How to Sell Your Car Privately

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The average person does not find selling cars to be enjoyable. That’s one of the reasons why car dealers typically offer a trade-in option. While this is easier for the customer, it usually doesn’t provide the best return.

While selling a car on your own typically is more profitable, you must put in the time and effort to do it right. You don’t have to be an expert. These tried-and-true selling tips will help you get the best price for your used car, with the least fuss.

1. Set the Value of Your Used Car

This can be a difficult step, but it’s worthwhile. Setting the value of your car will help you attract buyers and get the best price. It also helps with inevitable price negotiation. Research used car prices to see how comparable vehicles are selling. Take an honest look at your vehicle and compare it to the CARFAX History-based Value. This is your “desired price.”

Setting your “asking price” is more art than science. You want to attract buyers, so setting your price lower can increase desirability. Setting your price too low can backfire, though, and give you little room for negotiation. Asking about 20 percent higher than your desired price seems like a good compromise.

In the meantime, find the documents required for selling your car. A quick visit to your motor vehicle department should get you everything you need. Get a couple copies of each of the documents. When the time comes, you’ll have everything ready for sale and transfer of your vehicle.

2. Fix ‘er Up

Much of the value of your used car will be based on its current condition, both mechanical and visual. Many buyers are looking for something they can start driving immediately. They’ll overlook cars that need too much work, or negotiate a price far less than what you desire.

A pre-purchase inspection can give you an idea where your used car needs improvement. Attention to this signals to buyers you are serious about your car, and you’ll likely get a better price. Even little things, such as broken lights or paint chips, will take money out of your pocket. Most of the time, investing in these things will more than pay you back when negotiating the final price.

3. Enhancing Curb Appeal

Once you fix everything up, it’s time to start cleaning. Take the time to do it yourself or pay someone to detail it, inside and out. Here, too, your attention to detail improves your negotiating power.

Remove all trash and personal belongings, then start vacuuming. After vacuuming, clean the interior, including cubby holes, cup holders and the glove box. The dash and instrument panel are critical to anyone who will test drive your car, so clean them well. Surface protectant is a good idea. Clean cloth seats with upholstery cleaner or a steam cleaner. Clean and condition leather or vinyl seats. Don’t forget the headliner, door panels and rear deck.

Outside, start with a car wash. If necessary, consider waxing and buffing to enhance photo and curb appeal. Pay special attention to tires and wheels.

4. Take Lots of Pictures

Once your used car is clean and shiny, it’s time for a photo shoot. Choose a background that will show off your car. Instead of a parking lot, shoot for natural backgrounds, such as a park, forest or by a lake. Wait for a sunny day and take pictures of everything inside and outside.

Get pictures from all sides of the vehicle, as well as the top. Then, take pictures of the inside of the vehicle. You want prospective buyers to feel like they’re right there, looking at the vehicle or sitting in it. Take close-up pictures of faults. Don’t forget to take a photo of the odometer.

5. Advertising Online and Offline

Now that you’ve done your research, maintenance and cleaning, it’s time to advertise. After all, if no one knows about it, you’ll never sell your car. There are plenty of free advertising resources, such as Craigslist or a simple “For Sale” sign. Word-of-mouth is another excellent way to get the word out. Talk to friends, family, co-workers and even Facebook friends. Paid ads in newspapers or weekly sellers are good for late-model, special or classic cars.

Start your used car ad with a description that’s short, simple and to the point. Mention year, make, model and something special. Use buzzwords such as “economical,” “well-maintained” and “low mileage,” if these apply to your car. It’s OK to highlight your car’s best qualities but save negatives for the ad description.

In the body of your ad, mention specifics such as year, make, model, trim level, VIN, mileage and condition. Mention why you’re selling the car. If you don’t need it or are looking for a nicer car, these things improve your appeal to potential buyers. Don’t forget, you’re selling yourself as well as your car. Be sure to mention your asking price, terms of negotiation and payment expectations. These will help screen out potential buyers. Mention “best offer” or “firm” to encourage or discourage negotiation, for example. Accepted payment types such as bank checks and postal money orders will help screen buyers, too.

