Looking To Sell an Old Car? Here’s How To Get Top Dollar for It

Selling a pre-loved car has ultimately become easier due to COVID-19. If before, you had to haggle for hours at a dealership just to get an additional $100 for your ride or meet up with strangers off of Craigslist at a specific location, right now, dealerships and used-car retailers themselves are looking for ways to get you the most out of your vehicle without the need to have you physically present.

Regardless of whether you plan on getting rid of your vehicle to a dealership at a certain price point, pursue the private party route, or check out used-car retailers, your checklist of what to do to get your car ready to sell is the same. Selling your car online through Autotrader, Craigslist, Cars.com, or a similar platform takes more time than the other two options, though sometimes, the extra work can pay off. Whether it’s worth the headache is up to you.

Either way, if you’re looking to sell your car, this guide’s here to help you get the most for your car.

Do Your Research

For Sale by Owner sign on car.

Before you list your vehicle for sale or visit a dealership, check local listings to see what similar models are going for. Check Craigslist, Autotrader, Cars.com, eBay, and maybe even a few dealer websites for your car with similar features. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a good idea about your competition.

If you plan to sell your car privately, there’s a good chance that buyers will do research to see what similar cars are going for. Obviously, they’re looking to get the best deal possible. Doing your research will help you get the most money for your car by giving you an idea of how much your car is worth in terms of the competition.

Once you have a realistic figure in mind, you can use Kelley Blue Book to get a rough estimate for how much your car is actually worth. KBB’s value, though, is not concrete and it’s very unlikely that someone will purchase your vehicle for the full listed value. Instead, it’s a good ballpark estimate of what someone is willing to pay for your vehicle.

Get Your Documents Ready

Once you have the rough figure of how much your car is worth and decide that you still want to go through with selling your vehicle, get your car’s documents ready. If you’ve been keeping track of all the maintenance that’s been done to your car, collect that paperwork. You’ll also want to make sure that you have the title (if the car’s paid off) and that all of the information is correct.

If you’re looking to sell your vehicle privately, check online to print out a basic bill of sale form. You’ll want to print out two copies – one for you and one for the buyer. This form is crucial for your records and is a must. While car titles have a sale section on the back of them, having another document for your records is crucial for satisfying the DMV and can be used if something goes awry.

Fix Any Issues

Car mechanic checking car engine.

Unless you’re willing to take a lower offer for your car, it’s best to spend some extra money getting it as close to perfect as possible. If you’re not comfortable working on your own car, take it to a trusted mechanic or dealership to see what needs to be fixed. Small things, like an oil change, air filter, and windshield wipers won’t drastically change your car’s appeal to a buyer. But larger things, like brakes and tires, will. Plus, a smart buyer will see your lack of overall maintenance as a bargaining chip.

Usually, spending some extra money on fixing everything that’s wrong with your car will help you get some more money for it. It’s best to be reasonable, though. Don’t put four new tires onto your car and expect to get all of your money back for doing so.

Also, know that a buyer could request a pre-purchase inspection for the vehicle. That’s when the buyer requests that the vehicle be taken to a shop or dealership to be looked at. This will reveal any glaring issues with your car. If you sell your car to a dealership or a used-car retailer, they’ll do an inspection on it and adjust their offer based on what needs to be fixed.

Make It Sparkle

Making your car look good is one of the easiest things you can do for your car that will immediately increase its value. If you’re not sure of what to do and don’t want to invest in some high-end cleaning products, taking your car to a good detailing shop will have it looking like a million bucks. Even if a good wash, wax, and interior cleaning cost you a few hundred dollars, it’s money well spent.

If you’re willing to spend some time, money, and elbow grease to get your car looking like new again, check out our guide on how to wash your car. Also, spend some time cleaning your engine bay to make it shine and put some tire shine onto your tires for the finishing touch. Don’t forget about the interior, either! Shampoo any grime off the carpets and remove any stains.

Take It to a Dealer or Contact a Used-Car Retailer

Business man signing contracts.

If you don’t plan on selling your car privately, you’re practically done! All you need to do is take your car to a dealership or use a used-car retailer’s website to see how much your car is worth. Carmax, Carvana, Vroom, and a few other places will give you an online offer for your car with just some basic information. If you’re happy with the price, you can arrange for the company to pick up your vehicle at your location or you can drop it off at a local outlet.

All of these options will tend to give you a lower figure for your car, but it’s much simpler than taking the extra steps to sell your car privately. Some places may want to look at your vehicle before officially handing over the funds, but it’s a very rare thing for an initial offer to actually increase. If anything, expect the original offer to decrease after they’ve looked at the car.

If you accept the offer, you’ll need to sign some forms, hand over the keys, and you’re all finished. If it sounds too simple to be true, it really isn’t. There’s a reason why people have been steering away from selling cars privately — it’s a major hassle. Having recently gone through this very ordeal, I cannot state just how easy it was to sell our car to a used-car retailer instead of going down the private route.

Take Some Pictures

Blue classic American car parked sideways.

You may not be a photographer, but taking some halfway decent photos of your vehicle is one step that should not be overlooked. With the car nice and clean, go to a wide-open spot – preferably not in direct sunlight – and snap some pics. Get all angles of your car and any dings, scratches, or dents.

Obviously, this step is only necessary if you plan on selling your vehicle privately. And most of the sites that allow private sellers to list their vehicles have strict requirements for how many photos a listing can have. For all of your extra photos, you can put them into a Google Drive folder and send any interested buyers the link.

Put some effort into your photos, because no one wants to buy a car from a seller that only has three crappy pictures. Don’t get overly artsy, though. Having one or two fancy shots is a good thing, but it’s important to remember that buyers are looking to get as much information as possible from your photos. This photoshoot isn’t meant to make your car look like the best one ever made.

Write The Ad

Again, this step isn’t necessary if you’re going to take your car to a dealership or sell it to a used-car retailer, but it’s mandatory if you’re going to post your car online. Just like with photos, some websites have strict word counts, making it difficult to highlight your vehicle and sounding genuine at the same time. You can even mention if your used car is the car that defined its automaker.

If it comes down to it, it’s best to keep things simple and include all of the important information about your car. Making a list of pros and cons is an easy way to get all of the information across in an easy-to-read format. More crucially, be sure to be as honest and upfront as possible. If your car has issues, put them into the ad. If you come off as being dishonest, there’s a good chance that no one will reach out to you.

Arrange A Test Drive

Man holding the stirring wheel.

Never, and we can’t stress this enough, meet a buyer at your house, apartment, or residence. Instead, meet buyers at a well-lit, well-populated area. Think along the lines of a parking lot outside of a shopping store or a local park. Also, before meeting with the interested buyer, send a friend, close family member, or neighbor a text on where you’re going, what time you’ll be there, and who you’re meeting. Better yet, try to get someone to meet the buyer with you. It might seem like overkill, but you can never be too safe.

When you meet up with the interested buyer, be sure to bring all of the documents that you have on your car. Give them some time to look at the vehicle freely, but be available for any questions. When the time comes for the actual test drive, avoid making a sales pitch. You don’t want to sound like a car salesman. Instead, you want to be available to answer questions and guide them on the route, as they may be new to the area.

If a buyer does want a dealership or shop to inspect the vehicle, they should pay for the inspection and arrange for the assessment beforehand. Make sure the shop’s estimated time fits into your schedule. If not, it might be a good idea to reschedule a different time for the shop to complete an inspection of the vehicle.

Be Patient

If you are selling your car privately, the next step is usually the hardest – waiting. You might have to wait a few weeks or a few months to find a serious buyer. When you do, try to hold your ground on your price, but listen to their concerns. Be ready for a buyer to pull the old, “I found the same vehicle for cheaper somewhere else” line. If you want to get the most out of your vehicle, you have to be ready to walk away at any time. Unfortunately, that could mean a lot more waiting.

Once a price has been agreed upon, complete the necessary paperwork and be sure to keep a copy for yourself. Checking your state’s DMV is a good way to see what paperwork needs to be filled out to sell a used vehicle.

If you don’t have the title for your vehicle, it’s best to have the buyer bring the money to your local bank to complete the deal. Once the money has been deposited into your account and the title has been signed over, canceling your auto insurance policy is the last thing to do.

Best Places To Sell Your Used Car

Car parked in front of Carmax building.
Joel Patel/The Manual

If you’re really not interested in selling your car privately, selling your vehicle to a dealership or a used-car retailer like Carmax, Vroom, or Carvana is a great option. We don’t recommend selling your used vehicle to the dealership, because they tend to draw out the process, give you a lot less money for your car, and try to strongarm you into getting a new vehicle. Unless you have an old, beat-up car that’s been neglected for decades and are sure that you want to purchase a new vehicle, there’s little reason to go with a dealership.

Carmax has always been a trusted location to sell a used car. They make the process super easy, can have you in and out in a few hours, and will write you a check the same day if you have the title ready. When my wife and I sold our 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid, we went with Carmax after trying to sell it privately for a few months, because they gave us the most money for our car.

Carvana and Vroom are the other two good places to sell your car to and the majority of the process happens online. In some instances, they’ll even pick up the car from your location and write you a check on the spot. These are the most convenient methods, but again, you’re probably going to get less for your vehicle than you might expect.

Now, more than ever, selling your car to a place like Carvana, Vroom, or Carmax makes a lot of sense. With the COVID-19 pandemic, being able to sell your used vehicle digitally is the safer more convenient way to do business. Plus, no one really likes to meet with strangers that will comb over every inch of your car and abuse it on the test drive.

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