A Guide to Selling Your Car

A Guide to Selling Your Car

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Selling your car is hard. Emotionally and practically. It’s one of those things that’s difficult to grasp unless you’ve done it before or know someone who has. 

Knowing that we’ve decided to craft this article. We hope to teach you how to sell your vehicle with minimal pain and maximum profit. We’ve divided the article into three sections: the first is focused on preparing you and your vehicle. The second will be about finding a buyer. And the third will be about completing the sale. 

You can hop around to the sections you need or read the whole thing like a guide. In either case, we hope you come away from this enlightened!

Preparing You and Your Car

Make sure you’re emotionally ready

It might be a sentimental thing to start with, but make sure you’re ready to sell your car. Maybe it has some emotional significance for you that’s hard to let go. Maybe take it on a last road trip, get some pictures, or peel off some favorite stickers and put them in a frame. And know that, unless you hated the car, you’ll feel some loss when it’s gone. That’s normal, and it’ll pass.

Know the local going price!

Got your heart ready? Good. Now it’s time to work on your head

Before doing anything else, you need to know what the going cost of your vehicle is, locally. Unless you have a rare ride (think a classic Porsche), you’ll likely be selling it to someone within about three hours’ drive of you. That will be your selling area, and its locale can have a huge impact on the sale price. After all, a Subaru with all-wheel drive is going to be worth much more in a state with snow than in a desert.

To find the price, you’ll want to know three things: the exact make and model of your car, the mileage, and its comparative condition/outstanding issues. Mods and such won’t impact price nearly as much as these three qualities.

Once you have them, you should look, on Kelly Blue Book, to give you a good baseline for the car’s usual pricing. Once you have that in mind, search on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace in your selling area. Ignore listings by obvious car salespeople and try to stick to listings as similar to yours as possible. Pay attention to the difference between local prices and the Blue Book Price. If yours has higher mileage or is in worse condition, then expect to sell it for less than what you’re seeing.

After you have some idea of the price ranges, decide on a preferred price, and a minimum you’ll be willing to accept. Write those down. 

Make sure you have other transport options available

Another simple check. Before you sell your car, make sure you don’t need it anymore. I know this seems obvious, but it’s not uncommon for people to sell their car, only to realize the bus route doesn’t take them where they thought. Whatever transport you think you’re going to shift to, test it on your regular commutes to make sure you can still get where you need to be. 

Gather Necessary Documentation

Depending upon where you live, you’ll need different forms of documentation to sell your car. In general, you’ll want the following four things. Make sure you have them on hand and google any documents that might be unique to your locale.

  • Pink Slip/Ownership Papers
  • Bill of Sale Template
  • Vehicle Registration
  • Your ID

The bill of sale template is the only one of these that needs expanding upon. You can find them online, or type one up yourself. Simply put, it’s just a document that explicitly states that you—with a signed name—have sold the vehicle to someone else—who will also sign their name—on a certain date, for a certain amount of money, paid in a certain method. All of those will be filled in by hand to verify the sale.

Clean the Car and Do Any Necessary Basic Maintenance

Nothing turns a buyer off faster than suspicious rattling or a dirty vehicle. True, no one expects you to have kept your car pristine year round. But by failing to clean it shows  that you don’t want to put in the effort to present the car as appealing. Depending upon the costs in your area, it may be a good investment to get the car detailed. 

Likewise, don’t put the impetus on the buyer to make sure the oil is changed and the brakes are good. If any of those need fixing soon, get them fixed. Aside from being polite, it will also keep the buyer from being able to talk you down on price. 

Finding a Buyer

Places to Post

First thing you need to figure out is how much trouble you’re willing to put up with for this sale. If you don’t want any trouble, you might want to ask friends to ask their friends and see if any of them are looking for a ride that fits the bill. It’s a quick way to make a sale, even if you need to drop the price.

Outside of that, there are three major options: Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace (FBM), and Ebay. 

The first two are nearly interchangeable in many respects, except that FBM has a more modern interface. They’re the tried-and-true markets for selling a car on your own, with a decently well-built system for doing so. 

Ebay is more difficult to manage. I don’t recommend it for those who don’t have something rare on offer.  I wanted to mention it in case you are in the situation to sell a car that is rare.

What to Say In the Listing

First and foremost: do not lie

Anyone worth their salt is going to see through it, fast. Beyond being immoral, any lie will kill their trust in you. This also means you don’t stretch or bend the truth. Be honest. Let the buyer know what they’re in for.

Give the buyer as much information as possible. Mileage, buying history, any notable quirks, what you usually did with the vehicle, and any recent work that’s been done on it. Might even be worth it to tell them where the car has been. 

Organize this information! You don’t want the buyer to have to search through a novel for the details they want. Have bullet points near the top with relevant factual info, then a paragraph with the more contextual info. 

And don’t be afraid to show some personality. There’s power in putting your face on something.

What to Look Out For

Once you’ve got the listing out there, your next responsibility is to keep an eye on the messages that come in. It’s best to ignore any one liners, especially when they’re just low-ball offers. If they aren’t willing to invest in communication, they’re likely unwilling to invest in the vehicle.

Second, keep an eye out for pushiness. If potential buyers react unpleasantly to rejections or rescheduling or try to bully you into doing things on their terms, ditch them. It’s not worth the hassle.

What you should be looking for is someone who communicates clearly, kindly, and is willing to compromise on information and meeting times. 

Aside from that? If anything gives you a “bad vibe,” don’t meet with the person. 

The Test Drive and Where to Meet

At some point, a buyer will likely want to take the car for a test run. This is normal. The key thing to do is to make sure that you—and maybe a friend—are in the car with them. On one hand, this is to help them quickly get answers to any questions they might have, and for you to help explain the quirks of the car. But it’s also in case the person is a cunning scammer hoping to ride off with your car. 

As far as where to meet the person? That’s always a difficult question. In general, I don’t recommend meeting them at their place. It’s usually best to try for neutral, well-lit territory between your place and theirs. Especially somewhere well-trafficked, or near a police station. 

Failing that you can meet at your home. That gives you the benefit of familiarity and being able to suggest where they go for the test drive. 

Completing the Sale

So, you’ve got all your info. You have a potential buyer. You’ve settled on a price—don’t meet for a final sale before settling on a price, by the way. Now, you have to complete the sale.

This step is remarkably simple. You meet the buyer, maybe in the same place that you did the test drive. Preferably with a friend. Bring all the documentation listed above. Each of you signs the bill of sale and takes a picture of it. You hand the keys to them, make sure you have a ride home… and you’re done!

Now, it can’t hurt to have their number on hand in case of any unforeseen circumstances. But aside from that, this is usually where the sale process ends. Once they register the car in their name, your name will fall off of it. 

As you can see, most of the work in selling a car is preparation and communication. This can make it a stressful assignment for some who prefer not to do either. Still, it’s the best way to ensure that you get the best price possible for your car and that it goes to someone who’s well-suited to it. 

Good luck with your sale!


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