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How to Sell a Car Quickly in 7 Simple Steps

To ensure a quick sale, you’ll need to gather the necessary documents, set an asking price, advertise your car and then communicate and negotiate with potential buyers.
Nov. 2, 2017
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If you advertise your car the right way and in the right place, and successfully sift the serious buyers from the tire kickers, you can turn your car into cash with minimum hassle.

With the right blend of preparation and a little elbow grease, many cars won’t take more than a long weekend to sell. Here’s how to remove the stress and maximize the cash when you sell your car.


Selling to a dealer or private party? We’ve got your car’s value right here on NerdWallet.

1. Collect your paperwork

Take a few minutes to locate the following items and complete these tasks, before you list your car for sale:

You’ll need your car’s title, which gives you the legal right to sell the car.

Locate your car’s title. This is also called a pink slip; it gives you the legal right to sell the car. But don’t sign it yet.

Check with your lender. If you still owe money on your vehicle’s loan, call the lender to find out how to arrange the sale.

Visit the DMV online. Check with your state’s department of motor vehicles to see what paperwork will be required to transfer ownership. Many forms can be downloaded and printed out. Also, find out if the license plates go with the car when it’s sold.

Order a vehicle history report. Be proactive and order a Carfax or AutoCheck report to show prospective buyers. This also prepares you to answer many potential questions, such as the number of owners and accidents.

2. Set an asking price

You first need to estimate the value of your car so you can decide on your “asking price.” You can also look up your car’s value on Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book and check comparable listings for similar cars in local ads. Set your price slightly above the current market value but still in the ballpark of a good deal. So, if the pricing guide says your car is worth $4,200, you might set the price at $4,900.

Set your price slightly above the current market value but still in the ballpark of a good deal.

For cars priced under about $10,000, be careful not to go above the nearest $1,000. So, for a car worth $4,200, it would be a mistake to list it at $5,100. Many people will set search engine limits at, say, $5,000, so they’ll never see your ad. Furthermore, there’s a psychological difference between $4,900 and $5,100 that might put off some buyers.

3. Give your car curb appeal

When a buyer shows up to see your car, you want them to take one look and say, “It looks great!” That’s curb appeal.

You don’t have to fix every little dent and scratch, but wash and vacuum the car.

You don’t have to fix every little dent and scratch, but wash and vacuum the car and remove all the junk that’s accumulated over the years. Giving it a professional detail is good for newer, more expensive used cars. But the higher the price, the longer it will take to sell the car, and the gleam of the detailing will wear off after a few weeks.

Pay particular attention to all the details a prospective buyer will see as he or she approaches the car, opens the door and slides into the driver’s seat. You want that positive impact to continue as she sits in the car and, hopefully, picture it as her very own.

4. Create ads that sell

Good photos — and lots of ’em — will build confidence in the buyer’s mind.

Photograph your car in good lighting and from various angles.

Photograph your car parked in a nice location just after sunset for the best lighting. Move around the car, shooting pictures of it from various angles. Inside, take a picture of the driver’s seat, the back seat and the trunk. Experienced sellers also include shots of the odometer (to show the current mileage), the tires (to show tread depth) and the engine.

There are many places to post your ad and each serves a slightly different audience:

  • Craigslist: It’s free and it’s everywhere. But watch out for scammers.
  • Autotrader: Rates start at $25 for a basic ad, but the website can be searched from anywhere in the country and tends to pull in serious buyers
  • EBay Motors: You can auction off your car or buy an inexpensive ad
  • Speciality sites: If you are selling a rare car, look for collector or club websites

Most ads will prompt you to add the basic information such as year, make, model, mileage and price. So in the body of the ad, don’t repeat those details. Instead, provide additional information such as options, add-ons and any special details about the car that aren’t obvious, such as “just passed smog.” Avoid canned phrases such as “AC blows cold!” or “highway miles only!”

5. Screen callers carefully

Consider creating a separate email account and getting a free Google Voice phone number just to use for this sale. That will help you easily screen buyers and not be bothered by phone calls long after the vehicle is sold.

When an offer sounds legit, call the prospective buyer and be ready to review the car’s basic information.

If you anticipate a quick sale and lots of phone calls, let the calls go to voicemail and review them before you decide who to call back. Be alert for buyers who sound like they’re calling multiple listings. These people probably are trying to “flip” cars — buy them cheap and then resell them at a profit. Often, they throw out a crazy low price or try to get you to negotiate before they even see the car.

When buyers sound legit, call them back and be ready to review the basics about the car: year, make, model, mileage and condition. By talking with them, you usually can get a sense of whether they are serious about buying your car.

6. Set up a test drive

Arrange a safe place to meet such as a local coffee shop. If possible, take a friend with you. Some cities are setting up safe locations for buyers and sellers to meet.

Arrange a safe place to meet potential buyers, and bring a friend if possible.

After potential buyers look over your vehicle, let them test drive the car — but go along with them. For one thing, they might be unfamiliar with the area and need directions. On the test drive, avoid the impulse to “sell” them the car — instead, let them experience the way it drives and simply respond to any of their answers.

Many buyers will want to have the car inspected by a mechanic. This is fine, but they should pay for the inspection. If they return with a laundry list of problems, you might have to lower your price. But respond only to problems that require immediate attention or are safety issues, not to every last thing on the mechanic’s list.

7. Close the deal

After the test drive, the prospective buyer will, hopefully, begin negotiating. Stick to your asking price as long as you can and let the buyer make the opening offer. For example, if he asks, “What’s your best price?” you can answer, “Well, I think my asking price is fair. But you can make me an offer.”

Before you agree to a deal, make sure the buyer’s prepared to pay either in cash or with a cashier’s check.

Negotiate slowly and repeat the numbers to make sure there’s no misunderstanding. Before you agree to a deal, make sure the buyer is prepared to pay either in cash or with a cashier’s check. If you still owe money on the loan, you might need to close the deal at your bank.

In most cases, you’ll sign and date the title and give the buyer a bill of sale. In many states, you will also be required to file a “release of liability” form to prove that the car was out of your possession at a certain date.

Once you’ve completed these steps, the only thing left is to cancel your auto insurance policy — and perhaps start shopping for a new car.

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