10 Steps for Selling Your Car

Whether you’re looking to unload your car quickly or get the best offer for it, it’s smart to start with a little preparation. KBB.com is here to help, with tools and information for every step of the process: from determining your car’s value to setting your asking price to getting a firm online offer.


Step 1: Gather Your Car’s Information

Many people overlook this step until the very end, but the selling process really starts with rounding up your paper work. The car’s title, service records and original sales paperwork are the big three.

Here’s why: While you may already know the basics (year, make, model, current mileage), you’ll need to know your car’s style (not just a 2003 Honda Accord, but a 2003 Honda Accord LX) along with optional features like keyless entry, a CD player, leather seats or navigation system. Options can bump up your car’s resale value, so be sure you have a complete list. If you want to see if you missed anything, check your original sales documents or the window sticker.

Finally, gather up as many maintenance receipts as you can find. “These days, regular oil changes are an even better indication of good upkeep than tune-ups,” says Dan Ingle, Kelley Blue Book’s Vice President of Valuations, International & Industry Solutions. “If you changed your oil every 3,000-8,000 miles, in keeping with the manufacturer’s recommendations, that’s a good signal to a buyer that the car has been cared for.”

Tip: If you don’t have your service receipts, ask your dealer, regular mechanic or oil change center if they can print a statement that summarizes your visits. This kind of information reassures a buyer that the car is in good shape, which can help you get a higher price.


Step 2: Know Your Car’s True Condition

You may think your car “drives like new” and shines like a baby seal, but its value will depend on its actual condition, so you’ll need to be both knowledgeable and realistic about it.

Owners tend to overestimate the value of their car, which can lead to unrealistic expectations. If you ultimately set your asking price too high, you’ll probably have more trouble selling it. Consider going to your mechanic for an assessment. He/she can identify problems with the engine, plus things you may overlook, like a broken tail light or features you don’t use.

A pre-sell inspection can be worth the investment because:

  • You’ll arm yourself with the information a buyer will find if they do their own inspection
  • A recent inspection will put buyers at ease and may even head off a buyer’s need to have the car inspected on their own


Or to get a sense of your car’s true condition on your own, start with the KBB.com Condition Quiz.


Step 3: Decide Whether to Trade-in or Sell Yourself

Once you know the true condition of your car, the next step is to decide whether to sell it yourself or trade it in to a dealership — since the value of your car varies depending on which method you use. There are pros and cons to each option:

Why Trade It In?

  • Fast and convenient
  • No costs for listing and selling
  • No personal calls/emails at home
  • Pay less sales tax on your new car


Why Sell It Yourself?

  • Negotiate directly with buyers
  • Usually get more for your car (about 15-25% more)
  • No dealer overhead cost


And there’s a third option you might now know about. Get a Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer

  • A fixed amount you can rely on
  • An online assessment of your car’s condition and cash value
  • No new car purchase required
  • Redeemable immediately at a Participating Dealer
  • And there’s no obligation once you receive an offer.


Your decision may ultimately come down to whether you have the time or inclination to do the selling yourself, or whether you prefer the convenience of letting someone else handle the process.

To get a sense of what you can expect, compare the Kelley Blue Book® Private Party Value and Trade-in Value. The difference could be the deciding factor.

Another option is to get a Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer, which can be redeemed immediately at a participating local dealer, often with no new car purchase required. The online offer can serve as a starting point for the price you can get for your car today. It’s a great option that just gives you more information about the value of your car. And there’s no obligation once you receive an offer.

Tip: A vehicle with an unusual color or aftermarket features may ultimately sell for less than a vehicle that’s desirable to a larger audience. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to find the buyers interested in your special features, your car’s unique appeal could actually bring in more.


Step 4: Increase Your Car’s Resale Value

Whether you sell your car yourself or trade it in to a dealer, you will want to do the little things – and maybe fix the big things – to boost your car’s value.

Most potential buyers will expect the bare minimum of car prep when they look at a used car. “Unless your car is a rusty bucket of bolts, a professional detailing job is always worth the money,” says Richard Homan, senior vehicle evaluation editor at KBB.com. “If you don’t want to spend the money for a professional job, be sure that you at least wash and wax your car and change the oil.”

As for the big things, the final price you set for your car should increase with any mechanical or cosmetic improvements. “Most used-car buyers don’t want to think about fixing their car. So if you can brag about your car’s new brakes or high-quality tires, it will sell much quicker,” says Homan. Just remember to gather the paperwork for any major work and create a file of receipts to show potential buyers (as covered in Step 1).

