How to Sell a Car: 10 Steps for Success
Quick Facts About Selling a Car
- When putting your car on the market, you’ll want to decide whether to trade it in at a dealership, sell it yourself, or get an instant cash offer.
- Even if you plan to sell a car yourself, it’s wise to get backup offers from one or more dealerships and use them as leverage.
- Selling a vehicle yourself brings the most profit, but you must stay cautious.
If you plan to sell a car, find out how to get top dollar by using these steps for success.
Learn the different ways to sell a car, how to prepare your vehicle for sale, and get tips on pricing your vehicle, selling a car safely, creating car ads, negotiating a price, paperwork, and more.
Once equipped with these and other tools, you’ll be ready to sell your used car and get the most out of the deal you choose.
Want to sell your car today? Get your Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer. See our steps below and use our quick links below to jump ahead.
Steps for Selling a Car:
- Different Ways to Sell a Car
- Documents to Gather to Sell Your Car
- How to Prepare Your Car to Sell
- How to Choose the Right Sales Price
- Advertising Tips and Tricks
- Safety Tips When Selling a Car Privately
- What to Know about Pre-Sale Inspections
- Tips for Price Negotiations
- Paperwork Checklist
- Payment Options
1. Different Ways to Sell a Car
When putting your car on the market, you’ll want to decide whether to trade it in at a dealership, sell it yourself, or get an instant cash offer. The value of your car will vary depending on which method you use. Each option has pros and cons, such as the speed of sale, costs, and taxes.
Why Trade in Your Car?
- Fast and convenient
- No costs for listing and selling
- No texts, emails, or personal calls
- Potential to reduce sales tax on your new car
Why Sell it Yourself?
- Negotiate directly with buyers
- Get paid more for your vehicle
- Save money because no dealer overhead costs
Why Use Instant Cash Offer?
- Quick and easy
- Can be redeemed immediately at a participating local dealer
- No obligations
To get a sense of what you can expect from any of these methods, compare the Kelley Blue Book Private Party Value and Trade-in Value. Then check out the Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer. The difference could also be the deciding factor.
RELATED: 5 Best Ways To Sell a Car
2. Documents to Gather to Sell Your Car
The selling process begins with collecting your car’s paperwork. Do not overlook this crucial step. It’s important to tackle this before you offer to sell your car. You’ll be glad you did.
What Documents Do I Need?
- Car title. Be sure to keep the car title handy but in a safe place for selling the vehicle.
- Service records. These days, regular oil changes signal good upkeep to any potential buyer that the car comes well cared for. Service records will be great to show any interested buyer. No receipts? Check with your dealer, regular mechanic, or oil change center and ask for a statement summarizing your visits. This information reassures a buyer that the car you’re selling is in good shape. These documents can help you obtain or negotiate a higher price, whether selling it to an individual or a dealer.
- Original sales paperwork. While you may already know the basics (year, make, model, and current mileage), you’ll need to know your car’s trim level, such as a 2018 Honda Accord may be an Accord EX-L, which may include optional high-selling features such as keyless entry, leather seats, or a head-up display. Options can bump up your car’s resale value, so be sure you have a complete list. If you want to see if you missed anything, check your original sales documents or the window sticker.
- Vehicle history report. If your vehicle was in an accident, be prepared to answer any questions about it. Pulling a vehicle history accident report is helpful because you’ll know what it says.
3. How to Prepare Your Car to Sell
A broken door lock lever, a cracked windshield, the clattering of a noisy exhaust pipe — it’s in your best interest to fix these things before putting your vehicle on the market.
You’ll want to address the bigger mechanical issues unless you plan on selling your vehicle “as is” at a reduced price.
Consider getting your car professionally detailed. It’s just one more reassurance for potential buyers that they’re stepping into a clean car. Cleaning your car professionally also helps you increase the sales value when selling the car.
Basic detailing can cost a few hundred dollars, depending on the size, condition of your car, and where you live. So be sure to shop around for a price and know what you’re getting.
If detailing costs are out of financial reach, you can always do the detailing yourself.
Interior Tips to Sell a Car
- Remove all personal items and debris
- Shampoo carpets
- Clean the dashboard, seats, and mirrors, and otherwise put a shine on all surface areas
- Address and eliminate any odors in your vehicle
Exterior Tips to Sell a Car
- Remove all stickers and magnets
- Repair dents, dings, and scratches
- Replace any burned-out headlights or taillights
- Fix windshield chips and cracks
- Check the brakes and consider replacing them if they’re worn down
- Inspect your tires and determine if replacement is needed
4. How to Choose the Right Sales Price
You may think your car drives and shines like new, but its value depends on its actual condition. It’s important to be knowledgeable and realistic about the sales price when determining how to sell a car.
Some owners tend to overestimate the value of their car, which can lead to unrealistic expectations. If you ultimately set your asking price too high, you could experience trouble selling it.
Tools for Setting the Asking Price
- Consider getting a mechanic’s assessment. The mechanic can identify problems with the engine, plus things you may overlook, like a broken taillight or features you don’t use. Not only will this help you set the price to sell your vehicle, but it can also help before buyers take a look. (See section — What to Know about Pre-Sale Inspections).
