How to Sell Your Car Privately

By Zac Estrada
Last Updated 05/07/2015

Trading your car into the dealer may be a simple process, but you can lose a lot of money by essentially handing your car over. That’s why many people choose to sell a used car privately.

There are plenty of steps, though, and it’s going to take you, as the seller, some time to organize paperwork, become a photographer if you aren’t one and evaluate potential buyers. And above all, you will fare much better selling your car yourself if you don’t go into the process blindly. Here are a few things to consider when selling your car privately.

Look at Places to Sell Your Car

If you want the most demand for a car, it pays to list in places that could cost some money. Don’t expect to get entirely serious inquiries if you just put a “For Sale” sign on, or post a Craigslist ad with minimal details. Look at various online sites and be prepared to pay for listings.

If you’re selling a specialty kind of car, or a model with a strong owner base, consider looking for websites or publications that deal specifically with your kind of car. Not only will your chances of finding buyers who are genuinely interested improve, but you’ll also be competing against fewer vehicles.

Take Lots of Photos

Photos photos photos. These are a must. Photos sell a car, and a good selection of them will give potential buyers a better idea of what you’re selling.

Pick a good location that’s clean and attractive, but won’t distract from your car. Get good overall, unobscured shots of the general angles, along with clear shots of the interior. Buyers will probably think that blurry or dark shots are there to hide problems.

Also make sure your car is clean. That’s something plenty of sellers manage to forget. Again, avoid things that could discourage buyers when posting photos of your car.

Prepare to Answer Questions

A buyer who is actually interested in your car will ask educated questions. Be truthful and upfront with the vehicle history, the way you’ve used it, and who typically drove the car. Don’t try to cover up obvious flaws like cracked or broken lights or upholstery stains. You also don’t want to be too hasty to dismiss your vehicle’s imperfections. Get an idea of how much it would cost to repair those items, and find out if they’re common issues with your car.

If you don’t have all the answers when you’re showing your car or giving a test drive, offer to find out the information and get back to the interested party.

Have all the Documents, Keys, Manuals and Records Available

This is a must in order to sell your car for a good price and quickly. A buyer who sees what kind of work has been performed on the car will better understand its history and be more trusting of you. Again, be upfront about these issues.

Better still, make sure you get all of the owner’s manuals, spare or valet keys and radio security code in order when it’s time to sell. Some of these are pretty crucial components for the car, and having them could make it easier to sell your car quickly and painlessly. If you’ve lost a key or radio code, find out the process and how much it would be to replace them.

Protect Yourself

Be careful in the transaction process. Don’t hand over the keys, title and the car without securing funds first. Shady parking lot deals are also a warning sign, and it would likely help to have a friend there watching that the transaction goes smoothly. Make sure you fully understand your state’s process for switching ownership of a vehicle so you make a clean break.

Still, none of these should be significant hurdles to deter you from selling your car yourself. The benefits will come in far more money than your car is worth as a trade-in. In this case, it pays to get organized and do your research before getting the whole thing rolling.

Related: What's Your Car Worth? »