Depending on the nature of your car’s problems, it can be worthwhile to get them fixed. A few examples:

  • Lights — Lights are generally inexpensive to replace, and they’re important to a buyer. “A quick stop at the auto supply store and a Phillips screwdriver, and you’re usually in great shape,” says Ingle.
  • Windshield chips/cracks –The cost of repairing a windshield is usually less than the amount that buyers will mentally knock off the price if you leave the damage as is.
  • Brakes — If you’re selling a luxury vehicle, new brakes are worth the cost. For non-luxury cars, it’s only a deduction of $100-150 from your asking price.
  • Tires — Buyers are advised to check a used car’s tire treads to get a sense of overall wear and tear. If your treads are worn or uneven, at the very least replace them with some matching used tires (as little as $30-$40 per tire), otherwise the buyer will often expect a significant discount ($300-$700), depending on the model.
  • Dents, dings & scratches — If you have more than four or five dings, especially if they’re glaring to the eye, hire a dent wizard. “Dent removal experts can be very affordable – often charging only $100 to remove several dings,” says Ingle. “You will be saving the buyer the headache of taking it to the body shop.” For a major dent where a panel needs to be repaired, it makes even better.


Step 5: Set the Asking Price for Your Car

If you’ve spent money improving your car’s condition, your car’s value has probably changed as well. Check your Blue Book Value the week you’re ready to sell, as this will help you price your car appropriately.

Buyers often look up the Kelley Blue Book® Fair Market Range for cars they’re interested in to get an idea of what they should pay. As a pricing guide trusted by both consumers and the auto industry for over 90 years, Kelley Blue Book takes much of the speculation out of determining a car’s value. Our experts factor in everything from current economic conditions to industry developments to the location of the car.

However, the car’s Blue Book Value and your asking price may be two different numbers. First, you want to build in a cushion for negotiating. Second, your asking price may be lower or higher than your value based on variables for your particular car.

To figure out how to price your car relative to its Blue Book Value, look at the range of asking prices for cars like yours in our Cars for Sale section. . This should give you the best sense of what other people are asking for their cars. Look for cars in your area with not just the same make/model/style, but similar mileage and options. If there’s a range of asking prices, start in the middle and add or deduct from that point, keeping in mind the following:

Price your car higher if:

  • Your car is still under warranty or has an extended warranty (bumper-to-bumper or powertrain), provided the warranty is transferable
  • You’ve kept up with regular maintenance, especially if you’ve just completed a major scheduled maintenance, such as a 60,000-mile service
  • You’ve purchased a new set of tires or installed new brakes

Price your car lower if:

  • You want to sell it quickly
  • It needs a major scheduled service, new tires or brakes
  • It has been in an accident


Tip: Regardless of your car’s condition, it’s usually a wise idea to leave some room in your price for negotiation. Remember that asking prices are a starting point for prospective buyers. Most people don’t get their asking price.


Step 6: Create an Online Ad That Sells

Now that you’ve decided to sell your car privately, it’s time to get the word out to the largest audience possible. Websites like KBB.com and AutoTrader.com offer classifieds services that put your car in front of thousands of active shoppers in your area in a matter of minutes, plus the ads also run nationally for those hard-to-find vehicles. And with a detailed description and several good photos, you can stand out to the buyers who are interested in your car.

Online ads also allow you to field questions first, which will help you weed out any unlikely buyers and limit your time showing the car in person.

What to Include in a Car Ad:

  • Start with a brief description that highlights your car’s most in-demand features, such as high MPG, low mileage, any remaining warranties and special feature.
  • Mention why you’re selling the car. Buyers want to know this most of all, so deal with it up front.
  • Be honest about the vehicle’s condition and list the vehicle’s VIN number to reassure buyers that you’re not hiding anything.
  • State your asking price and negotiating terms. Begin by posting your car’s Blue Book® Value followed by your asking price, then give an explanation why you’re asking more or less than the Blue Book® Value. State whether the price is “firm,” “negotiable” or “best offer” – as this will help you target the right buyers for you.
  • Define acceptable forms of payment, which should include certified checks or money orders. Help protect yourself from fraud by not accepting personal checks and foreign money.
  • Include lots of photos. Buyers love to feel like they’re inside the car, so include several exterior angles and close-ups of the interior, dash and engine.


Ready to sell your car? Your ad will appear on both KBB.com and Autotrader.com, so you’ll be in front of thousands of shoppers in your local area and even more nationwide, maximizing your chance for a quick sale! Post an ad now on KBB.com and AutoTrader.com


Step 7: Screen Potential Buyers

Unless you hire a broker or have a friend who owes you several favors, you’ll need to meet prospective buyers and set up test drives. This can be daunting, so it makes sense to look through all the candidates online first, then call the ones that seem promising. That initial phone call is the best way to put both parties at ease.

If you communicate by email, re-send the details of your ad (potential buyers are probably reaching out to several owners) and offer to answer any questions they might have.

Before setting an appointment to show your car, ask for the person’s full name and offer yours. Clarify which forms of payment are acceptable to you – certified check and money orders are best. You might be surprised how many people still need to line up financing, expect you to accept a down payment, or even plan to pay you in installments! Don’t waste time with these buyers.

