How to Sell a Car
Tired of having a car payment? Selling so you can upgrade to some new wheels within your budget? Whether you’re kicking debt to the curb or you’re just ready to upgrade to a car that doesn’t have a cassette player in it, we’ve got you covered!
The thought of selling a car can be kind of intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be!
Here’s how to sell a car and get a great deal—faster than you can say “test drive.”
9 Steps for How to Sell a Car:
- Set your asking price.
- Gather all the necessary paper work.
- Give your car a makeover.
- Advertise your car.
- Prepare to meet buyers.
- Set up a test drive and car inspection.
- Negotiate the price.
- Seal the deal.
How to Sell Your Car
Why should you sell your car in the first place? Oh, we can think of a few reasons—554 of them, to be exact. That’s right. The average monthly payment for a new car is $554 (and it’s almost $400 per month for a used car).1 That’s insane! Imagine what you could do if you had an extra $554 every month. Don’t let a car payment put a choke hold on your ability to build wealth!
Start budgeting with a free trial of Ramsey+ today!
If you’re selling a car in order to upgrade to a newer one, be sure to nail down your budget early and take a good look at the used car market to get the most bang for your buck.
Ready to get started?
How to Sell a Car Privately:
Step 1: Set your asking price.
Just how much is the ol’ Silver Bullet worth? Getting an estimate for your car up front will keep you from shooting in the dark when you officially set your asking price.
There are several ways to find out the value:
- Ask the experts. Online sites like Kelley Blue Book (KBB) or NADAguides can help you see what your car is worth in a matter of minutes. If you’ve been having problems with your car and you can’t decide if you should fix it or sell it, these sites can help you figure out what makes sense.
- Compare similar listings. Find out what other sellers are asking for cars similar to yours.
When you set your price, be sure to leave wiggle room for negotiation. So, if your car’s market value is $8,400, you might want to price it a little higher—maybe around $8,900. Then if a buyer makes a lower offer, you have room to counter.
Step 2: Gather all the necessary paper work.
Okay, before a buyer will show you the money, you’re going to have to show them the paper work. It’s time to go on a scavenger hunt!
Here are the most important documents you’ll need to sell your car:
The title is the legal document that shows you own the car. If you bought your current car with cash, that’s awesome! You should already have the title. Once you’ve completed the sale, you just sign over the title to the new owner.
But if you took out a car loan or a car fleece—er, lease—and you still owe money on it, then you don’t own your car. Your lender does. That means your lender, whether it’s a bank or car dealer, has the title and you’ll have to work with them to make sure the title transfer to the new owner goes smoothly.
2. Bill of sale
Think of a bill of sale form as a receipt for the car sale—it’s proof you sold the vehicle, and it includes information about the car and everyone involved in the transaction.
The bill of sale will show:
- Vehicle type and information (make, model, year and vehicle identification number)
- Information about the buyer and seller (names, addresses and signatures)
- Purchase price and sale date
You can find a bill of sale form online or at your local DMV office.
3. Notice of transfer and release of liability
After you’ve sold your car, you’ll need to tell your state’s DMV. Why? Because if the new owner gets into an accident or runs a red light and the car is still registered under your name, you might end up getting the bill. Just ask your DMV for a notice of transfer form!
4. Vehicle history report
Buyers are going to want to know everything about your car before they buy it. The vehicle history report (VHR) will tell them what they’ll need to know, including the car’s accident history and repair records.
5. Warranty documents
Is your car still under warranty? That warranty is usually transferrable when you sell your car.
6. As-is documentation
If your car isn’t under warranty, you’ll want to make it crystal clear the new owner is responsible for any repairs and damage once the car is sold.
Step 3: Give your car a makeover.
Let’s be real: Nobody wants to see crumpled fast food wrappers on the passenger seat when they come to see your car for the first time.
Simply put, clean cars lead to better offers. Here are a few things you can do to your car before inviting buyers to see it:
- Give the exterior a good wash and wax.
- Vacuum the floor and seats.
- Clear out all personal items and empty the trunk.
- Clean the rims and tires.
- Fix any other small issues (like broken headlights and fluid levels).
Don’t want to do it yourself? A good car detailing will help make your car look, smell and feel as good as new, and it’ll probably cost you anywhere between $100 and $300.2
Step 4: Advertise your car.
