- Why is it still so hard to determine how to sell a car?
- Vehicle preparation and cleaning
- Decide whether to sell privately or to a dealer
- Option 1: How to sell to an online dealer or buying service
- Option 2: Selling to a local dealership
- Option 3: Selling as part of a trade in
- Option 4: Selling privately
Are you tired of short and vague ‘how to sell a car’ blogs that lay out the ‘Best Steps Ever’ without actually conveying any useful information? Well we were, so we decided to build this guide to act as a one stop shop for anyone looking for some guidance on the process.
As people who spend their lives helping others sell their vehicles, this guide has been something we often recited from memory as we walked potential sellers through all their options, but now is here for everyone. We tackle the real questions like how to choose where and how to sell, what platforms are available to you, and how to avoid getting lowballed. We hope it helps!
We’ve attempted to be detailed enough to ensure the next steps are clear, but not so much so that you get bogged down in specifics. Many of the topics below include links to further resources and data should you want to dig deeper. If there’s something we’ve missed or you’d like to see, feel free to reach out.
Cars and trucks are typically peoples’ second most expensive asset and the decision to sell is an important one. Unfortunately, the industry has such a history of being difficult to navigate that many just take less than ideal offers to avoid the stress.
Given the large percentage of their net income that the average American spends on their vehicle, this decision can have a significant impact on long term financial well being . We can’t solve used car prices, but we can help people make the best possible choice for their situation and that’s our goal. Alright enough jibber-jabber - let’s get to it.
Why is it still so hard to determine how to sell a car?
Determining how to sell a car can be difficult for a variety of reasons. One reason is that the process can be time-consuming, as it involves finding a buyer, negotiating a price, and completing all the necessary paperwork. Additionally, there are many different ways to sell a car, such as through a private sale, to a dealership, or through an online marketplace, and each option has its own pros and cons.
Another reason is that the value of a car can be difficult to determine. The value of a car can depend on a variety of factors, such as its make, model, year, condition, mileage, and any additional features or modifications. Additionally, the value of a car can vary depending on the location and the current market conditions.
Furthermore, the legal requirements for selling a car can vary depending on the state and country, which can add complexity to the process.
Lastly, fraudulent buyers can also be a problem, especially when selling a car privately . They may try to scam the seller by offering a fake check or stealing the personal information of the seller.
Overall, offing your used vehicle can be a difficult and complex process, but it doesn’t have to be! That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide that goes into detail on each decision that needs to be made and provides a complete list of both online buying platforms and private-sale platforms so you can see exactly what your options are from the start.
Vehicle Preparation & Cleaning
No matter how you decide to sell your vehicle, one of the first and most important steps is cleaning and prepping your car. There are several things that you should do to prepare a vehicle before selling it:
Clean and detail the vehicle:
A clean and well-maintained vehicle will make a better impression on potential buyers and can increase its value. Both private sellers and dealers are going to judge your car based on how it looks so a good car wash & detail can make a big difference when it comes to final price. Don’t skimp here !
Fix any mechanical issues:
Any known mechanical issues with the vehicle should be addressed and repaired before listing it for sale. This will help to avoid any surprises during the sale and potentially add serious value to the transaction. Typically buyers will use weak points on a vehicle - eg. a cracked windshield - to negotiate the price down significantly more than the cost of just fixing the issue.
Gather all the necessary paperwork:
This includes the vehicle title, registration, and maintenance records. This will help to establish the vehicle's history and can also increase its value. The exact paperwork you need to execute the sale will depend on your situation and whether you sell privately or directly to a dealer (online or locally).
Take high-quality pictures (private sale & online dealer sale):
Good pictures can make a big difference in attracting potential buyers. Make sure to take pictures of the interior and exterior of the vehicle, as well as any additional features or modifications. This is another place where people tend to skimp, but should not! In cases where offers are generated based on images, these are all dealers or private buyers have to go off of.
Showcasing the vehicle's condition: Good photos can help to show the overall condition of the vehicle, including any damage or wear and tear. This can help to establish trust and credibility with potential buyers.
Highlighting key features: Good photos can help to highlight the vehicle's key features, such as its exterior design, interior layout, and any additional features or modifications.
Attracting more potential buyers: Good photos can help to make a listing stand out and attract more potential buyers. This can increase the chances of a successful sale.
Giving a sense of the car's history: Good photos of the car's interior and exterior can give buyers a sense of how well the car has been taken care of by the previous owner.
