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How to sell a car: Tips & pitfalls to avoid

If you have a car you want to sell, there are several options available depending on your priority. Do you want a fast sale or do you have more time to look around for the best place to sell? Selling to a dealership can save some time and hassle, but an individual buyer may net you a higher purchase price. 

Thanks to the internet, selling a vehicle is easier than ever. Whether you're trying to sell a late model minivan or a hybrid sportscar, there are steps you can take to lessen the stress and ease the process. Learn how to sell a car and get the most cash from your used model.

What is the best way to sell a car?

When deciding on the best way to sell a car, it helps to consider your goal. If you’re ready to put in a little effort, then selling your car privately may put more money in your pocket. Or maybe you want that clunker out of your driveway as soon as possible and don’t care about making a dime. Are you willing to trade price for convenience?

There are three ways you can sell your vehicle: 

  • Trade-in your car: If you want an upgrade, trading in is a way to get rid of your old car. Keep in mind, trade-in values may net you less than a private sale to an individual.
  • Sell to a retailer: You can take your vehicle to a lot or sell it to an online company but those companies may have similar offers to the trade-in value you would receive at a dealership.
  • Sell to a private party: Selling a car privately can take more time and effort on your part but could net you more money.

Top tips for selling a car privately

Selling a car privately might be more work than selling to a dealer, but the price difference can make the whole thing worthwhile. Some patience and a little extra effort can pay off in a big way if you follow some simple guidelines. 

1. Know your vehicle

Potential purchasers want to know about the vehicle they’re considering for purchase. A little preparation on your part can go a long way to reassure them. Obviously, you should already know the make, model, mileage, and condition. But take note of other details such as:

  • Previous repairs 
  • Service records 
  • Type of mileage (highway, city)
  • Ownership history

Also, be prepared to tell potential buyers why you're selling the vehicle. It's better to have answers to any likely queries than being caught off guard and ruining a sale. 

2. Safety is essential when meeting in person

Keep safety in mind when arranging a test drive for any potential buyer. Meet in a store parking lot or a local restaurant, and bring someone with you, if possible. When they test drive the vehicle, go with them so you can answer any questions they may have, but curb the temptation to make the hard sell. Instead, allow them the opportunity to explore the car without any pressure.

Best way to sell a car quickly 

You can put a sign in the window and park your car where there's a lot of traffic or rely on word of mouth, but when looking to get the best price and fastest sale, click your heels together three times and repeat, "there's no place like the internet." Social media sites offer marketplaces where you can sell your car, or you can opt for one of the dozens of websites geared toward auto sales. 

Prepare the paperwork

Requirements for selling a car differ from state to state, so check your state department of motor vehicles to verify guidelines. For most automobile transfers, prepare the following items:

  • The title to the vehicle: The original title goes to the purchaser but make a copy for your records. If you can't find your title, check with any previous lien holders.
  • Upkeep records: Gathering all available car maintenance records can help build trust with shoppers and serve as a selling point. 
  • Vehicle history report: Online vehicle history reports offer a complete vehicle history, including accidents, maintenance, and previous owners. 
  • Bill of sale: Include the VIN, date, price, and signatures. Even if your state doesn't require a bill of sale, it's a good idea to have one if any issues emerge after the sale.

Set a fair price

Determining the best price to ask for your vehicle can be a bit of a balancing act; it is helpful to determine the lowest offer you are willing to accept. You might be inclined to ask for more than the going rate, but keep in mind, doing so might mean it takes longer to sell. 

Prepare and market your vehicle

Who doesn't like a spotless car that looks good and smells fresh? Take a cue from used car dealers and make the car look as nice as possible. Freshen up the interior and exterior or get it professionally detailed. Next, create an honest and specific sales ad and include clear photos in good lighting.

How to close the deal

If you ask for a reasonable price and are honest in the descriptions, negotiations can be simple. Let the buyer make the first move. If they ask what your best price is, you can tell them you think your asking price is fair but invite them to make an offer. After that, it's a matter of agreeing to a price, securing payment, and completing any paperwork

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