Okay, here are some good rules of thumb to help you create an ad that will have car shoppers calling in no time:
1. Take lots of good pictures. Seeing is believing, so make sure your ad includes plenty of great photos of your car! You should have multiple shots from every angle—the front, the back and both sides inside and out. Most smartphones have cameras that are better than some digital cameras, so there’s no excuse for blurry photos!
2. Create a detailed description of the car. The more information you put in your ad, the better. Highlight as many positives about your car as you can, but also be honest about any significant flaws—they’ll probably show up in a vehicle history report anyway. Here are some of the basics to include in your listing:
- Asking price
- Current mileage
- Recent repairs, upgrades or modifications
- Accident history and mechanical problems
- Number of previous owners
3. Post your listing online. There are plenty of free (or almost free) ways to let folks know your car is on the market. Try posting your ad on:
- Online sites like eBay Motors, Cars.com, Autotrader, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace
- A messaging platform at work like Microsoft Teams or Slack
- Your personal Facebook, Twitter or Instagram profile
How to Sell a Car on Craigslist:
While there are plenty of online sites where you can post your online ad (like the ones we just listed), Craigslist is a great option because it’s only $5 to list a car. That’s just a small fee to get access to the amount of people coming to Craigslist to buy a car. Other sites like Autotrader also have perks (including a large audience and Kelley Blue Book price evaluation), but that will come with a higher price tag at $49 per listing. Fees to list on eBay Motors range from $25 all the way up to $95.
Pro tip: Most online car ads will include basics like make, model and price in the profile. So, in the body of the ad, there’s no need to repeat that information. Instead, use that space to highlight your car’s special features. Make it stand out!
4. Advertise your car old-school style. The more places you advertise, the more potential buyers you’ll attract. And while you could attract more people in an online posting, don’t underestimate the power of old-school advertising! Try these options:
- Put a For Sale sign in one of your car windows. If you have alternate transportation, park your car in a high-traffic location (even just on the weekends) for visibility.
- Write an ad on the back windshield with window markers.
- Hang a flyer in your office break room or in the lobby of your apartment building.
- Tell your friends (but maybe not in a huge group chat, okay?). Yes, good ol’ word of mouth still works. You’d be surprised how many friends of a friend might be looking for a used car.
Step 5: Prepare to meet buyers.
Now that you’ve shouted from every hilltop that you’re selling your car, prepare to get bombarded with calls, text messages and emails from potential buyers.
Once the responses start to pour in, you’ll need to screen those buyers and pick the ones that mean business. You don’t want to waste your time on some goober who hasn’t even thought about how they’re going to pay for a car!
You also need to think through ways to protect yourself from fraud, theft or physical harm. When you’re selling something worth thousands of dollars, you may be surprised by how many nutcases pop up.
So, how do you separate serious buyers from those just kicking the tires?
- Get them on the phone. Pick several buyers that stand out from the rest and give them a call. It’s one thing to trade messages over email, but you get a better feel for a buyer’s motives and seriousness with a five-minute conversation on the phone.
- Ask for their full name. If they aren’t willing to give you their full name, that’s a huge red flag. Move along!
- Agree on acceptable forms of payment. Ask them how they’re planning to pay for the car. When it comes to selling a vehicle, cash is king! There’s nothing safer than accepting cold, hard cash for your car since you won’t have to worry about a bad check or counterfeit money order bouncing on you. A verified check (or a money transferring app) also works, but make sure you don’t transfer your car’s title until the money clears into your account.
- Sell local. Look, selling a car is complicated enough. You really don’t need the hassle of trying to arrange a long-distance sale with someone who doesn’t even live in your state unless you already know them. Thanks, but no thanks.
Step 6: Set up a test drive and car inspection.
All right, so you have a buyer who’s ready to check out your car and take it for a spin. Remember: Car buyers aren’t just sizing up your car during the test drive—they’re sizing up you too. So be friendly, be honest, and make sure you know what you’re talking about.
Following these general guidelines will help your test drive run smoothly:
- Agree on a neutral meeting place. Giving your home address to a bunch of strangers? Bad idea. For your own safety, meet potential buyers during the daytime at a safe, public place—maybe a grocery store parking lot. If you can find a spot near a test drive route with light traffic, that’s even better.
- Bring a friend or family member along for the test drive. While, yes, you need to go with your potential buyer on the test drive (you don’t want them driving off with your car!), you also don’t need to go alone. Again, safety is really important. If absolutely no one can go to the test drive with you, at least tell someone where you’ll be and ask them to check in.
