How To Sell a Car: An in-Depth Sales Guide

How To Sell a Car: An in-Depth Sales Guide

You’ve got a set of wheels you no longer need, or maybe you want to sell your old car to get enough cash to buy a new one. In these cases and more, you need to know how to sell a car without compromising on price and without making any major mistakes. Easier said than done!

Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place. In this in-depth sales guide, we’ll break down how you can sell a car step-by-step no matter its make or model or who you want to sell it to. Let’s get started!

Decide Who You’ll Sell To

Firstly, you’ll need to figure out who you plan to sell the vehicle to in the first place. There are many potential buyers you can contact, but different buyers will have different benefits or downsides. When you decide who you sell it to, you’ll be able to determine where you should list your car or what types of ads you should employ.

Potential Buyers

There are multiple potential buyers you can contact, including:

  • Car dealerships. Dealerships are oftentimes quick to buy cars in working condition. They will also be open to haggling about the price of your vehicle. However, some car dealerships lowball you and won’t give you as much money as your car is really worth. You can sometimes trade in your car for another vehicle, which you can’t as easily do with a private party like a family member
  • Private owners, such as drivers in your state. These potential buyers are great if you don’t mind haggling over the price of the vehicle or asking you to price-match with similar cars. In many cases, you can get the best possible price from your car by selling it to another driver
  • Carmax, which is similar to other auto dealers but which doesn’t really haggle with the price. Carmax could be the best choice if you want to sell your car quickly and easily and don’t care if you maximize your potential profits
  • Rental agencies. Car rental agencies are trying to rebuild their fleets after COVID-19. If you have a car in good condition, they might take it off your hands for a great price

Get the Required Paperwork in Order

Next, make sure you get all the required paperwork for the sale in order before contacting any prospective buyers. At a bare minimum, you’ll need:

  • The title of the vehicle and VIN or vehicle identification number
  • The vehicle inspection and maintenance records
  • The original sales paperwork if you have it
  • The vehicle history report
  • The odometer reading
  • A release of liability form
  • Any other forms for the car’s registration or certifications

However, note that some states, like California, also require you to have a smog report for the vehicle whether you plan to sell it to a car dealership or a private individual. Smog check stations give smog certifications throughout the state.

Before you go further, print out a bill of sale! All sellers should use this document to ensure the vehicle sale is recorded properly.

Place an Ad or Listing

Once you know who you broadly plan to sell the car to, you can place an ad or make a listing for your vehicle. The earlier you place ads, the faster you’ll likely sell your car. But keep in mind that any great ad or listing should include:

  • Lots of pictures of the vehicle’s interior and exterior
  • A full description of the car
  • Upfront honesty of any problems. No one wants to be surprised by a mechanical or aesthetic issue when they see the car or take it for a test drive

It may help you to prepare your car for advertising before you list it online. For example, take the car to the car wash and do a thorough vacuuming of the interior. For even better results, you can polish and wax your car so it looks as new as possible. People will be more likely to accept higher asking prices for vehicles that look worthwhile.

Where To Advertise

These days, you can easily advertise your car for sale on a variety of platforms, including but not limited to:

  • Craigslist
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Newspapers (in some cities)

Generally, advertising online is the way to go these days, particularly if you are trying to attract a private buyer. Plus, advertising online is totally free and your ad will potentially reach as many people as possible.

Contact Prospective Buyer

If someone contacts you about buying your vehicle, reach out and get their personal information. Find out how and where they want to meet and set up a date where you can bring your vehicle to them. 

Odds are they’ll want to take the car for a test drive or have a mechanic do an inspection at the very least. You’ll also need to plan for transportation back to your home or for someone to pick you up.

Where To Meet for the Sale

If you’re selling your car to a private buyer, it’s a good idea to plan the sale in a public, safe place, like in a parking lot near a police station. Never offer to bring your vehicle to someone’s private home, especially if it’s a Craigslist car sale!

Negotiate the Price

Once you meet the person who wants to buy your car, you’ll need to negotiate an appropriate price. Be prepared for a little bit of haggling in most cases, but don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal that looks too cheap. You deserve to sell your car for as much as it’s really worth!

How Much Should You Charge?

If you’re not sure how much your car is worth in used condition, you can sometimes get a fair market value or listing analysis from Kelley Blue Book, Autotrader, Carfax, Edmunds, or similar sites. Online estimators don’t always include ancillary costs you’ll face at the time of purchase like sales tax, however. That means you’ll need to account for any necessary repair costs, fees from the DMV, and more.

Generally, your used car won’t charge the same price as an identical make and model in new condition or as much as the best selling cars. But remember that the appropriate price for the car increases with its quality and condition.

Type of Transaction

You should also consider how you’ll accept payment for the vehicle. Cash transactions are usually best since they are instant. Some buyers may wish to pay with a check – if so, make sure it’s a cashier’s check or have the buyer come with you to a bank so you can verify the check’s authenticity before they dried off. Bank wiring or ACH transfers are also acceptable methods of payment for used vehicles.

Complete the Sale

After getting all your ducks in a row, you can complete the sale by accepting payment and handing over all the above-mentioned paperwork. If you’ve done your homework, the new car owner will drive off satisfied with their vehicle and you’ll have a new sum of cash in your pocket or in your bank account.

In many cases, it’s possible to sell a car in a matter of days or weeks, especially if the car is of a desirable model and you’ve taken care of it. You and the buyer must fill out the title transfer and odometer reading paperwork, so bring a pen! This will finalize the transfer of ownership of the used vehicle to the new owner.


Selling a car is complex, but renting a car doesn’t have to be. Advantage Rent-a-Car can help you rent the perfect car for your needs, whether it’s vacationing with your family or commuting to work, thanks to our diverse fleet of quality vehicles. Check it out today and contact us to rent on your budget!

Smog Inspections | California Department of Motor Vehicles
Police & Parking Services Offer “Online Safe Exchange Zone” | Colorado State University
Fake Check Scams; Tips to Spot a Counterfeit | AARP Bulletin.

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