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Guide To Selling Your Used Car


Somewhere between automotive hand-me-downs and trade-ins is the prospect of selling your used car.  Following some basic steps can lead to a successful sale, and could even mean more money in your pocket.

Prepare yourself.  You may need to answer calls, emails or text messages during dinner.  Showing the car evenings and weekends is probable.  Take it all in stride.  Start with the mindset of treating potential buyers the way you would want to be treated, and be prepared for a (hopefully temporary) disruption to your routine.  This is also a good time to confirm any duties you have with the Department of Motor Vehicles regarding odometer verification, smog testing and the title transfer process.  

Time your sale correctly.  If it’s an option, try selling your used car when it’s more likely to be in demand.  A Miata in the Midwest won’t command the same interest or selling price in the dead of winter as it would in spring or summer.    

Fix problems and address maintenance.  You may have learned to live with a few little malfunctions or drivability issues in your car, but they could be deal breakers.  This is the time to correct them.  At least disclose them and provide quoted prices for repairs.  Address any outstanding maintenance needed like changing oil and other fluids, good tires, a healthy exhaust system and the like.  Gather maintenance and repair receipts to show upkeep during your ownership.

Clean the car.  A dirty finish outside and a trash pile inside will not only discourage buyers, it can repel them.  Cleaning and detailing the car inside and out sends a better message.  Avoid overuse of potent air fresheners inside, as this can put people off as well.

Set a realistic price.  Do your homework by researching ads of similar used cars in your area.  Take into account the condition, mileage and options of each to help you determine an asking price.  Online pricing guides are helpful as well, but remember to set your price in line with the private party value, not the dealer retail price.  That figure reflects complete reconditioning, top condition, a possible warranty and a dealer’s profit margin.  But if possible, get a written buy offer from a car dealer.  Take it all into consideration and decide on your asking price, as well as a mental note of the lowest offer you will accept.

Advertise.  People can’t buy a used car they don’t realize is for sale.  Use multiple methods to attract buyers.  Free and paid website listings are a given, and include photos of the exterior and interior.  Posting a video walkaround and narrative on YouTube can spark interest.  At the same time, an old-fashioned For Sale sign doesn’t hurt, either.  Pop it in the window every time you park, and be sure your friends know, as this can generate word-of-mouth support.

Handling the test drive.  Strike a balance between caution and accommodation.  Ask to see a driver’s license before letting a prospective buyer behind the wheel, and accompany them for the drive.  If a buyer asks to take the car to a shop for a pre-purchase inspection, try to arrange getting the car there yourself or at least go along for that ride also.

Negotiate the sale.  Regardless of the price you ask when selling your used car, a shopper will most always haggle.  Chalk it up to human nature and don’t take a lowball offer personally.  Be prepared to counteroffer politely but decisively, using your own research to back you up.  If you can agree on a figure, accept cash or a cashier’s check.  Be wary of personal checks or proposals for installment payments since drama and extra hassle are inherent with these arrangements.

Write a bill of sale. Don't forget to have the new owners sign a legal bill of sale transferring ownership and forgiving you from liability--making the sale "as is." After you sign, they should get a copy for their records. Your state DMV and its website should have a simple form you can duplicate.

Post-sale.  Wrap up anything you need to handle with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and contact your insurance company to remove the car from your policy.

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