How to Sell Your Used Car Privately: The Most Complete Guide You’ll Ever Read

Car shopping can be a pretty miserable experience – so miserable, in fact, that 21% of Americans say they’d rather give up sex for a month than haggle over a new car. The only thing worse than buying a new car, many people believe, is figuring out how to sell their used car themselves.

We’re here to rescue you from your car selling woes. This comprehensive guide will help you navigate the process of getting your car, truck, van, SUV or other vehicle ready to sell. We’ll also cover advertising it for sale on popular sites such as Craigslist and Amazon, and engaging in the actual car selling process.

How to sell your used car privately

Your Options For Selling Your Used Car

There are three ways to get rid of your used car: sell it yourself, trade it in at a dealership, or send it to a car junker.

Why should you sell your car yourself instead of trading it in at the dealership? You’ll make more money. The dealership has to earn money on your trade-in by selling it. To maximize their profits, they’re going to give you a low-ball offer on your used car.

Selling your used car is more time-consuming, especially if your car is a bit of a junker. But if you need more money for a down payment on a new car, or can’t stand the idea of getting ripped off by one of those slick-haired, fast talking dudes at a dealership, you’re much better off selling your used car yourself.

When would you consider selling your used car to a car junker? Places like Junk Car Medics are a last resort for most people. If your car doesn’t run, was totaled in an accident, or is otherwise unusable, your only choice may be selling it to a junk car dealer or metal scrapyard.

Many of these businesses are easy to work with, while others do everything they can to rip you off. They may offer you one price over the phone and another when you arrive, or try to aggressively negotiate with you when you drop off your car. If possible, get recommendations of reputable car junkers from friends or colleagues before you start making phone calls.

A car buyer is always going to pay more than a car junker, which is why we recommend trying to sell your used car yourself before you call one. If you can’t sell the car after a week, you can always call a scrap yard or car junker then.

Ready to get started? Let’s move on to the next step: Preparing to place your car up for sale.

How to get your used car ready to sell

It’s cheaper and easier to sell your old car than ever before. Gone are the days of placing an expensive ad in a newspaper. Instead, you can place your ad for free on a number of websites. Many of the forms you need to fill out when you sell your car can be downloaded and printed at home, which saves you a trip to the DMV.

Now that you’re ready to sell your used car yourself, the first thing you should do is get all the paperwork in order. You’ll definitely need the title. You should look for it before you place your ad so you can apply for a replacement if necessary.

Different states have very different requirements when it comes to the other paperwork needed to transfer a vehicle’s ownership. It’s likely that you’ll be required to fill out a Bill of Sale, and there may be other forms. DMV.org (a privately-operated site that is not affiliated with the Department of Motor Vehicles in any state) has a good list of what paperwork you need to sell a car in each state.

Your next step is to research the potential selling price for your car. The Kelly Blue Book is the most common way people figure out how much they can get for their used car. They have an excellent website that walks you through the car’s features and condition and comes up with a price based on that information. Your local library should also have a copy of the Kelly Blue Book.

Once you’ve looked at the Kelly Blue Book, it’s a good idea to look around online and see how much similar used cars are selling for in your area. Look on Craigslist or a similar site. Check out the local dealerships – keeping in mind that their prices will likely be higher. All of these resources will help you come up with a good asking price for your car.

Right before you’re ready to place your car up for sale, get it cleaned up and looking great. Remove all trash and non-essential items from the floors, seats and glove box. Take the car through a car wash and vacuum it out. If it needs any minor fixes, make them. It may seem counterproductive to spend money on things like replacing non-working lights or broken mirrors, but it will help you get the highest value possible for the car (if small things aren’t working, people will wonder what else might be wrong with the vehicle).

Now that your car looks beautiful, take lots of pictures of it. If you’re going to sell your car with an online ad, your response rate will be much higher if you include photographs. They don’t have to be professional quality; just grab your smartphone, wait until there’s decent light outside and start snapping away.