- Use valuation tools. Kelley Blue Book’s valuation tools will help you get a quick, easy, and accurate value for your car or truck.
- Peruse local listings. Check local listings to see what other similar vehicles with similar equipment and options are selling for in your area.
- Take the Kelley Blue Book Condition Quiz. This tool helps you determine your car’s true condition.
Keep in mind that a larger engine and a higher power rating will be worth more when gas prices are low but can result in a price reduction if the used car market favors fuel efficiency.
Options like leather seats (assuming they’re in good condition), navigation, and alloy wheels can be used as selling points to enhance a vehicle’s value. Kelly Blue Book has provisions to include those extras in calculating an accurate value.
More Tips to Consider
When to Price Your Car Higher
- Warranty. You’ll get more money for your vehicle if it’s under a regular or extended warranty, provided it is transferable.
- Regular maintenance. If you’ve kept up with regular maintenance, including if you recently completed major scheduled maintenance, such as a 60,000-mile service, it adds to the bottom line of the sales price.
- New tires or brakes. You can add to the sales price if you’ve purchased a new set of tires or installed new brakes.
When to Price Your Car Lower
- Quick sale. If you want to sell your car quickly, lowering the price helps you get there faster.
- Needs maintenance. If the vehicle needs a major scheduled service, new tires, or brakes, that will lower the price.
- Accident(s). These mishaps will lower your sales price, whether a fender bender or a major accident.
5. Advertising Tips and Tricks
Once you’ve decided to sell your car privately, it’s time to get the word out to the largest audience possible and sell a car online.
At Kelley Blue Book and our sister site Autotrader, we offer information on how to sell a car online and provide advertising options that put your car in front of thousands of active shoppers in your area in minutes. The car ads also run nationally for those hard-to-find vehicles. You can stand out to buyers interested in your car with a detailed description and several good photos.
The sites also let you list your car on a private seller exchange. It allows you to transact safely since it only works with verified buyers and sellers and sets triggers to stop scammers. The site also follows strict payment protocols, including using a secure escrow service for exchanging private funds in a safe environment.
Selling your car online also allows you to field questions first, which will help you weed out any unlikely buyers and limit your time showing the car in person.
What to Include in a Car Advertisement
- Start with a brief description. Highlight your car’s most in-demand features, such as low mileage, high MPG, any remaining warranties, and special features.
- Mention why you’re selling the car. Buyers want to know this most of all, so deal with it up front.
- List the vehicle’s condition. Be honest about the vehicle’s condition and list the vehicle identification number, or VIN, to reassure buyers that you’re not hiding anything. The VIN allows potential buyers to easily search vehicle history.
- State your asking price and negotiating terms. Begin by posting your car’s Blue Book® Value followed by your asking price, then explain why you’re asking more or less than the Blue Book® Value. State whether the price is “firm,” “negotiable,” or “best offer,” as this will help you target buyers.
- Define acceptable payment forms. Include information about the types of payment you can accept, including touchless online payments, certified checks, or an escrow service.
- Include lots of images. Buyers love to feel like they’re inside the car, so include several exterior angles and close-ups of the interior, dash, and engine. Take a few videos inside and out for serious buyers that you can send during the process.
Learn about posting ads and costs now on Kelley Blue Book.
6. Safety Tips When Selling a Car Privately
When you sell a car to a private party through an online marketplace, you’ll want to remember these safety tips to ensure a positive outcome for everyone involved. By following these tips, you’ll be better prepared to make decisions as you navigate the sales process to a private party.
RELATED: 7 Ways to Protect Yourself When Selling a Car
Expert Strategies for Safe Transactions
- Meet in a safe area. Meet potential buyers in safe areas, such as well-trafficked retail or restaurant parking lots with security cameras. Local police department “online safe zones” can also be an option.
- Bring a friend. Always bring someone with you for a test drive or even the sale of your car.
- Tap into a verifiable escrow service. For a fee, an escrow service takes a buyer’s payment until the deal is done. This type of third-party service protects both parties from fraud. If the buyer suggests one, check the source first before agreeing to anything and determine who pays the fees. Beware of fake escrow services. Use only verifiable and trusted escrow services.
- Choose only legitimate forms of payment. Cash is king but not so much for large transactions. Stick to online forms of payment, if possible, or escrow services. As a last resort, only accept cashier’s checks from reputable banks or credit unions. However, it can be hard to distinguish between a real cashier’s check and a fake one. So to ensure a safe transaction, take a cashier’s check only when you can meet the potential buyer at their bank because you can verify the funds on the spot.
PRO TIP: Never take a money order, certified or personal check from someone’s bank account. If you encounter a problem, you may not find out until your car is long gone with its new owner.
Create a Paper Trail
When selling through a dealership, the paperwork is handled for you. You must keep track of the paperwork when you sell to an individual.
