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How to Sell Your Car (And Get the Most Money Possible)

Written by Ray Shefska

My career in the retail automotive business started in 1977. Buying a car doesn’t have to be anxiety inducing, stressful, or painful. Instead it can be confidence inspiring, fun, and convenient. Let me show you how.

November 25, 2020

There are a number of reasons that you might decide that it’s time to sell your car. For instance, your car may not be driving like it once did, you might want to upgrade to something newer, or it could simply be time for a change. In any of these cases, you may find yourself thinking “I want to sell my car.” While coming to the decision to sell your vehicle might be easy, knowing how to sell your car for the most money possible is a bit more difficult. 

From online dealers to private buyers, there are many possibilities when considering how to sell your car. Some sellers are unconcerned about the price and just think, “I want to sell my car quick!” If that’s the case for you, there are plenty of buyers who would be happy to purchase your used car at a low price. 

But if you want the most money possible, it will take some time and effort. Let’s explore several effective approaches for getting the maximum amount possible.

How to Sell Your Car to Major Digital Retailers

National online car retailers like Carvana, Vroom, CarMax, and Shift have been growing in recent years. These companies are publicly traded and focused heavily on growth. Because of this, digital retailers are always purchasing more vehicles in order to continuously expand their inventory.

While many of the used cars available through online dealerships are purchased at auction, buying from private sellers like you allows these companies to avoid the fees and additional costs associated with auctions. Since they are saving money by purchasing directly from you, they are likely to offer you a good amount of money for your used car.

If you are wondering how to sell your car for the highest price possible, it is important to compare quotes from all of the major digital retailers. Also, the ease with which you can get quotes from these large online dealers means that a small investment of time could result in a higher payment for your vehicle. 

There is a possibility that finding the right private seller could bring in more than a digital retailer, but it will certainly take a lot more work on your part. If you want the most money possible, but you are also thinking “I want to sell my car quick,” then the convenience and price point of a major online retailer might be the right choice for you.

If you decide on this option, you will not need to invest time or money cleaning and preparing your used car for the sale. Online dealers will recondition your car without it affecting your estimate. 

While many of these retailers have convenient storefronts for dropping off your car, Carvana and Vroom go as far as to send a flatbed truck to your home to collect your car. In terms of both convenience and competitive pricing, these companies are a great option for many sellers.

Get Quotes from Your Local Car Dealers

When sellers think, “I want to sell my car,” local auto dealerships usually come to mind first. Car dealerships can be a good option, depending on what you hope to get out of the exchange.

If what you are after is convenience, a local auto dealer might be the right choice for you. Simply call ahead to the dealership, make an appointment to get an estimate on your car, and take the required paperwork with you in order to complete the sale. 

Despite the convenience, you shouldn’t expect to receive a particularly high price from a dealership. Actually, a dealer is likely to offer much less than either national online retailers or private party buyers. The primary advantage of local dealerships is the convenience.

So, unless you are mostly concerned with the ease of your sales experience, there are much better approaches for how to sell your car.

How to Sell Your Car to a Private Buyer

If you are willing to invest the time and effort to find the highest sales price for your vehicle, you should search for a private buyer. But this option requires a lot more work than selling to a local dealership or an online retailer. 

For instance, this decision will require you to clean and detail your car before advertising it. Your used car should look as attractive as possible, so that you can raise your asking price to the highest possible amount. 

You will also need to take photographs of your car to entice buyers and list it on many different sales websites. So, while private buyers may give you more for your car, this sales method will mean much more work for you. 

Car History and Inspections for Serious Buyers

Regardless of which option you choose, there are a few commonalities that you should expect when selling a used vehicle. 

  • CarFaxAll serious buyers will want to view a detailed vehicle history for the car. This helps them determine if your car is a good investment. Be sure to have this ready, whether you are contacting an online retailer, visiting a local dealer, or finding a private buyer.
  • Pre-Purchase Inspection – While there is no single common checklist for making sure that a vehicle is worth buying, most serious consumers will want to conduct a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) of your car. Depending on how you choose to sell the car, the PPI may be more or less thorough.

When considering how to sell your car, be prepared to accommodate a PPI and have a vehicle history ready for potential purchasers to review.

What Do I Need to Sell My Car?

After you collect quotes and decide how to sell your car, you still may be unclear about all the information and items that you need to gather in order to complete the sale. You might wonder, “exactly what do I need to sell my car?” 

The following items will be useful in making your sales experience as smooth as possible:

  • A driver’s license or other official identification
  • The vehicle’s title
  • The vehicle’s registration
  • Ten-day loan payoff (if you have a loan on the vehicle)
  • All sets of keys for the vehicle (at least two)
  • All maintenance and vehicle service records

When the sale is final, be sure to remove any personal items from the car. If you choose to sell to a private buyer, you may have searched the vehicle thoroughly before the day of the sale. However, if you are using a more convenient option, it is easy to forget your important items in the car when you sell it!

If you have decided it is time to sell your vehicle, you likely will need to balance convenience against price. Consider the issues discussed above when deciding which sales method is right for you.

