By Erienne Andvik
Investing a little time and TLC into selling a car yourself can pay off. You probably can get more money for your used car than you would by trading it in to a dealer. You don't have to be an overachiever to get what your car is worth; you just have to know where to start. It does take some work, but it's totally worth it.
how much is your car worth?
People tend to think their possessions are worth more than they are. Think about it—when you're selling something, you want top dollar; when you're buying, you want a bargain.
Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.com that can help you identify the market value of your vehicle. The only thing you have to do is accurately report the condition of your car. Be critical when rating your car's condition—or enlist the help of a 'realist' friend. Your car isn't perfect, so be honest to identify a realistic starting price.There are several websites such as
Put your buyer shoes on and do a little research to see what similar models are selling for in your area. Check craigslist or online local newspapers to find what other sellers are asking. Prices vary by region, so a quick check will do you well. It's OK to inflate the price by a few hundred dollars once you've settled on a fair value. This leaves some negotiating room with a potential buyer.
spruce it up
The $5.99 gas station car wash doesn't cut it—your car needs to be toothbrush-clean. Splurging on a detail job is usually worth it—you'll make your money back in no time. Get your car waxed and repair minor dents and dings. Change the oil and ensure fluid levels are at the max. Consider paying for minor fixes that need to be made instead of selling the car 'as-is.'
Also, get rid of your stuff. All of it: window clings, dashboard hula dancers, shoes, and water bottles under the seats. Check the front seat, back seat, pockets, and trunk. You want the potential buyer to be able to picture himself or herself driving the car. Your junk will cloud that picture.
get the word out
So your car looks fab; now it's time to let people know. Start grass-roots—let people know you've got a vehicle for sale. That can be the fastest and most painless way to sell a vehicle.
If you don't find any takers that way, the next best option is through an online classified site. There are tons of choices, from national to local sites. Compare prices and, if you aren't familiar with the company, look it up with your local Better Business Bureau to ensure it's legit.
Write a succinct, catchy ad. Include important information about your car:
- Special features
Be honest, but positive. Don't include your address, and proofread your ad before you post it. If you can include photos, do so. Nothing looks more suspicious to buyers than a glowing ad with no proof to back it up.
When communicating with potential buyers, whether it's through e-mail or over the phone, be friendly and polite. If you encounter someone who makes you feel uncomfortable for any reason, you can always tell this person the car has been sold.
meet potential buyers
Once you find an interested party, arrange to meet for a test drive. If you're more comfortable meeting in a public place than giving out your address, that's OK. It's also a good idea to have someone go with you (girls, I'm especially talking to you).
A little prep work before the meeting will help you look like you've done this before:
- Assemble maintenance records.
- Print a Carfax vehicle history report.
- Walk through negotiating scenarios in your head. What's the absolute lowest price you'd accept? How will you respond if the buyer asks you to make a repair outside of the purchase price?
- Let the buyer know in advance what type of payment you will accept—it's wise to accept only cash or a cashier's check.
- Research your state's DMV laws for selling a car, as each state is a little different.
- Print a bill of sale, like this sample from cars.com, and have it available in case the meeting goes well.
- Look the part of a responsible vehicle owner. In a buyer's mind, your look translates into the type of car owner you have been for the past few years. Slob = didn't take care of your vehicle. Clean and responsible = adhered to maintenance schedule and got regular car washes.
Once you meet the potential buyer, confirm that he or she has a valid driver's license, and then ride along on the test drive, again taking someone with you for safety reasons. Make the most of this time to sell points of your vehicle that you couldn't mention in your ad.
make the deal
When you find an interested buyer, negotiate the purchase price. The buyer may want to take the car to a mechanic before formally committing. But, so you're not surrendering custody of the car, you may want to consider taking the car to a mechanic yourself. If you ever feel uncomfortable or think you aren't getting a good deal, don't hesitate to back out. You aren't obligated to sell your vehicle.
When the deal is set, fill out the bill of sale. If you own the car outright, sign the title over to the buyer after you have payment, and follow any additional DMV procedures for your state. For example, in some states the plates stay with the car; in other states, you keep your plates.
If your credit union has your title (you still owe money on the vehicle), it may make sense to conduct the sale at your credit union. Call ahead to have the title available. The buyer can pay the credit union the outstanding loan amount, and can give you the balance to equal the agreed-upon purchase price. If you have questions about how this works, call your credit union auto loan officer for answers.
And if you are "upside down" in the vehicle—meaning that you owe more for the car than you're able to get from selling it—you'll owe the lender the balance and will have to pay it to get the title.
After the deal is sealed, make one final sweep through your car to ensure you have retrieved all your belongings, including garage door opener if you have one. Don't forget to give the buyer all copies of the keys and your folder of the car's service records. Make copies of all paperwork and immediately cancel your insurance policy, or transfer it if you have purchased a new vehicle.
You might encounter some difficult buyers or endure a no-show or two. But overall, the financial benefits of selling a car yourself probably will outweigh the work it takes to sell.