How to Sell Your Car: 6 Simple Guidelines to Get Top Dollar

by Jessica Sommerfield · 0 comments

how to sell a used car
My husband and I bought a 5-year-old vehicle 7 years ago, a particular make and model with high ratings for both reliability and owner satisfaction that holds its value well. The car has been incredibly dependable — even through a cross-country move a few years back.

Recently, however, we’ve noticed an uptick in our vehicle maintenance and repair costs so we have started thinking about selling or trading it in before the transport eats up more money than it’s worth.

With the aim of matching a newer vehicle price as close to the sale price of this one as possible—who wants a car loan? We’ve been car payment-free for over three years and loving it!—I’ve been looking for any bit of advice for squeezing every cent-worth of value out of it. Here’s what I found:

how to sell your carSelling a Used Car Privately

Direct-sale prices are as much as 20% higher than trade-in values based on Kelly Blue Book, but there are trade-offs — chiefly time, effort, and patience. Here’s what the experts recommend doing to get the highest private sale price out of your vehicle.

1. Fix small faults and maintenance items that impact perceived value.

Yellowed head lamps, burned-out blinkers, and broken key fobs might not seem like a big deal when compared to more valuable components, but these things can leave a bad impression with a potential buyer.

Things like worn-out tires and brake pads can also be a deal-breaker. Even if these items aren’t that expensive or serious, a buyer may hesitate when they discover they’ll need to replace these things right away. Some say you’ll likely recoup double the cost of simple fixes because they improve your vehicle’s desirability.

2. Get an inspection and keep records of maintenance and repairs.

Hopefully you’ve already been keeping good records. Providing the paperwork for routine maintenance such as oil changes shows that the vehicle has been conscientiously cared for. And, if you’re not certain of your vehicle’s condition, now is the time to find out — before a potential buyer requests a pre-purchase inspection.

It’s also a good idea to request a CARFAX report that proves it’s never been in a collision. All of this will add more credibility to your listing.

3. Have the vehicle professionally detailed.

Stained, dirty carpet, scratches, and dings immediately stand out when you look closely at a vehicle. A professional detailing — which may include shampooing, engine de-greasing, buffing, and fixing paint imperfections — only costs a couple hundred dollars, yet adds as much as $500 to your vehicle’s resale value.

If you know what you’re doing, save yourself some more by detailing it yourself.

4. Be accurate. Make it interesting. And take good pictures.

Detail is also important in vehicle descriptions and photographs, especially if you’re advertising your car on Craigslist and other online resale markets. Vague, unimpressive descriptions and dark or distant photos aren’t going to help sell your vehicle. You don’t need to be dishonest about its condition, but you do want to play up its best features and make your vehicle stand out.

5. Do pricing research. Don’t take the first offer. Choose the right time to sell.

Sites like Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds, and Autotrader will give you a ballpark figure for the private sale value of your vehicle and a chance to see what similar vehicles are selling for on smaller sites or used dealerships in your area. Use them as a starting point and try to get as much out of your vehicle as you can.

Even if you’re trying to sell fast, don’t take the first offer you get. This is where patience comes in! Be strategic about pricing: if you set the initial price 5 to 10% higher than its value, your buyer will think they’re getting a steal when you accept a lower offer (this is known as anchor price comparison).

And, although you can’t always wait for ideal market conditions to sell a vehicle, consider the season you are in. It makes sense that SUVs and four-wheel drive vehicles sell better in fall and winter, while sports cars and rear-wheel drive vehicles have a better chance of catching someone’s eye in spring and summer.

Trading in a Used Car

Dealerships are notorious for paying as little as possible for a trade-in, then jacking up the retail price once they’ve spiffed it up. But, if you don’t have time to wait through the private-sale process, trading in a vehicle can be the easiest and fastest way to go. Here are a few tricks to ensure you get the most — even from a car salesman.

1. Know the value and negotiate for more, but don’t settle for less.

Walk in with a solid understanding of what your vehicle is worth, and you’ll get a different reaction from the dealership than if you don’t have a clue. Always try to get the most out of your vehicle, but have a rock-bottom price in the back of your head, and don’t let them pressure you in to settling for anything lower than this.

2. Compare offers from at least 3 dealers.

Some say you’re likely to get the best offer from the dealership that services your vehicle, since they have its records and know they can get top dollar when they re-sell it. Regardless of where you go, get at least three offers to compare before making a decision. Some dealerships will have a higher demand for certain vehicle types and will be willing to pay more, while others will view purchasing your vehicle simply as a way of getting you to finance a new one.

3. Move fast.

Most dealership offers are good for a week or less, so if you choose this route, you’ll need to move quickly before the dealership changes its mind.

Getting top dollar for selling your car can be a hassle, but you’ll definitely get more money if you take the time during the whole process. If you think about it, the effort you put in is like having a part time job that pays really well. Do your research, make your preparations, and profit.

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