6 Steps to Selling Your Car
These steps can make the selling process a smooth ride.
Understand Your Market
How much time and effort you will need to put into marketing your car depends on the market.
- Demand – Determine if your auto is high in demand. SUVs and family sedans in good condition are typically in high demand. Classic or collector cars, or cars in need of repair, may take more effort to find the right buyer.
- Timing – End-of-the-year clearance sales of new cars may compete with selling a fairly new (but still used) car. Sports cars are less likely to sell in the winter. If possible, time your sale accordingly.
Price Your Car Competitively
Pricing a car too high is an easy way to ensure you’ll hang on to it longer.
- Check the competition - Check the classifieds and online resources to find pricing on similar cars (with similar mileage and amenities). Go to a dealership and find out what price you can get for a trade-in. This can help you determine if it’s worth the time and effort to sell the car on your own.
- Know your bottom line – Make sure you’ve determined the absolute lowest price you will accept for the car. If you just can’t part for the car for less than $8,200, then consider pricing it at $8,400 to give your buyer a little room to negotiate. Most buyers will try to negotiate so that you’ll lower your price.
Make a Lasting First Impression
While it may take a buyer a few hours (or days) to decide if he wants to buy the car, most buyers can decide within a few seconds if they don’t want to buy the car. That’s why having your car look its best is so important.
- Clean your car inside and out – Make sure the interior and exterior are cleaned, vacuumed, and shiny. Keep the car clutter free, and make sure there are no lingering odors (from smoke, food, or pets).
- Minor repairs – Make all possible minor repairs, such as repairing chipped paint, dents, or damaged upholstery. Don’t try to hide imperfections that you can’t fix, but remember to adjust the price accordingly.
Advertise, Advertise, Advertise
Advertising may be the most important step in selling your car. If people don’t know it’s available, they won’t have the chance to make an offer.
- Classifieds – Traditional newspaper or trade magazine classified ads are a great start. Keep your ad short but descriptive. Include enticing information such as “A/C, power locks/windows, and leather seats” or “low-mileage.” Online classifieds are also a great way for lower cost, farther reaching advertising.
- Car signs – Don’t forget to place a “For Sale” sign in your car. Signs on each side window and the back window are ideal. Make sure your phone number is large and easy to read. Park your car near the road for more exposure.
- Community bulletin boards – Take advantage of free advertising such as staff bulletin boards at your office. Many schools and stores also offer free public bulletin boards.
- Friends and family – Let your friends and family know about your car. A brother’s friend’s sister might just be the buyer you’re looking for.
Show Your Car
Once a buyer is interested enough to look, you’ll have to show them the car.
- Be honest – While you don’t need to reveal all the details of the close calls and daredevil escapades you’ve put your car through, you do want to be upfront about any history or potential problems that would be important to a new owner. Again, your price should be based on the current condition of the car – both cosmetic and mechanical, so honesty should not be a problem.
- Have your paperwork ready – If possible, pull together all maintenance records on the car, including routine maintenance such as oil changes. Prior to selling their car, some people have a mechanic look over the car and write up a report. Keep this handy for the buyer. Also a Carfax report will show the title history of the car.
- Setting a meeting place – It can be unsettling to have strangers come to your home to look at your car. It is completely appropriate to meet a potential buyer at a park or coffee shop. This will also give you a comfortable place to sit and discuss the details of the deal.
- Test drives – It is wise to get a copy of the buyer’s driver’s license before allowing a test drive. If they are unfamiliar with the area, you may want to ride with them.
- Outside advice – Some buyers may want to have the car inspected by their own mechanic. Make sure the mechanic is willing to inspect the car within a reasonable time period, and will not need to keep the car overnight. The inspection may raise some new issues. Be prepared to deal with these, either by adjusting your price, having the repairs done on your own, or telling the buyer the car comes “as-is.”
Make the Sale
Don’t forget the responsibilities you have with your State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office when you sell your car. Rules may vary from state to state, so check with your local DMV office to find out what you need to do. To find your state’s DMV, visit the DMV’s Web site.
- Collect your cash – Typically a buyer will pay by cash or a cashier’s check.
- Pay your lien – A lien is money owed on the car. You may not be able to transfer your title without proof that the lien has been paid off.
- Transfer your title – If possible, go together to your DMV office or meet the buyer at a Secretary of State Branch Office to complete the title transfer. If you cannot do this, photocopy the front of your vehicle's title after assigning it to the buyer. Find out what your state requires you to do with your license plate. Remember to put the current odometer reading on the title to limit your liability.
- Cancel your insurance – Don’t forget to cancel the insurance on the car, and get coverage for your new car, if applicable.
- Take one last look – Don’t forget to look through your car one final time to gather any personal belongings that might be stashed under the seats or in the trunk, glove box, or other storage compartment of the car.