or will you put up a classified ad and look for an independent buyer? And when you finally agree on a price, will you take a certified check, or do you prefer a cash transaction?
This process may sound complicated, it doesn’t need to be. Follow these simple steps and you’ll soon be waving goodbye, money in hand, as someone else drives your car off into the sunset.
1) Study the Market
First you’ll need to find out what your car is worth. Check out U.S. News & World Report’s Best Price Program to see deals on similar cars. You can also peruse the U.S. News listings of dealer inventory to find the prices of comparable vehicles in your area.
Be wary of geography and the time of year. “You may find local prices differ from national guidelines,” says Peter Levy, founder of the car-buying site Carjojo. “If that's the case, you can average Kelley Blue Book with pricing you see locally to come up with a value.” Note that certain vehicles move faster during specific seasons. Convertibles, sports cars, and coupes are likelier to sell in the summer months. You might have to lower your prices to attract buyers in the fall or winter. Meanwhile, the demand for trucks and vans is evergreen.
2) Assemble Paperwork
If you own the car, you will need to procure the title, which is the paper you received with your purchase that serves as proof of ownership. If you can’t locate it, you will need to request a copy from your local DMV before you can proceed with the sale. Sellers who still owe money on the car will need to find out the exact amount of the payoff so that the buyer can write a check to the bank and a check to you for the remaining balance.
“It is important you be prepared with the appropriate paperwork in hand to insure your liability ends when you hand the keys to the new buyers,” says Jim Dykstra, founder of online car marketplace Vinadvisor. Dykstra advises keeping close tabs on the sale and transfer requirements from your state’s DMV. Most states will request several documents – a vehicle record, a bill of sale, a source of funds, transfer of title, and notice of sale or transfer – before recognizing the sale.
3) Inspect It
Before you list your car for sale, take it to a dealership or independent mechanic for a professional inspection. This will alert you to any problems that you need to fix, including body damage, broken headlights or taillights, and chipped windows.
Consider investing in new floor mats or replacing old tires with a new set. It may cost you up front, but you will be able to command higher prices once you can show prospective buyers that your car has been given a clean bill of health. “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
Clean cars fetch more money. But getting the highest price means more than clearing your car of fast food wrappers and other debris. A solid detail job, which usually costs between $100 to $200, will 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, Calif.-based car care company Meguiar.
5) Decide How to Sell
Sellers nowadays have several avenues for marketing their car. First you’ll need to decide whether you want to sell it to a dealer, an independent buyer, or a third-party service. Selling through a dealer is easier but earns you less money; selling through the classifieds requires more effort but could entail a larger payoff.
“If you're selling on your own through a Craigslist classified ad, for instance, you'll likely get a higher price, but you assume some risk from interacting with strangers,” says Carjojo’s Peter Levy. “If you want to sell as quickly as possible on your own, price lower than what you've determined as the car's value. A higher price means you'll hang onto the car longer, so plan accordingly.”
If don’t want to interact with dealers or buyers, look into one of the online marketplaces created by third-party services such as Carvana or Shift. These websites take a cut of the proceeds but make the sales process easier.
6) Craft Your Ad
Now you’reready to craft your ad.
Take the time to write a compelling description of your vehicle. You’ll be competing with dozens of other classified ads for attention, so make sure you have an eye-catching headline, crisp photographs, and a detailed summary with some colorful details.
Do you have writer’s block? Figure out the car’s main selling point – maybe your favorite feature – and lead with that.
More Tools From U.S. News & World Report
U.S. News & World Report offers various tools to make car buying and selling 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 see which popular features were highlighted. Also, be sure to check out our advice section, which is packed full of helpful car selling tips. And 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 has saved shoppers an average of $3,279 off MSRP.