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4 Comments

  1. Chris Armstrong

    Started in this business as a Concierge ( broker ++++) over 40 years ago. Started working in a retail venue in the late 90’s up until the end of 2013. I worked at a small-medium three franchise dealership outside of Pittsburgh. The dealership sold AUDI, BMW and PORSCHE . The name of the dealership is The Sewickley Car Store. Perhaps we traded with you Ray.
    Had I known you I would have happily bailed out the kid. I enjoy your videos and have been able to get my wife to watch as well. You both are funny, light and it makes things move along at a good pace.
    One thing that I would add to your list regarding the sale of one’s own car is this. I do think it makes a difference, even to a dealership you may do business with, if you were to detail or have your car detailed before having them put a number on it. Dent removal, wheel scuffs can be repaired for a nominal cost and I think it puts you in a stronger position with regards to your trade number. Notice I said wheel scuff’s! Thanks for the entertainment and the service that you are providing to those that seek your help and advice. Regards, Chris Armstrong

    Reply
  2. Tony

    I usually use up my cars until $1g is a gift. They usually get sold on after a quarter million miles, or in the case of our 1999 Grand Marquis, old enough to drink.

    The Grand Marquis sold for $2500 after 3 days on the market. Only a buy here pay here dealer would have wanted it due to age.

    However it showed well and sold to someone who saw the sign in the back window.

    Not only did the buyer get our extra car with two keys and an aftermarket Bluetooth head unit, but got the sign as I forgot to grab it. Left it in because in that segment of the market, you never know when a buyer will flake out or not produce the cash, etc.

    Must have been a good car because after 3+ months, no calls complaining.

    I would add to the list, a bill of sale document not to mention any state documents noting the transfer of the vehicle. This varies state by state, but one should be able to find the requirements at your DMV or Secretary of State office.

    Make sure the bill of sale notes As-Is and that the buyer was not prevented from having the vehicle professionally inspected.

    Two copies, on for the buyer and one for the seller.

    If the seller keeps the tags, take a screw driver and make sure you can remove the tags easily before going to the sale.

    Reply
  3. Ben Shipe

    Decades ago I used to “flip cars” as an additional income stream. I have owned/sold about 65 cars over the past 40 years. While that is nothing to what a car salesman will sell in his career, that’s a lot of cars for your average Joe to put across the curb. In selling those cars, I believe I have heard it all-trade offers for a hunting dog, shotguns, console color TVs, guitars, and drums. I’ve been asked to carry accounts for up to two years and more than a few offered to pay with 3rd party checks.

    Yesterday, I bought a new Subaru Legacy. (I already have an Outback and an olderTrailblazer). Since we are in this China Virus situation I didn’t want to try and sell privately…knowing of course that this is how you can see the most return. First, I checked with “We Buy Any Car” to get their number. Then, I decided to see just what I could get for my black 15-year-old Cadillac STS in very nice condition with only 80K miles from the dealer. I wasn’t expecting much knowing this would be a wholesale transaction.

    I had already pitted this dealer against other Subaru dealers online. I had a good price before I pulled onto the lot. I drove the Legacy and I liked it. Getting back to the lot “I was going to look around some more.” Then, I was able to shave off a few more bucks and have the dealership agree to install a factory CD player, a Rockford Fosgate audio upgrade, (I’m a drummer and really enjoy good sound), and factory body side moldings to push the deal through.

    It was then that I said, “you know, I think I would like to perhaps trade in my car.” Well, I knew there was no room to pull any money out of the deal so I figured they would hit me pretty low since there was nothing left to “cover the trade.” I had a dollar figure in mind and if they hadn’t hit it I would just keep the car or sell it later. They came back $500 over what I had hoped for-but this was a very clean, inside and out Caddy. I tried to squeeze another $200 just for giggles but that wasn’t going to happen. If the car had had the V8 and a moonroof he said they would have.

    I remember you saying once, Ray, that a good deal is one where you feel good about it the next day. (To paraphrase) I do feel good about it and this car deal was as relaxed and stress-free as any I have been through for over 5 decades.

    I used both “Find The Best Car Deal” and the Auto Advocate site in searching for my new car. I already knew good deals are on the sedans in the current market and how many days the car had been sitting on their lot. You guys are doing a great service and I really enjoy your YouTube channel.

    Reply
  4. Douglas Smith

    My sister in law normally leases Hondas. To help her youngest, (55 year old) daughter, she leased a 2018 Nissan Rogue Sport. Two or three months later, daughter gets a job with a company car, and sister in law drives the Nissan.
    The lease is up, and she wants a Honda CRV. Honda dealer says the buyout, with very low miles and very clean, is too high at $14,000. They won’t buy it to resell or to auction. Its her problem. She leases the Honda anyway.
    Honda dealer says its worth less than $14,000. Carvana says $13,000. She has just been diagnosed with Lymphoma, and has an 89 year old husband to tend. Private sale is out of the question. We are in SW Florida and the lots are loaded with ex rental Nissans.
    Turn in inspection is today, and should present no problems. Nissan said over the phone that there is no termination fee. We shall see.

    Reply

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