Remember how excited you were when you drove your car home for the first time? It was all new and shiny, and you couldn’t wait to take it out for a spin—even if you had nowhere special to go.
But now, well, not so much. You know it’s time to part ways, but you think maybe you could do better selling your car yourself rather than trading it in. This can seem scary and a bit complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.
And the rewards can be tremendous. You could use the money you make to resolve your debt, add to an emergency fund and even invest in the future. Of course, the cash could also make a great down deposit for your next set of wheels.
If you are determined to sell your car by yourself, here are eight tips that could help make the process as smooth as the way your car rode the day you drove it home.
Tip #1: Do your homework
The first thing you need to do is study your local market. Go online to see what other people are asking for your car’s make and model. Read Craigslist and search Google to get a sense as to what it’s worth.
But be sure to focus on vehicles sold so that you know the actual end price, not how much the buyer initially wanted. Your car is as valuable as someone is willing to pay for it.
One of the tricks to selling a car quickly is how well you price it. If it’s too low, people may think it’s a junker. But if you price it too high, you’re likely to drive away prospects who feel they could get the same vehicle cheaper from somewhere else.
Tip #2: Timing is important
It’s also important to time your sale, when at all possible. If you have a convertible or sports car, it will probably sell much quicker in the spring or summer than when a cold winter is approaching.
On the other hand, if you’re selling a practical four-door kid carrier, you should be able to sell it all year round. Ditto for vans and trucks that tend to hold their values. If you have a pick-up with some dings and dents and 80,000 miles on it, you should be able to get a good price despite its condition. There is almost always a market for used trucks.
Tip #3: Make it sparkle
Before you show your car, make sure you clean everything out of `the interior (and bed if applicable). Take stuff out of the cabin, trunk, and even the glove compartment – excluding the owner’s manual. This can give prospects the feeling that they’re driving their next car and not your old one.
Also, have the car washed and waxed until it practically sparkles. First impressions are critical and curb appeal is important. In fact, many people will react to a car in the first minute, before they even take it for a test drive.
Dings and dents, no matter how minor, should be fixed before you list it. If the car is a total beater, you can sell it “as is” to avoid throwing more money into it.
Small details can make or break a sale. Be sure to top off all the fluids and get the oil changed. A smart buyer will check the dipstick, and you want it to come back a bright tawny gold and not a gunky black.
Finally, if you think your old car has seen better days, you might consider donating it to a charity and taking the tax write-off.
Tip #4: Keep all your information
Hopefully, you have socked away all your repair records. This helps to reassure the buyer that you took good care of the car. It also enables you to be candid about any major problems you encountered or any repairs you have made.
It’s also smart to get a report from a mechanic after they have inspected the car. A smart buyer will want to have the car inspected and you wouldn’t want his mechanic to discover something that requires repairs.
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Tip #5: Advertise it everywhere
Most people shop online for cars these days. In fact, this is what has almost killed off newspaper classified ads for vehicles. You will naturally want to list it on Craigslist but also on Cars.com, Autotrader.com, eBay classified, and any local paper where you could post an ad-free.
You could also use Facebook and Twitter to get out the word that you’re in selling mode. And don’t underestimate the power of putting a sign on your car with its year, mileage, and your contact information.
Online sites like Kelly Bluebook and Edmunds.com are excellent resources for advice on selling your car. In fact, Edmunds has a free tool for appraising its value. Simply type in the make, model, mileage, color, options, and condition. It will even show you its popularity by region.
For example, town cars move better in the northeast than in the Rocky Mountains while pickups are more popular in the south and rural west. The important thing is to remember the old proverb that the wider you cast your net, the more fish you are likely to catch.
Tip #6: Dress for success
Have you ever noticed that successful car salespeople always look sharp and well-dressed? Once again, a first impression could make a lasting one, so you want to look good. Whether you will be showing your car in your driveway or a nearby parking lot, you need to understand that you are selling yourself as well as your vehicle.
You don’t have to wear a suit, but you should dress nicely and neatly. If you look as if you take good care of yourself, prospective buyers will be inclined to think you did the same for your vehicle.
Tip #7: Ask for a bit more
A good strategy is to ask for a bit more than you would be willing to accept for your vehicle. This leaves room for negotiation. As a rule, most prospects will try to bring down your price in $500-$1000 increments.
For example, if you’re willing to take $9000 for the vehicle, try asking for $10,500. Of course, if your prospective buyer shows up and is ready to cut you a check for the asking price, accept it.
But if they want to negotiate the price down and you leave some wiggle room, you should be able to get what you had hoped for. And your buyer will be happy that their cunning and wheeling and dealing saved them money. This makes it a win-win situation.
Tip #8: Accept cash, a cashier’s check, or an online payment
Be realistic about your asking price. You need to look at your car objectively, determine what it’s worth and price it accordingly. Some of us tend to fall in love with our cars and overvalue them. But if you price it right, you should see a fairly quick sale.
Scammers are constantly ready to pounce on people who are buying or selling cars. That’s why it’s important to take a payment that’s protected if something goes awry.
Cash is king and a cashier’s check is perfectly fine, but you want to make sure it clears before the buyer drives off into the night. Payment apps like Venmo and Zelle offer purchase protection if something goes wrong.
Whatever you do, a standard check is never acceptable. You could end up holding a worthless piece of paper while your buyer drives away with a free car.
Additionally, ask to see their driver’s license and proof of insurance before someone test drives the car.
Some quick tips for negotiating the sale
There are some things to keep in mind when you’re negotiating the deal. For example, if your buyer says, “I like the car lot.” and then goes silent, you should ask how much he or she would be willing to pay for the vehicle.
If you get the question “What’s your best price?” this is a direct approach to probing how much you would be willing to sell the car for. If you do get this question, don’t look as if you are eager to negotiate. Try to stay firm, at least for now.
“Would you accept?” If you get this question, it means you are in serious negotiation mode. Your prospect has thought about the purchase and is making an offer while still giving you room to counter.
Finally, if you get a “take it or leave it,” this means your buyer is playing hardball. Or it could be a bluff. Either way, your buyer is close to his or her bottom-line offer.
If you want to test their sincerity, let them leave. Don’t be surprised if you get a call the next day offering your price. Or you may need to continue negotiating until the two of you can reach agreement.
If a buyer walks away, the sale wasn’t meant to be. Try to hold firm to the price you want, just make sure it’s realistic. If the price is right, so is your strategy.