Sell local and collect your documents in advance. To help protect yourself from fraud, it’s best to sell to someone in your area. Tell prospective buyers that you don’t accept out-of-state checks and that you would like to meet at the buyer’s bank and go in with them to get the cashier’s check. Some banks may also want to see the vehicle if the buyer has lined up financing.

Before you meet with any potential buyers, gather all the documents you’ll need so you have the option to sell the car on the spot. These may include ownership documents (title), maintenance records, and other key paperwork. Requirements and acceptable documents to complete the sale can vary, so check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website to see what it requires when transferring ownership.

As the seller, you must provide the vehicle title and some form of odometer disclosure listing the vehicle’s mileage at the time of the sale. In some states this is part of the title itself, while in other states it is a separate form. Other key documents include:

  • Warranty information
  • Bill of Sale
  • “As is” statement
  • Release of Liability form (check with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles)
  • Any additional documents your state requires (such as Smog Certification in CA)


Step 8: Use the Test Drive to Sell

Before the test drive, anticipate a potential buyer’s questions about your car. For example, if you’re asking more for your car than others in the category, be prepared to explain why. Special features, complete maintenance records, and any recent upgrades are all logical explanations of a higher price — especially when you can back it up with the paperwork.

Choose a safe location in a public place, ideally near a relaxed test-drive route. Make sure your insurance covers other drivers, and ask to see the potential buyer’s driver’s license before handing over your keys. You should also take a picture of his/her license, just in case anything happen.

Always accompany the driver – regardless of what kind of collateral they offer. If you’re uneasy getting in the car with a stranger, ask a friend or family member to join you. The potential buyer may also want to bring someone else along, but try to avoid being outnumbered.

Sizing Up the Buyer, Sizing Up the Seller

Keep in mind that potential buyers will be evaluating you along with your car, so be friendly, knowledgeable and honest.

For many buyers, part of the appeal of dealing with the owner directly is the hope of getting a more accurate assessment of the car’s condition and upkeep. Disclose the car’s faults up front, but be ready with the paperwork that proves you’ve kept up with maintenance and repairs.

On the test drive, get to know your potential buyer. Find out what they currently drive, why they are looking for another car, and what’s important to them. This will help you play up your car’s strengths while easing any concerns they might have.

Some car shoppers will ask to take the car to their own mechanic for an inspection, a common and acceptable practice. If you have a recent mechanic’s report, it may be good enough. If not, you can always drive with the buyer to get a diagnostic check.

Don’t forget: the extra effort of selling your car yourself is generally worth 15-25% more than the trade-in value at a dealer. But if you find that the process is taking too long or is more effort than you’re comfortable with, you can always choose to trade it in. Or you can get a Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer which can be redeemed immediately at a Participating Dealer with no new car purchase required.


Step 9: Negotiate the Best Price for Your Car

At the end of the test drive, it’s time to close the deal.

  • Answer any final questions about the car
  • Remind the buyer of the car’s asking price and how “firm” the price is
  • Revisit any remaining warranty or extended protection, or whether you’re selling the vehicle “as is.”


Then let the negotiations begin! Ideally you’ve given yourself some padding on your asking price, so let the buyer take the lead in either accepting or counter-offering.

The art of negotiation involves knowing beforehand what your lowest acceptable offer is and feeling confident that there are other buyers out there if you can’t agree on a price.

If a buyer offers an amount below what you want to accept, be prepared to move along. Suggest that they contact you if they reconsider. But if they make a reasonable offer, be prepared to say yes.

If you plan to sell your car on the spot, remember to bring your title/paperwork. Finally, make sure you have a ride home (something that a lot of people forget).


Step 10: Complete the Sale

Once the buyer has fallen in love with your car and you’ve agreed on a price, the smartest next step is to accompany the buyer to their bank for a cashier’s check. This will help protect you against any fraud. Once payment is complete, take the following final steps:

  1. If the car is sold “as is” – note this on the Bill of Sale
  2. Sign and date the Bill of Sale and have the buyer sign it as well
  3. Sign over the title; fill out and sign the release of liability and submit to your DMV
  4. Include any additional paperwork your state requires
  5. Make a copy of all the paperwork before handing the keys and documents over to the buyer
  6. Remove the vehicle from your insurance
  7. Depending on your state, you may or may not need to remove the license plates, so have a screwdriver handy

Tip: If you don’t already have a photo of the buyer’s license, ask a teller or customer service rep to make a copy of it for you at their bank. Not only does this help protect you against fraud, you’ll also need the information to fill out the release of liability. In many states, both the seller and the new buyer have responsibilities during and after the transfer of a vehicle. For example, California requires smog certification. Check your state’s DMV website to see which documents your state requires to complete the deal.. Selling a car doesn’t have to be a stressful or difficult experience. With these 10 steps, you are well on your way to getting the price you deserve.


Start Selling Now


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