- Title transfer: Each state has different requirements when transferring a vehicle title. However, most states require the seller and the buyer to complete paperwork to ensure the transfer is legal. Typically, the seller signs and dates the back of the existing title and adds the sale price and the exact odometer reading before handing the keys to the vehicle over to the buyer. Do not round up on your odometer reading. Keep it exact. Once you let the buyer drive away, you do not want to be legally held responsible for anything. TIP: Make a copy of both sides of the signed title for your records. Use a smart device to take photos of the documents. Read our story on how to sell a car when you don’t have a title.
- Bill of Sale and Release of Liability: Whether or not the state where you live recommends that buyers and sellers complete a “bill of sale” and “release of liability,” doing this is an excellent way to protect yourself during and after the transaction. A “release of liability” form provides proof of the transfer and protects the seller from any future tickets, violations, or other problems with the vehicle after it’s sold. DMV.org, a clearinghouse of all state DMVs, provides a sample Bill of Sale and a Release of Liability information. Send in the signed “release of liability” to your state DMV. This is important to ensure that the seller is not held responsible for anything that happens to the vehicle after the sale.
- Remove license plates and turn them in: Let the buyer know beforehand that you will be removing your license plates from the car at the time of sale. Let the buyer make their own license plate arrangements to drive off with the car. Many states require that you turn in your old license plates to the DMV and get a receipt, which cancels the vehicle registration in your name. Taking the plates removes your liability once the car is sold.
Ways to Protect Personal Information
Before handing over any service records to a potential buyer, block out any sensitive and personal information.
If you originally bought the car from a dealer, remove any contract or completed credit application from your glove compartment or owner’s manual. You wouldn’t want this information to fall into the wrong hands as it may contain your social security number and any previous addresses.
How to Create a Safe Test Drive for Selling Privately
- Plan ahead. Discuss with the potential buyer their plans and yours and be honest about your limitations. Don’t be afraid to ask about theirs. When both parties are comfortable, it paves the way for a successful sale. It takes away the guesswork.
- Test drive with others present. When a potential buyer wants to take a test drive, always accompany the person, regardless of what kind of collateral they offer. Ask a friend or family member to join you. The potential buyer may also want to bring someone else along. Only take the test drive if you’re comfortable. Plan a test drive that’s short and sticks to populated areas. Most buyers don’t expect a long test drive. If your buyer wants more time, let the person ask you for it.
- Check your insurance for coverage of other drivers. Make sure your auto insurance covers any test drive, and ask to see the potential buyer’s driver’s license before handing over your keys. Take a picture of the license, just in case anything happens.
- Refuse unusual requests. If you feel uncomfortable, say no and come up with alternatives. For example, never drive the would-be buyer to another location. Often, such a request is framed as getting the money or arranging a loan to finish the sale. Instead, tell the buyer to make their own arrangements, leave a deposit and get back in touch when they’re ready to take a test drive or complete the sale.
PRO TIP: Get an Instant Cash Offer and compare it to any from private buyers. It also comes in handy as a backup if the buyer’s offer falls through.
7. What to Know about Pre-Sale Inspections
Buyers often ask for pre-sale inspections. A pre-sale inspection is worth the investment because it’s just one more tool you can use to put buyers at ease.
Buyers often want their mechanic to take a look under the hood. Getting a pre-sale inspection of your vehicle before you put it up for sale will equip you with information that a buyer will find if they want an inspection. It may also head off a buyer’s need to get their own inspection.
If the buyer still insists on using their own mechanic, meet the person only at reputable businesses, and drive separately.
8. Tips for Price Negotiations
The benefit of using the instant cash offer or selling your car to a dealer is that these methods can take price haggling out of the equation. When selling your vehicle to a private owner, let the buyer take the lead in negotiations. Ideally, you’ve given yourself some padding on your asking price, so the buyer can either accept the price or counteroffer.
- Determine your lowest acceptable offer. Know your lowest acceptable offer beforehand and consider the number of possible buyers you have in hand. The art of negotiation involves feeling confident that other buyers may be out there if you can’t agree on a price. Due to the microchip shortage, more buyers may be willing to pay a higher price for a used car, so bear that in mind.
- Be realistic. If a buyer offers below your lowest acceptable sales price, be prepared to move on. Suggest that they contact you if they reconsider. But if the buyer makes a reasonable offer, be prepared to say yes.
- Bring paperwork. Be prepared to sell your car on the spot if the buyer wants to complete the sale. Remember to bring your car title and all the collected paperwork to the meeting but keep it in a safe place until decision time.
9. Paperwork Checklist
10. Payment Options
When the buyer decides that your car is the one for them, and you’ve agreed on a sales price, the smartest next step is determining which payment option works best. For example, touchless online payments, such as Zelle or PayPal, or cashier’s checks, are safe ways to collect payment. All these payment options keep your bank information hidden and your personal information safe as the buyer pays you directly for the car. Any of these methods will help protect a seller against fraud.
Still, be cautious about cashier’s checks, as mentioned earlier. While they are drawn directly from a bank, not someone’s account, they can be counterfeit. It’s best to take precautions and use your gut. Meet the buyer at their bank and verify the funds in person during daytime banking hours.
Want to sell your car today? Get your Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer