A close-up of a person holding a car key towards the camera.

Sell Your Car in Seven Simple Steps

The thing about buying a new car is that you are always so excited – you can’t believe you actually own this awesome automobile. Whether or not it’s off-the-lot new or just new-to-you, a new car is exciting and it’s always hard to believe you’ll ever get sick of it. Nope, this new car is your car forever.

Until it’s not. Eventually, the luster fades. The paint chips, the transmission needs a little work and the 8-disc CD changer you thought was so cool ten years ago is now so outdated you can’t even find 8 CDs you actually want to own. You’ve matured, grown-up and changed, and so have the cars around you. It’s time to get rid of that beloved old hunk of metal you’ve been driving around and upgrade to a new ride.

But first, you need to sell your car. Selling a car can be much less fun than buying a new car, because although at the end you should be getting something (namely, money), it’s not as exciting as getting to choose something (namely, a new car). So what’s the best way to dump your old car as quickly and painlessly as possible? Read on to find out how to sell your car without getting taken for a ride.

Step 1: Pray That You Actually Saved the Paperwork

Most likely, you got your car, took the paperwork and threw it in the glovebox while speeding away singing “Life is a Highway,” such was your excitement. Now you better start hoping that paperwork is still hiding in the glovebox along with the 900 napkins you’ve shoved in there over the years “in case of emergency.” You’re going to want to dig that paperwork out and really review what exactly you own. Yes, we know that you know the make and model and most likely even the year… but do you know the trim level? Do you know if you had any additional options? Those little details you may have forgotten or overlooked equal cash money, so be sure you know what you’re selling.

Additionally, pull together all of the service records you can find – every oil change, tire rotation, etc. You want to show your potential buyers that you took great care of the car and that you’ve kept up with all of the routine maintenance. If you’ve made a rookie error and trashed those along the way, just call your service provider and they should be able to get your records for you.

Check Off Step 1: only when you have gathered the title, maintenance records, bill of sale, release of liability, warranty documents and as-is documents. (For help figuring out what each of these documents is click here).

Step 2: Name Your Price

This is where all of that information you gathered (and the internet) is your friend. Do some research to see what similar cars have sold for in your area. Use sites like Kelley Blue Book, Autotrader, eBay and even Craigslist to get a feel for what the market is like. It’s hard not to want to push the price as high as possible, but remember that there are a lot of used cars out there, so be reasonable. Be willing to negotiate if possible, but also don’t sell yourself short. Have a dollar amount that is the lowest you will go and stick to it.

A caveat to this: if at this point selling your car is starting to feel like a huge overwhelming hassle, then perhaps you’d be better off trading it in at dealership. Explore this option if you’re not confident in your ability to sell on your own or if you’re car is worth substantially less than you expected.

Check Off Step 2: when you’re confident that you’re asking for the best price for your car.

Step 3: Hide the Evidence

Obviously, everyone who comes to look at your car knows it’s a used car; however, you don’t have to beat them over the head with that fact. Get your car looking brand new and in mint condition – buyers will be more likely to forget the “used” aspect of the car and will find the car more appealing. It might take swinging through the car wash or a little elbow grease, but you’ll realize the benefit to showing a clean car when it comes down to the final price. It’s just logic: a clean car looks more appealing and better-maintained than a dirty one.

Check Off Step 3: when your car look as good as new.

Step 4: Advertise Like Nike

You know who is really good at selling things? Nike. So just do it. You don’t need celebrity endorsements or million of dollars to generate interest in your product. You just need to take some high-quality photos of your recently shined-up car, write an honest and compelling description of your car (include the make, model, car history, and VIN number) and upload both to a number of online sites like cars.com, autotrader.com, and kbb.com. There’s a lot of places to sell a car online, so do a little research to see what makes the most sense for you.

Check Off Step 4: when your car is posted online or through whatever advertising means you’ve deemed best.

Step 5: Show Off

After posting your car, you’re going to start receiving lots of emails requesting more information. Pro tip: set up a separate email account just for this step, you don’t want to clog your regular email with tons of additional car-related emails. At this point, you need to set-up times to show the car to potential buyers and you also need to be aware of the inherent risks of selling things online. Be careful with who you give your information to, and never be alone when a potential buyer comes to see the car.

When you do meet the potential buyer, have a recent mechanic’s report of your car to give the buyer confidence that the car is in good working order. They may want to take the car to their mechanic for a once over, and you’ll have to decide if you’re comfortable with that (you can always arrange to go with them). Remember, they are taking a big risk buying a used car from someone they don’t know, so be as honest as possible and remember that karma will get you in the end, so don’t be a sleazeball and lie about any aspect of the car. By all means, highlight the great aspects of your car and what a terrific owner you are, but if there are issues they should be aware of, just tell them upfront.

Check off Step 5: when you’ve met a potential buyer or two and have had an honest discussion about the car

Step 6: It’s Not All or Nothing

Look, everyone knows that when it comes to buying a car, whether you’re taking part in a private sale or at a dealership, you have to negotiate. It just comes with the territory. So don’t be offended when the buyer asks you to drop the price. Be flexible. Don’t sell yourself short, but don’t leave yourself high and dry either. Find a price that you’re happy with and stick to that, but throw in a little wiggle room.

Check off Step 6: when you’ve reached a price you’re both happy with

Step 7: Hand Over the Keys

And you’re done! You’ve successfully advertised your car, found a buyer, negotiated a price, and now you just have to wrap up the last few details. Here’s what you have to know: every state handles car sales differently, so you must look up the rules for your state. In general though, you’re going to complete the bill of sale and sign over the title to your car, complete the release of liability paperwork, and hand over the warranty and maintenance documents. Carefully look over all of these documents and conceal any of your personal information… as trustworthy as your buyer seems, you never know who might buy the car from that person. Be smart and protect yourself against fraud.

Most importantly – get your money! Cashier’s checks or cash only… do NOT take a check – if it bounces, you might be out of luck.

Check off Step 7: when you’ve got cash-in-hand and no car in the driveway.

Congratulations! Now go get yourself a new car!

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