How to Sell a Car

Learn how to sell your car privately in your state. Read the steps and download the forms you need.

How to Sell a Car – 7 Things You Need to Know


You decide it’s time. The old car has gotta go. Is it better to sell the car yourself? Should you trade it in at a dealer? Or maybe have one of those new companies pay you for it and pick it up? However you decide to get rid of your current car, we can give you some things to look out for.


1. Decide How to Sell

When selling your car, you need to determine whether to trade in the vehicle at a dealership, sell it yourself or get a cash offer for it, such as the Kelley Blue Book® Instant Cash Offer. It’s important to know that how much to expect for your car will vary depending on which method you use.

There are pros and cons to each selling option, and we’ve paved the road for a smoother decision-making process:

  • Trade your car in at a Dealership
    Pros: Get rid of your used car and hop in a new ride right away. You get to shop the inventory on the lot and don’t have to take a second thought on extensively prepping your old vehicle for sale—the dealership will do that themselves.
    Cons: Although you get rid of your old vehicle without the dragged-out process of finding a buyer yourself and worrying about potential scams, you may get a little bit less on the sale. However, the trade-in experts at the dealerships can still help you out with a fair price.

  • Sell it Yourself
    Pros: If you’re a wiz at negotiating and have plenty of time to talk with potential buyers and schedule test drives, you could get the most bang for your buck selling yourself.
    Cons: If you’re getting a replacement vehicle, you may end up with two payments. In which case, we can help figure out what you could be paying with our car affordability calculator.

  • Get an Instant Cash Offer
    Pros: Who doesn’t want fast cash? In only minutes, by entering your VIN or License Plate, Autotrader calculates an official cash offer of what a Participating Dealership will pay you for your vehicle on the spot.
    Cons: A Kelley Blue Book® Instant Cash Offer is only valid for 7 days. Offers rise and fall depending on the market and inventory. Your instant offer today won’t be the same as an instant offer in a few months. But if you’re looking to sell right away with the least amount of effort, this is the way to go.
To understand what you can expect from any of these methods, use Autotrader’s used car valuation tool to find the Kelley Blue Book® Private Party Value and Trade-In Value.

2. Check Your Facts and Collect Your Paperwork

You probably already know what year, make and model your car is (don’t you??), but now’s the time to confirm its trim level (i.e., the level of features and options it has, like the GT in Ford Mustang GT) and current mileage, plus any other features that your vehicle has. Then, turn your attention to rounding up the documents you need to sell it. Is it paid off? You’ll need to find the vehicle title, aka “pink slip.” Up to date on maintenance and repairs? Find that “service file” you’ve been keeping. Remember, when you sell your car privately on Autotrader a vehicle history report is automatically included at no additional cost. The more info you have on your used car or truck, the easier the sale is likely to be.


3. Prep Your Car and Set the Right Price

In order to get the best price possible when you sell your car, you need to make sure it’s ready for the spotlight. First things first, bring your car in for a maintenance check-up at a reputable service center. There’s always going to be some wear-and-tear on your pre-loved car, but if there are major issues that you can’t fix, you’ll have to enlist the help of a professional ahead of listing your vehicle. (Or maybe you’re lucky enough to have a gearhead in the family, in which case, woohoo for you saving some big bucks!) If it’s not worth the headache to make all the necessary repairs, you can always try to sell the car “as is” for a reduced price.

Now it’s time to do some research on how much money you can get for your used car. Regardless of if you’re selling to a private party or a dealership, web-based tools can help you determine the value of your car, such as Autotrader’s car values. For even more confidence on what the right price looks like, take the car condition quiz.

Next, check local car listings, such as those on Autotrader, for similar vehicles with similar equipment and options to see what other cars are selling for in your area.


4. Create Your Ad

In order to create a great ad for your car, get your camera ready. Take detailed photos of the interior and exterior of your car. Believe it or not, potential buyers will even want to see photos of your car's tires. Not only will this help buyers understand exactly what features your vehicle has, they also want to be sure it’s worth their time to reach out to you. If you put little effort into your photos, the listing may not even look real.

Once you have your snapshots ready for the small screen, draft a description to really make your listing shine like turtle wax. We’ve put together some useful tips for your car ad to help your car sell even faster.

There are many places you can list your car for sale, but advertising on Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader will help you reach the largest possible audience—we’re talking millions of potential shoppers!


5. Be Safe When You Sell

Advertising through Autotrader helps to keep you anonymous. Only your first name and last initial will show, so when buyers reach out to you, they won’t see any of your private information. You have full control of what personal details you’d like to share. Experts have even more helpful tips like these:

  • Search out a safe place to meet potential buyers, such as well-trafficked retail or restaurant parking lots with security cameras.
  • Check your auto insurance policy to ensure it covers test drives and take a photo of the potential buyer’s driver’s license.
  • It’s also safer to bring a family member or friend when selling the car to a private party.
  • Ask how the buyer plans to pay for your car. Be sure to choose only legitimate forms of payment such as a cashier’s check or online options from reputable banks. Never accept a personal check .
  • Protect yourself from fraud by knowing what to watch out for and where to report it.
  • You also want to keep track of paperwork, from the title transfer to the bill of sale and a release of liability.

6. Get Ready for Potential Buyers & Negotiation

You know your car better than anyone, so use that to your advantage when negotiating with buyers. Ask questions and be ready to rev up all the features your vehicle has to offer.

During the test drive, get to know the potential new owner and what they’re looking for. Are they on the fence about anything you could help to calm their nerves about? There’s a good chance they’ll want their own mechanic to look at the car and will certainly be verifying all your paperwork and history reports. An easy way to show that you’re not trying to take them for a ride (unless it’s the test drive) is to have a pre-sale inspection from your own mechanic ready to provide. If the buyer still prefers their own mechanic, meet them only at visible and reputable businesses and drive separately for safety reasons.

Use these tips to negotiate: Determine your lowest acceptable offer, be realistic in price and bring all the paperwork for the car just in case the sale is immediate.


7. Close the Deal

Congratulations! You’re at the end of the road. Now all that’s needed to sell your car is to finalize the paperwork.

If you’ve decided to go with a private buyer, you can usually transfer the title itself with the flick of a pen or two, but there are always nuances per state. Each state has different required documents and forms, so be sure to the visit your state page above to read the specific requirements on how to privately sell your car where you live.

If you’re trading in at a dealership, they’ll take care of the paperwork. Other than a few signatures, all you might need to do is confirm your car’s trade-in value in your sales contract.

Last but not least, cancel your insurance policy.

Finally, it’s easy.

Autotrader is here to help

Customer Service

Monday – Friday | 8am – 8pm (Eastern)

Saturday | 9am - 6pm

1 (866) 288-6872

Information Center
Available 24 hours/day; 7 days a week
Enter Information Center now


Fraud Awareness Tips

Awareness is the best defense.