Take exterior photos from different angles so you get the front, side and back of the car. Take some pictures of the interior as well. If the car has any special features, photograph them. If the car has any damage you’ll mention in the ad, you might want to take a picture of it (especially if it will convey to the viewer that the damage really isn’t that bad).

This is also a good time to track down your owner’s manual. You may need it to describe some of the car’s features, such as the engine size and type, in your online ad.

Advertising and selling your used car

What’s the best site for selling your used car, truck, van, SUV or other vehicle? They all have positives and negatives. Click on the links below to get our take on the pros and cons of each of these sites, as well as complete instructions for how to post your used car.

When It’s Time to Actually Sell Your Used Car

Now that your car has been posted, you can sit back and wait for people to call/email/text you. When that first inquiry comes through, give the person a very basic description of your car. You can use a slightly modified description of your online post. Things to include in your description are the year/make/model, any features you want to highlight, anything that’s new or recently been repaired, the reason you’re selling the car and the price.

You might mention anything that’s wrong with the car or needs to be fixed, but don’t over-embellish. It’s fine to say, “One of the power windows isn’t working, and the estimated repair cost is $200.” Don’t say, “One of the power windows isn’t working, and it’s just the latest thing to break because this car is a real lemon.” It’s responsible to the potential buyer to be upfront about anything that’s wrong with the car. It’s irresponsible to yourself to undersell your valuable asset.

If the person wants to come and test-drive the car, arrange a meeting. This article on Edmunds.com has great advice for making that meeting safe. Here are a few of their tips:

  • Meet the person at a public place, not your house.
  • Take someone with you to meet the potential buyer. If you can’t do that, make sure someone knows where you’re going and what time you should be back.
  • If you feel comfortable, go on the test drive with the person. Take your cell phone so you can call for help if anything goes wrong.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable going on the test drive, copy down the person’s driver’s license number or make a photocopy of their license before you let them take the car.
  • Trust your gut. If you have any concerns about letting the person drive the car, don’t hand over the keys and leave as soon as possible. There will be other buyers.

If the person likes the car, they may ask to take it to their mechanic for an inspection. This is a fairly standard practice, so you should definitely consider saying yes. It will make them feel more comfortable about purchasing the car. Make sure you clearly communicate when they can pick up the car and when you want it back. And make sure you hang on to their personal information.

The person may come back with a counteroffer that’s lower than your suggested asking price. Have a drop-dead price in mind ahead of time so that you’re not caught off guard if the person wants to haggle. If you can’t agree on a price right away, ask the person for their phone number or email address. If you haven’t found a buyer in a few days, you might want to contact them and accept their price.

When you find someone willing to pay your desired asking price (or something close to it), agree on a method of payment. The buyer may want to pay with cash, check, a cashier’s check, a money order or a wire transfer. All of these are fine except personal checks. If the person has a checking account, they have a bank, and the bank can issue a cashier’s check. It’s a much better way of ensuring you get your money.

You’ve finally sold the car. Congratulations! Before the buyer comes to pick it up, do one last check through the car to make sure you have all of your things. Don’t forget to take any CDs out of the CD player.

Make sure you have all the paperwork you need, including any DMV forms. Keep in mind that if you own the car with someone (a spouse, ex-spouse, parent, etc.) all parties will likely need to sign the title and the other forms. If they can’t be there when you make the sale, make sure you have them sign everything in advance. Should the buyer need to get a bank loan to purchase your vehicle, you may have to meet them at the bank with all your paperwork.

Once you and the buyer have signed the forms, make a photocopy of each for your records. Cancel your auto insurance and make sure the buyer has taken the steps necessary to get the car insured in their name. Hand over the keys and watch your car fade into the sunset.

Your last steps are to submit the paperwork and inform the DMV that the vehicle is no longer in your possession. This last step is critical because you don’t want to be liable if the person commits a crime with the car.

And you’re done! Hopefully the process wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be. Now you’re ready for the fun part – spending your cash, watching your bank account balance go up, or shopping for a new car.