Where should I sell my car to get the most money?

Written by Zach Shefska

Zach Shefska is Chief Executive Officer of Your Auto Advocate. Zach co-founded Your Auto Advocate in 2019 after convincing his then retired father (sorry, dad) to join him in an attempt to make the car buying process more confidence-inspiring and consumer friendly.

August 18, 2020

There comes a time when change is necessary. Deciding that now is the time to sell your car can certainly make a lot of sense, but it brings to mind another question, “where should I sell my car to get the most money?”

Deciding to sell your car is no easy undertaking (although it’s not nearly as painful as buying a car). If your goal is to get the most money when selling your car, then be prepared to do a bit of work. If you’re more interested in convenience, then have no fear, there are plenty of people out there who want to make it easy to buy your car from you.

Let’s run through the three different categories of car buyers, get into the specifics of what work you will need to do to sell your car to each of them, and cover the pros and cons of your varied options. Without further ado, let’s dive in!

Sell to a local car dealership

There is nothing wrong with selling your car to a local dealership. Will you get the most money possible? No. Will you have the most convenient experience possible? Probably not. Will you get the worst possible price for your car? Definitely not. Will it be the least convenient experience for you? Most likely not.

Selling your car to a local dealership is the ultimate middle ground of car sales. It’s an option, it’ll always be there, and it isn’t great, but it isn’t bad either.

Thinking of buying a used car? You might enjoy this guide: Buying a Car on Craigslist? Here Are 4 Things You Need to Do First.

What work is involved in selling your car to a local dealership? Not much. Don’t spend hundreds of dollars getting the vehicle cleaned, detailed, or looking “showroom ready.” The used car manager that appraises your vehicle won’t be swayed by how good the car looks, and they’ll still be thinking about the reconditioning work they’ll need to do to make the vehicle “merchandisable” (sales ready).

Selling to your local car dealer is convenient in this sense. Simply call them, make an appointment to get your vehicle appraised, and have the necessary documentation with you to complete the transaction (more on that below).

Understand that the offer you get from your local dealer will most likely not be top dollar for your car. Quite frankly, it could be the lowest offer you get. Local dealerships typically never offer what the national used car dealers do (more on them next), and although there is less work involved, offers from local dealers are typically much less than what you would get if you sold your vehicle to a private party (stay tuned).

If you’re still asking yourself, “Should I sell my car to a local dealer?” I’d caution that you shouldn’t. I think you’ll find one of the other two options more attractive for obvious reasons.

Sell your car to Carvana, or Vroom, or CarMax

National used car dealers have invested millions of dollars to create “seamless” and “technology-driven” ways to buy your car. CarMax pioneered the marketing of “we’d like to buy your car, please sell it to us” many years ago, and since then, upstart companies like Carvana and Vroom have doubled-down on purchasing used cars directly from consumers.

What work is involved in selling your car to one of these national retailers? Not much. Similarly to when you sell your car to a local dealership, you shouldn’t invest time or money in cleaning up your vehicle. Carvana, CarMax, and Vroom are all prepared to recondition your vehicle, and a detail will not change the appraisal value.

What are the pros and cons of selling to a Carvana, CarMax, or Vroom? There are plenty. To start with, the best “pro” on the list is the offer price. Carvana and Vroom are notorious for offering very competitive prices to buy used vehicles. Very recently we sat down with Nicholas Hinrichsen, the former Senior Director of Sell to Carvana on the Auto Insider podcast to discuss how Carvana determines pricing for their used car purchases.

Carvana and Vroom will also both come to you to purchase your car. Instead of driving to your local dealership, or to a physical CarMax storefront, Carvana and Vroom will send a flatbed truck to you and take delivery of your vehicle right there.

And finally, on the list of “pros” is the fact that all three major players offer seamless, simple, and intuitive online platforms you can use to sell your car directly to them.

What are the cons you may be asking? There aren’t many. The only downside to selling your car to Carvana, CarMax, or Vroom is that there is a chance you may not get top dollar for your vehicle as compared to selling it to a private party. That being said, the amount of time saved by selling to one of these big three national brands can more than make up for the price difference.

Sell to a private party

If you’re truly invested in getting the highest offer on your vehicle, then you should strongly consider selling your car to a private party. Selling your car to another individual generally requires a lot more work than any of the other options we’ve already discussed.

When selling to a local car dealer or a national used car brand, you don’t need to worry about cleaning up or detailing your vehicle. That couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to selling your car to another individual. You want your car to be looking immaculate!

If you’re thinking about buying or selling your car, you might enjoy this article if you haven’t read it already: The Car Buyer’s Glossary of Terms, Lingo, and Jargon

If you can get your car looking great, take professional photos, and get it listed on many different websites, odds are you’ll get top dollar for your vehicle. The cons however consist of investing your time into preparing the vehicle, coordinating appointments with strangers, and letting someone you don’t know test drive your car.

If you can look past these cons, then selling your car to a private party may make sense for you.

What you need with you to sell your car

No matter who you sell your car to, there are a few items you’ll want to have handy to facilitate the transaction:

  • Some sort of photo ID, usually a driver’s license
  • The vehicle title, proving vehicle ownership
  • Vehicle registration, showing vehicle ownership
  • 10 day loan payoff, which is the amount you still owe on the car (if you have a loan)
  • Both sets of keys
  • Any service and maintenance records

As a final note, remember to take your belongings out of the vehicle before you sell it. There’s nothing worse than seeing your EZ-Pass get billed six months after you sold your car.

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1 Comment

  1. Richard

    Hi Ray and Zach, I recently bought a new Mercedes GLE 450 SUV (April). I had a 2004 Nissan Maxima. It ran but had many dings, scratches and paint chips. Check engine light was on and so was the ABS light. Carvana and others offered me $200 to $300. A local auto trader said on the phone “MAYBE at most $700. The Mercedes dealer offered me $500 as a trade in. I took the trade in. I don’t Carvana and other national brands give top dollar or are better than dealerships. Just my experience.


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