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How to Sell a Car: 8 Necessary Steps to Follow

When it’s time to sell your car, there are many different routes that you can take. However, the most effective way to get the most money back is to sell it privately rather than to a dealership. Doing it this way does require both time and effort, but it is well worth it when looking for the most money back on your car.

We’ll break down the necessary steps needed for how to sell a car for the best price.

Easy Steps to Selling Your Car

1. Get Your Paperwork in Order

Having your paperwork in order is one of the most important things to do when selling your car privately. Assuming that you own the car, you’ll need to have the title in your hand and ready to show buyers to prove that you are the owner of the vehicle. Along with this, you should have your vehicle history report, the required odometer disclosure statement, and ideally, your maintenance records. If you still owe money on the car, you can discuss how to pay off the title with your lender.

If you’re unsure about what paperwork you need to sell your car, we’ve put together a list of links for the DMV website in every state. Some DMVs require a bill of sale, which is always a good idea to have regardless of whether your state requires it or not.

The bill of sale legally transfers ownership of the car and allows it to be officially registered in the new owner’s name.

The document should have the buyer and seller’s name, address, and signature. In addition to the personal information, the bill of sale should also have the car’s information, including the year, make, model, and VIN (vehicle identification number). This gives legal protection to both the buyer and the seller if something goes wrong. Make sure there’s a copy for both the buyer and the seller.

2. Find the Value of Your Car

Now that you have the paperwork in order, it’s time to find the value of your car. Use the car valuation tool to find out exactly what your vehicle is worth. Be as specific as possible with the details and condition of the car to get the most accurate valuation possible.

In order to get the correct valuation for your vehicle, you will need to know the year, make, and model of the car. Entering your ZIP code will also help determine the price, as vehicle price ranges depending on where you’re located. You will also need to be honest about your car’s condition and features so that you do not get a valuation that is too high or too low.

If you’re selling your car privately, for example, with a tool like Autotrader, make sure you’re looking at the private party value of the vehicle. This estimate is different from the trade-in value, which is generally lower than what you get if you sell the car yourself.

After receiving an accurate and honest valuation of your car, you can now feel confident when setting a price for your vehicle. Whether you are open to negotiating or have a set price, make sure to have one target price that you refuse to go below in any negotiations. Remember, you now know the true value of your car and have the last say on the selling price of your vehicle.

3. Clean the Car Inside and Out

Let’s be honest. Nobody wants to spend their money on a dirty car. So, if you want somebody to buy your car, clean it so well that it looks like it’s fresh off the lot when people look at it. Washing the exterior is a given, but it might be even more important to clean the interior thoroughly.

Buyers can look past some dirt on the hood of the car, but few things are less appealing than stepping into a car with a nasty interior. You’ll have a hard time finding a buyer willing to meet your asking price if there are fast food bags, food crumbs, and other trash on the floor of your car.

With a huge emphasis placed on sanitation and cleanliness because of the pandemic, make sure to wipe down and sanitize every surface that you or a passenger may have touched. Along with this, remove any trash, vacuum the carpets and floor mats (including in the trunk), clean the inside of the windows, and if you really want to impress buyers, spray some air freshener. If this seems like an intimidating task, there’s nothing wrong with getting your interior professionally cleaned.

4. Take Great Photos

After a thorough and well-deserved cleaning, your car is ready for a photo shoot. We can’t stress enough the importance of taking great photos when looking to sell a car. High-quality photos of the vehicle not only make your car look good but it helps potential buyers know exactly what they are getting with the car.

Quality photos of all angles are important now more than ever since people may not come to see the car in person due to COVID-19 precautions. If you are having trouble coming up with the picture ideas, think about the kind of photos you would want to see in a used car listing and emulate that.

Regardless of whether you use horizontal landscape mode or vertical portrait mode, make sure that you can see the entire vehicle or the specific part you are trying to show. Do a simple walk-around of the car with a clear photo of every angle, keeping the whole car in the frame. If there are any flaws in the exterior, like dents or scratches, consider taking close-up pictures of those so there are no surprises when someone comes to look at the car.

After taking your exterior pictures, do not forget about taking photos of the interior, as these are often neglected. When doing this, make sure you get clear photos of all of the seats, the cargo area, the dash showing the steering wheel and radio, and a “POV,” or point of view shot of what the driver sees when sitting in the driver’s seat. It’s also a good idea to get a photo of the odometer confirming the mileage on the car. As with the exterior, if there are any notable flaws like a tear in a seat or some broken plastic, take close-up photos to avoid surprises.

As for mechanical photos, you don’t need to take more than just one or two shots under the hood. If possible, it helps to add a couple of pictures underneath the car, especially if it’s an older car where buyers will be wondering about rust.

Also, don’t worry about hiding your license plate in the photos. The only thing anyone can do with a license number is run a vehicle’s history report. Luckily, this shows no personal information on the owner, only the car.

If it seems like you’re trying to cover up your license plate, potential buyers might think there’s something you’re trying to hide, like an accident on a vehicle history report.

5. Advertise Your Car

Now that you’ve done all of the work of gathering your paperwork, finding the value, cleaning the car, and doing a photo shoot, it’s time to list your car for sale.

While photos are essential, they’re not all you need for a great ad. You also need to write a brief description of the car. Writing a description is easy and doesn’t need to be anything special — just provide the notable features of the vehicle. In your description, cover the year, make, model, and trim and any unique features like all-wheel drive and anything else that would make your car sound attractive. Make sure to point out if you’ve been the only owner or if it has particularly low mileage.

Autotrader makes creating a listing as easy as can be. When you create your ad, we have common selling points listed for you. Simply click on the phrase that matches your car and select “Add.”

Make sure you mention any modifications or any recent service. For example, if you just got new tires for the car, mention that. It’s also just as important to point out any flaws with the vehicle, like if it makes any unusual noises or if the air conditioning doesn’t work.

Remember, you dictate how much you sell the car for. When creating the listing, if you have specific terms for payment, be sure to the point that out. If you’re open to offers, make sure you note “OBO,” or best offer. You decide if you want to budge on the price.

If not, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you’ll want to note in the ad that the price is firm. If you insist on a cash deal, make sure you say “cash only” so you don’t get any buyers with weird ideas about payment plans. Buyers will want to know your ownership status of the car, so definitely mention whether there is a lien on the car or if you have the title in hand.

6. Talk to Potential Buyers About the Car

After placing your car for sale, you will have to interact with potential buyers to answer any questions that they might have about the vehicle. And trust us, there will be a lot of questions asked.

It’s important to respond promptly and politely. Remember the golden rule: Treat your potential buyers how you would want to be treated by a seller. Buyers will be more willing to spend more money on your car if they’re dealing with a courteous and honest seller.

7. Show Off the Car

After talking to a few potential buyers, you’re bound to get questions about looking at the car in person and taking a test drive. This is where you can set pretty much whatever terms you want. If you feel uneasy about having strangers come to your house, you can set up a meeting in a public area with lots of foot traffic.

If you are skeptical about letting someone else drive your car by themselves, bring a friend or family member along for the test drive. This can be helpful in case the potential buyer has any questions about the car while driving it.

8. Finalize the Deal

When a test driver is impressed with the car and didn’t encounter any unpleasant surprises, they’re going to make an offer to buy your car. If you’ve decided to be flexible on the price, then hopefully, you’ve set a rock-bottom price ahead of time so that you don’t have to decide that number while in the middle of a negotiation.

If you agree on a price, congratulations! You’ve sold your car. Sign over any necessary paperwork, give the buyer all of the keys you have for the car, and enjoy your extra garage space. 

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