How to Sell Your Car – Trade or sell privately?

When selling a car, you have several options on how to get the best price. You can trade a car in or sell a car privately? If you sell privately – you are likely to get more for your car. If you’re deciding whether to trade in your current car or sell, it can be a tough choice. Many buyers prefer the simplicity of trading in their current vehicle at the dealership even though they may not get as much money. Others choose to do the legwork and find an appropriate buyer and get a better price. Here are some tips to help you make the decision.

Trading in a Car at a Dealer vs. Selling Privately

If you trade your car at a dealer:

  • You don’t have to deal with talking and meeting with potential buyers
  • You don’t risk being robbed
  • You don’t need to deal with paying off your loan, if you have one
  • In some states – it will reduce your tax by the trade allowance amount


Tips on Selling Your Car Privately

  • Take photos. 80% would not look at a posting without photos.
  • As of March 2014 – Craigslist is the best tool to sell anything privately. It is free and simple. Other sites, like Autotrader and are geared towards dealers, who can pay extra to appear on top of searches.
  • Be very careful. You are exposing yourself to everybody. You are a target to scammers, robbers, and plain weirdos. Meet people only in public places. Ask to see ID. Bring a friend. Make sure somebody know where you are.
  • Do not accept any type of payment other than cash or a cashier’s check cut in your presence at a bank.
  • It is reasonable for a buyer to ask for VIN, and to request an inspection by an independent mechanic.

Pricing Your Car Right for a Private Sale

How to Get People to Buy Your Car

  • Priced it slightly under Kelley Blue Book value for ‘good condition’, and had a slightly lower negotiated price in mind that I would accept (10% off)
  • Cleaned it really well inside and outside (carwash for the outside, then vacuumed and spent a LOT of time with method and windex cleaners on the interior) and then took a lot of photos with a good camera and posted the best of these, including a shot of the odometer.
  • Said in the post that I was showing it on a specific Saturday and Sunday between 10AM and 5PM, and asked those who were interested to email to make and appointment. This helps control the craigslist flake factor.
  • I posted it on with carfax and VIN as well as craigslist with links to same. Gotta say, the responses from were much more serious and sane, I recommend using them. Craigslist turned into a bit of a waste of time, with lots of flakes, random lowball offers, and strange text messages involved.
  • I was clear that I would sell it to the first person who had the cash for it.
  • When I showed the car, it was super clean, all the personal stuff was cleaned out of it, and the gas tank was full. I had the title, bills of sale, and mechanics’ reports all ready.
  • I read all the online stuff about how to sell your car, so I had at least thought about possible scams, what to do about license plates, etc. I did sell it alone, but only would schedule meetings during daylight hours in a fairly public parking lot.


Issues to Remember About Selling a Car Privately

  • People calling and making an appointment to come look at the car, then not showing up after you’ve rearranged your schedule to accommodate them
  • People saying they want to buy it, then never coming back with the money/returning your calls
  • People wasting your time with ridiculous offers (hey man, you still got the car on sale for $5000? Yeah I’ma give you $2000 for it, we got a deal?)
  • People nitpicking every blemish on the car and then making a ridiculous offer (hey man, your car is 13 years old with 150k miles, but the bumper is scuffed so you need to take $500 off)
  • Potential liability issues if the car breaks down. Protect yourself with signed documents stating it’s as-is and they won’t have any legal recourse, but it’s still a major pain in the ass when they call you asking for compensation.


Legal Documents to Sell a Car

Is there a standard document out there to use, or do I need to write my own legal-sounding document?

Really all you have to do is have a paper with the car info, VIN and mileage, names and signatures of both parties, and a statement saying the car has no warranty expressed or implied. It can be written in crayon for what it’s worth.

You can download some pretty nice templates for this on the internet though.


When payment has been completed, you’ll need to:

  • Complete the bill of sale.
  • Sign over the title.
  • Fill out the Release of Liability. …
  • Provide warranty documents, if applicable.
  • Provide copies of maintenance records. …
  • Include any additional transfer paperwork your state may require.
  • Hand over the keys!

This can change state from state. Be sure to check the DMV of your particular state for any special requirements.

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