6. Call Screening

When selling a car, if what you’re selling is in demand or well-priced, prepare to answer lots of calls or emails. If you’re selling online, you might not want to use your personal phone number or email. Protect your privacy with burner phones and email addresses. A good email address might be “,” such as “”

When answering messages, ask questions to see what potential buyers are looking for and how they plan on paying. Questions such as, “Are your shopping for yourself?” or “Are you prepared to pay it all at once?” can weed out potential bad buyers.

When you find genuine interest, get a name and address, and set up an appointment to meet at a safe public place. Local shopping centers, coffee shops and mall parking lots are good places to meet.

7. Making the Pitch

When meeting someone, dress well, speak well, and explain why you priced your vehicle the way you did. New tires or brakes are good reasons for higher pricing and are of great benefit to a prospective buyer. In your conversation with the buyer, find out what they plan on doing with the car. This can help you highlight the benefits your car offers that address their needs.

Taking the test drive often seals the deal for serious car buyers. If you’re comfortable with the idea, go along for a ride with them, or bring a friend with you. During the test drive, be sure to mention more about the great things your car has to offer. If you aren’t comfortable driving with a stranger, take a picture of their license and give them the keys. Suggest a good test drive route, if they aren’t familiar with the area.

Finally, some car shoppers ask for a pre-purchase inspection. If you already had one done, they may or may not accept it. If they request an inspection, bring the car to their mechanic for the appointment. Remember it’s their responsibility to pay for the inspection, though.

8. Negotiation

You’ve already taken the time to research your vehicle and get it ready for sale. You already know the lowest price you’re willing to accept. Let the games begin! Negotiation likely always will be a part of car sales, both new and used. Negotiation is an art all to itself, but a well-prepared vehicle often sells itself. All you need to do is facilitate that relationship.

When negotiating, be calm and respectful, and don’t make decisions out of desperation. Remember that there are plenty of other buyers out there. If you get a lot of low-ball offers, you may need to revisit how you’re calculating the value of your vehicle.

9. Final Sale and Goodbye

If you’ve done all this well, then you’re well on your way toward finally getting your used car out of your driveway. You’ve already gathered the appropriate paperwork, so this part is easy. You might want to accompany the buyer to the bank or post office to ensure you’re getting real money. After accepting payment, complete and sign all documents, then make copies of everything.

After the new owner has legally taken ownership of the car, make sure you remove the plates. Depending on your state, you may have to return the plates to the motor vehicles department. Finally, call your insurance company to have it removed from your insurance policy.

A Final Word

Selling a car can indeed be a challenge. Taking a step-by-step approach, such as we’ve outlined here, can make things easier. Instead of thinking about the whole journey, remember it can only progress step by step. Taking the whole thing at once will only result in stress and won’t net you a good price for your used car.

By | 2018-07-13T15:04:28+00:00 July 13th, 2018|Car Selling|5 Comments


  1. Jerrry June 6, 2017 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    How do I go about selling my car

  2. Jesse M. June 9, 2017 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    We sold our car privately, so how can we tell the system that we sold it? And why does the system keep changing the mileage of the car when we know the true mileage of the vehicle, so it doesn’t have an odometer rollback on it?

  3. sharon howard July 17, 2017 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    I live in Madera ca, looking for a Toyota I know I don’t have much, only 1400 but an older one in decent shape would be great with air and heat work and reasonable good tires. a I have looked for a while now, anyone that has one and wants to get rid of it, I am still looking. Please nothing that needs work, I can’t work of them, nor can I afford someone that will.

  4. ron October 5, 2017 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    can i sell
    my car even if it’s not payed off, i just bought a used car a month ago. not the car i originally wanted but got a good deal so i took it but now i regret it. how do i go about sell this car?

  5. Carla Flores November 13, 2018 at 1:21 am - Reply

    Can i sell my used car even if it’s not paid off yet ? I’ve had it for a year now and it’s not what i wanted ? They ripped me off
    Please help

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