- Make your pitch. This might be your last chance to remind potential buyers about your car’s benefits, so don’t just mumble a greeting and give them the keys! You don’t want to overdo it, but by the end of the test drive, you want them to be excited about the idea of buying your car. Here are some great benefits to highlight (if they apply to your car):
- Good fuel economy
- Low mileage
- Safety features (blind spot detection, backup cameras, etc.)
- No accident history
- Technology features
Buyers are going to have questions, so come prepared. Don’t know an answer? Let them know you’ll try to find it and get back to them.
If a buyer really likes your car, they may also want to have a mechanic inspect it. That’s a reasonable request! Once you agree on a mechanic, pick a date and time to meet them for a full inspection or diagnostic check. Tip: The buyer typically foots the bill for an inspection.
Step 7: Negotiate the price.
Okay, you could see the excitement in the eyes of the buyer as they got out of the driver’s seat. Chances are, they might be ready to make you an offer!
Like we said earlier, you should have set an asking price that’s a little higher than your car’s current market value to leave yourself some room to negotiate. You should also have a lowest acceptable price in mind. If your buyer won’t make an offer that hits that number, be prepared to walk away.
Or did you set a “take it or leave it” asking price? Whatever the case, you need to clearly communicate that to your buyer.
And one more thing: Never accept a down payment for a car or agree to let a buyer pay in monthly installments. If you’ve signed the title away and they stop making payments to you, there’s nothing you can do about it. That car is no longer yours. Remember: Debt is dumb.
Step 8: Seal the deal.
You made it! Now you’re ready to finalize the paper work and exchange the keys for the cash. Here’s how:
- Complete the bill of sale. If the car is sold as is, then the bill of sale should show that. You and the buyer will both sign, date the document, and keep a copy for your records.
- Sign over the title. Once you and the buyer complete and sign the title transfer, you’ll hand over the title to the new owner.
- Fill out the release of liability form. Depending on the state you live in, you might need to turn in this form to your local DMV.
- Hand over the keys. Accept the payment from the buyer, and that’s it. Congratulations!
For a deeper dive on everything cars—from selling to buying to maintenance—download our free Car Guide.
After the Sale
There’s just one last thing you need to do: Remove the car from your auto insurance policy.
If you’re buying another car to replace the one you just sold, this is actually a great time to take a fresh look at your car insurance needs and shop around for the best rates.
To help you find the right coverage at the best price, work with one of our Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs). These independent professionals work with insurance companies to make sure you and your family have the coverage you need to protect you and your car.
Pros and Cons of Private vs. Dealer Selling
Maybe you’re ready to sell your car but don’t feel like going through the “for sale by owner” process. And the thought of getting it done fast through a dealership lures you in. Wait! Before you give up on the idea of selling it yourself, take a minute to weigh the pros and cons of selling privately vs. selling to a dealership. Hint: One will take more of your time and one will take more of your money.
A few points to consider:
You can make more money when selling to a private party.
A car dealership is in the business of making money off your car. So, if you decide to sell to a dealership (or use a company like Carvana or Vroom that will buy your car and pick it up for free), remember—they’ll buy the car at a wholesale price, sell it quickly, and turn a profit. But selling to a private party will allow you to get closer to retail value for your car, and in the end, you turn the profit (excited yet?).
You might have an easier time selling a car with higher mileage to a private party.
Cars with high mileage don’t always get a good rap, but sometimes they’re necessary for a buyer with a lower budget, or for someone who needs an older car for a short period of time or specific purpose.
Selling a car with high mileage to a dealership is tough because it will be harder for the dealership to sell the car quickly and make a good profit. But don’t let that get you down. Using the eight steps we outlined earlier, it’s not impossible to sell ol’ Silver Bullet to an interested buyer. Just be up-front about all her hiccups and list her for a fair price.
You’ll have to invest more of your time when selling to a private party.
Detailing the car, finding paper work, listing ads—not the most fun stuff in the world to do. It’s true—if you sell or trade in to a dealership, you can avoid some of that headache. And if you’re selling your car privately, you’ll have to put forth some extra time and effort. But it’s also true that doing the work yourself could save you thousands of dollars. And that’s totally worth it.
The Best Way to Sell a Car
It might be hard to pass up a quick sale or the dealership handling all the paper work, but think about it like this—if it takes you one month to sell your car to a private party, and you make an extra $3,000 on the sale, that’s like making an extra $3,000 in one month for part-time work. Good deal, right? And that means you have $3,000 more you can put toward your savings or paying down your debt.