Helping to create a connection: Good photos can help buyers create a connection with the vehicle and make them more likely to want to see it in person. Especially true when selling an enthusiast or high-end car.
Be honest (with buyers and yourself):
Be upfront and honest with potential buyers and yourself about the vehicle's condition, history, and any known issues. This will help to build trust with buyers and increase the likelihood of a successful sale. It’s also important to understand that your car likely isn’t in ‘perfect condition’ and you may not be able to get the tip top of the pricing ranges. Unless you’ve got a garage-baby that has never been driven… in which case swing for the fences!
Should you sell your car privately or to a dealer?
When it comes to selling a car, your two main options are selling it to a dealer - as previously discussed - or selling it privately. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, and the choice ultimately depends on your specific needs and circumstances. We would like to note in advance that despite the many private selling platforms available, the vast majority of people ultimately sell their vehicles through dealers (~95%). That said, there are several cases where going the private route makes sense.
Selling a car privately can be a good option for those who want to get the most money for their vehicle. This is because private buyers are typically willing to pay more for a car than a dealer, as they are not looking to make a profit on the sale. However, selling a car privately also has its downsides. It can be time-consuming to find a buyer and negotiate the sale, and there is also the risk of dealing with fraudulent buyers.
Selling a car to a dealer is a much faster and simpler process. As we’ll show a bit further down, dealers have the resources to quickly appraise the vehicle and make a cash offer, and the sale can often be completed in a matter of hours. However, dealers are in the business of making a profit, and will typically offer less money for a car than a private buyer would.
When deciding whether to sell a car privately or to a dealer, it is important to consider your personal circumstances. If time is a factor and you need to dump the car quickly, then a dealer is likely the better option. But if you have some time and are ok with a bit of effort to find a private buyer, you’ll likely get a better price.
Another thing to consider is the paperwork and legal side of things. Selling to a dealer will typically be less complicated as they will handle all the paperwork and legal requirements. Selling privately will require more work from the seller in terms of paperwork, and making sure all legal requirements are met.
Ultimately, both options have their pros and cons, and the decision should be based on the seller's specific needs and circumstances. It's important to weigh the pros and cons carefully, and to do research on both options before making a decision.
Option 1: Selling to an online dealer or buying service
Comprehensive list of online dealers and services
Option 2: How To Sell to a Local Dealer
If you’re looking to sell to a local dealer nearby and it’s not already on the list mentioned above, you should first check out their website to see if they are buying cars directly. If they are, check for an instant quote option to get an idea of pricing.
Option 3: Selling as part of a trade in deal
Historically this was the most popular way to sell a used car. People would buy a new or used vehicle from a dealership, and then ‘trade-in’ their current vehicle in the process. This is very often a bad deal for consumers. Imagine letting the person you are about to buy a house from decide how much they want to pay for your old house. My guess? A lot less than someone who spent time looking for it. That theme has played out in automotive for years, but is changing with automotive going online.
A decade ago this process made sense because it was really the only alternative to selling privately. And with fewer platforms to do that on in addition to the extra effort and time needed to handle that process, very few people were willing to take that on. Dealers generally knew this and were able to take advantage of the arbitrage opportunity (buy a car cheaper than market value and then re-sell to other dealers). With online quotes much more prevalent today, even sellers who are going to trade a vehicle in are more equipped to get market rates.
Option 4: Selling Privately
Comprehensive list of platforms to sell your car privately
Step by step for selling a car privately
Step 1. Clean and prep the vehicle (as listed above)
Step 2. Secure a Vehicle History Report
The vehicle report is a useful document that provides a comprehensive history of the vehicle. It can help alleviate any concerns a potential buyer may have about the car's maintenance and upkeep. If you have kept service receipts and other records, these can be provided to the buyer.
A more official-looking report can also be obtained through the Texas DMV website or in person at the Texas DMV office, or through third-party sites like US Vehicle Reports or FAXVIN. You could also invite the buyer to visit the Texas DMV website and perform a Title Check. More expensive options like Carfax and Autocheck are also good options for cars ~$10k or more.
Step 3. Choose your platform(s)
Choosing the correct platform for your specific situation is one of the most important decisions you have to make when selling privately and one that is often overlooked by other guides. While every platform will try to tell you it’s the best for everything, the reality is they tend to excel in specific portions of the market.
That might be old, new, broken, etc and it’s up to you to ensure you’re giving yourself the best chance at getting a good offer. Our comprehensive list in this guide should help you pick one or two that are best for you.
