Sell your car yourself

It may take more time and money, but can be worth it

Last updated: May 2014

Selling your current vehicle on your own will get you a higher price than trading it in. You can always expect to get more than the whole­sale price. But selling your car yourself takes a lot more work than just driving to the dealership for a trade-in. You’ll have to go through the hassle of advertising, taking phone calls, and showing the car.

Set a competitive price

By following the advice in “What is your car’s value?”, you should have a good idea of what the retail and local asking prices are for your vehicle.

If you checked to see what a local dealer would offer on a straight-up sale, you should be able to price your car reasonably. Remember, price your vehicle a little bit higher than what you are willing to take for it. That way, the buyer can negotiate for a slightly lower price and feel good about it. Don’t be greedy, though. You will scare off some potential buyers if you set an unrealistic price.

Advertise effectively

There are many ways to advertise your car. Some are more effective than others, and the cost can vary from free to quite expensive. Don’t feel limited by the suggestions you see here.

  • Word of mouth is very effective. Tell your friends, relatives, colleagues, and anyone else you know that you have a car for sale. If your network is big enough, you might be surprised at how much interest you generate. And it’s free.
  • Online classified ads are very effective. Cars.com, which operates in partner­ship with MSN Autos and Kelley Blue Book offer several ad packages from a two-week ad with a stock manufacturer's photo of your model to a 30-day ad with free renewals and custom pictures. AutoTrader.com has ad packages that include posting your ad on several websites like AOL and Yahoo.
  • Daily newspaper ads can work but aren’t as effective as they used to be. Some newspapers will give you both a print and online ad for one price.
  • Ads in weekly shoppers and free news­papers can work, but they may have a lot of competition in attracting attention.
  • Or try the old standby: Put a “For Sale” sign in your car's window with your phone number and a few other details, such as price, model year and mileage.

Showing your car

Once you’ve placed your ads, make sure you keep your car’s specifications, mileage, and other particulars at hand and have your schedule ready so you can set a day and time to show the car.

When you do show the car, answer all questions honestly. Be prepared to provide service receipts and to accompany the buyer on a test drive and to an independent mechanic.

Prepurchase inspection

Any savvy buyer will want to have your car inspected by a mechanic before the sale. If the buyer is a friend or relative, there should be little risk in allowing him or her to take the car for an inspection. If the potential buyer is a total stranger, however, you’ll probably want to drive the car to the shop yourself. The inspection shouldn’t take more than an hour.

Know what paperwork you need to have with you

The paperwork requirements vary from state to state. In some, transferring ownership of a vehicle to another person is as simple as entering the odometer reading, sales price, and your signature on the back of the title. In others, you must fill out official title-transfer forms. Contact your state’s DMV to see what you should do.

Contact your lender to see what has to be done if you have an outstanding loan. A bill of sale is often required by the buyer for sales-tax purposes.

Wrapping up the details

Buying a new vehicle is an exciting experience, but not getting the full value for your current car can leave a bad taste in your mouth. By knowing its true value, spending a little time making it look its best, and sticking to your price during negotiations, you can get a fair price.

Used car buying guide

Learn more about choosing a used car, avoiding a lemon, buying and selling a used car, pricing and financing, and more in our used car buying guide.


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