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How to Sell Your Car Yourself – Tips to Get the Most Value

by Kevin Mercadante

When you buy a new car, do you trade your old car into the dealer – or do you try to sell it yourself? If you trade it to the dealer, you may be cheating yourself. Even though it’s much easier to trade the car in than to sell it yourself, you can get hundreds or even thousands less by doing so. Worse, you’ll be leaving yourself completely at the mercy of the dealer.

Selling your old car yourself mostly comes down to strategies and tactics. With the right ones, you can get the highest amount for your old car, which will allow you to make the biggest down payment possible on your new car, and keep those monthly payments to a minimum.

Get a reliable estimate of value from a trusted source

Sell You Car

Selling you car yourself may get you a better return compared to trading it in.

A big part of why people stay away from selling their old cars themselves is that they are afraid that they will get the value wrong. After all, if the price is too high the car won’t sell; if it’s priced too low, you can lose a lot of money on the sale. In the face of such doubt, trading the car into a car dealership seems like a reasonable course.

But even if you don’t know much about cars, and what they’re worth, there are plenty of sources out there that can help you arrive at a reasonable price. Go to online sites such as Edmunds.com or Kelly Blue Book. By putting in information about your car, the sites can give you a close approximation of what your car will sell for.

You can also try bringing the car to a dealer who you’re not working with to ask for a reasonable value. One good place to go is Carmax. Not only will they give you an estimate of value, but they also usually offer to purchase the car for that price.

Whether you go to Carmax or some other dealer, always remember that they’re giving a lowball offer – what they will pay for your car, on the assumption that they will sell at a profit. Whatever value they give you, the real value is almost certain to be something higher.

Get a tune-up and have the car detailed

Investing just a few hours and/or a few hundred dollars can increase the value of your car substantially, sometimes even by thousand of dollars. Some people miss out on this opportunity, and assume the car can be sold “as is”. While you may be able to do it, you’ll never get anywhere close to top dollar for it.

Get the car in for a tune-up. Simply replacing a few worn parts and improving on the sound of the engine can make the car considerably more valuable. This is often a matter of getting an oil change, changing the spark plugs, and maybe changing a belt or two.

You can also invest money making the car look prettier. If your wheel covers are cracked or badly worn, you can buy a set of four replacements for about $20 at Walmart. A little bit of touch-up paint can minimize the appearance of dings and minor dents. Replace any burned out light bulbs, and consider replacing the wiper blades. These may be superficial factors, but overall appearance is a lot of what car buyers are looking for.

And speaking of appearance, a good detailing can make a difference too. You can do this yourself with a few hours of time and plenty of elbow grease, or you can bring it to a detailing shop that will do a professional job for anywhere from $30 to $100. It will be money well spent.

Detailing a car is more than just giving it a good wash and wax. It’s cleaning and polishing trim, the dashboard, the wheel covers and shampooing the carpets. It’s bringing an old car to the closest state of being brand new that is possible. And it can increase the value of your car by hundreds of dollars.

Market the car like the professionals do

Selling a car is an exercise in marketing. And that’s simply a matter of reaching the largest number of prospective buyers for the least amount of money.

List the car for sale on Craigslist. Craigslist has become a popular place to sell a used car (or just about anything else). It is the 21st Century equivalent of the local newspaper classified advertising section, because that’s exactly what it has become. When you sell on the site, you are advertising in your very specific local market, and you can list as many details as you want. The ad is free, and you can include up to eight photos at no extra charge. And make no mistake – photos can sell a car. Here are some tips for selling your car on Craigslist.

Place ads anywhere you’re allowed. Do up a simple but professional looking flyer, complete with photos, then be prepared to post it anywhere you can. This can include the bulletin boards at work, at church, at apartment complexes, grocery stores, laundromats, and anywhere else you can think of.

Never overlook the obvious

There’s a reasonable chance that the person who ultimately buys your car will be someone you know, or at least someone on the fringes of your social circle. But the only way this will happen is if you are relentless about getting the word out to everyone you know.

Make up an email template that you can send out to everyone in your email address book. Keep it simple, listing only the most basic information – the make, model and year of the car, the price, mileage and your contact information. If need be, attach a copy of your ad flyer (the one you’d put on bulletin boards) with color photos.

It may not be that someone you email the alert to buys the car, but they may forward it on to someone who’s in the market for a car.

Also don’t forget to put for sale signs in the windows of the car – in the back window and on both sides. The signs should be large enough to be read at high speeds but not so large that they impair your vision for diving purposes. Write in large legible letters and numbers for easy reading. Keep the sign basic – again, make, model and year of the car, mileage and your contact number. Price and other details should be excluded or kept to a minimum. Too much information is clutter, and by excluding the price you might invite a call for more information.

The purpose of car signs should be to generate calls from potential buyers, not to produce some sort of affidavit of information. Keep them displayed at all times, and drive slowly enough to give people time to read them.

At a minimum, you should try selling the car for at least 30 days before considering the trade-in route. And if you do have to trade it in, you’ll at least know that you gave it a good try before defaulting to the dealer.

But it’s just as likely that you will sell the car in that time, and for a lot more than what the dealer will give you.

Have you ever tried to sell your old car yourself?


Published or updated January 31, 2014.
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