Step 4. Create an enticing ad
Once you’re ready to put together your ad, remember that this can make or break the whole process. Many people get lazy here and figure if a buyer is interested, they’ll just come check out the vehicle. That’s often not true unless the ad represents the vehicle clear enough to give the buyer confidence. This is especially important on platforms like BringATrailer, which relies on its store of high quality images to maintain trust with users.
While creating the ad you will need to determine an asking price for the vehicle. There are several tools you can use here that will help you narrow in on a price. Two of the major ones are KBB values and NADA Black Book values .
Creating an enticing ad for a car is crucial for several reasons:
Visibility: A well-written ad that highlights the car's best features will be more likely to catch the attention of potential buyers.
Interest: An ad that describes the car in detail and includes high-quality photos will help generate interest and attract more potential buyers.
Price: A clear and honest description of the car's condition and features can help you choose a higher starting price for the vehicle.
Trust: A well-written ad that provides accurate information and detailed photos can help establish trust with potential buyers and increase their confidence in the car and the seller.
Comparison : A good ad allows potential buyers to easily compare the car to similar vehicles and make an informed decision on whether to investigate further.
Marketing: A well-written ad can serve as a marketing tool to promote the car and increase visibility and interest in it.
Step 5. Setup viewings & test drives
Setting up test drives when selling a car privately can be a bit tricky, but there are a few steps you can take to ensure a safe and successful process:
Screen potential buyers: Get to know the buyer by asking for their name and contact information, and verify their identity. Ask about their interest in the car, and their driving experience.
Set the rules: Clearly communicate your expectations for the test drive, such as the duration of the drive, the route you would like them to take, and any specific rules such as no smoking or no pets in the car.
Accompany the buyer: It's best to accompany the buyer on the test drive. This allows you to answer any questions they may have, and to ensure that the car is being driven safely.
Insurance: Make sure you have insurance coverage for the test drive, in case of any accidents or damages.
Take a copy of driver's license: Take a copy of the buyer's driver's license, and keep it with you during the test drive.
Meet at a neutral location: If possible, meet at a neutral location, like a mall parking lot, instead of at your home.
Check the car's condition before and after: Make sure to check the car's condition before and after the test drive, and document any damages or issues that may have occurred during the test drive.
By following these steps, you can help ensure a safe and successful test drive experience for both you and the potential buyer.
Step 6. Inspection (sometimes)
A professional third-party inspection can be a crucial step in finalizing a used car sale. While buyers are encouraged to arrange for an inspection, the seller does not typically need to pay for or arrange the inspection.
Once the prospective buyer has found a qualified inspector and agreed on a time and location, the seller should follow the instructions provided by the inspector and take note of the report. If the inspection reveals any issues, the seller should address them before finding another buyer.
The report will be sent to the buyer and the seller should ask for the buyer's permission to see the report. While mobile car inspection shops may be more convenient for the seller, they are generally not recommended for higher end vehicles and most buyers for such will insist on a local shop.
Step 7. Negotiate and agree on a price
Price is always a major factor for both sides of the transaction so ensure that you’re transparent with the buyer and yourself going into the process. Assuming you’ve set a price that you are comfortable with on the listing, buyers will be aware of your expectations. That said, very often potential buyers will reach out with lower offers in response to your listing to see if they can negotiate you down.
These types of offers are sometimes from interested buyers who just think you’ve listed a bit too high and feel the price could be better. On public platforms like Craigslist, however, there is still a plethora of lowball offers that come through from individuals trying to buy and resell your vehicle quickly. While there’s nothing wrong with this, if you are going to do that it may just be easier to go directly to a dealership.
In most cases there is at least a little negotiation from the listed price as buyers expect sellers to overshoot their actual asking price. Be careful to know your bottom price before letting them come test drive as you want to be prepared for them trying to cut a bit more off once they’re in front of you.
Step 8. Head to the county Tax Office
The final stage of selling a car is completing the transfer process to officially transfer ownership to the new owner. This is an important step as failure to do so properly can lead to legal liability for the seller if the new owner gets into trouble while the car's title is still technically in the seller's name. You have to go through additional steps to prepare for the sale if you don't have a title .
To complete the transfer, which must be done within 30 days of the sale, the seller should either accompany the buyer to the county tax office and complete the required paperwork in person or fill out a vehicle transfer notification in advance from the Texas DMV. It's important for the seller to remind the buyer to have their insurance ready when they take possession of the car.
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