Josh M., Auto Protection Specialist
Selling a car is a pretty big job - but if you don't do it right, you could lose out on a lot of money. Here are the things you should make sure to do before negotiating on a price.
1. Get It Inspected
Your first job is to be sure you're selling a car that's in great working condition - the better the condition, the better the price you'll receive. If you're not car-savvy yourself, you'll need to take it to a competent mechanic and have them give it a full inspection.
That doesn't mean just looking under the hood and checking the pressure of the tires - you'll want a complete inspection to help you avoid any nasty little surprises later on.
Has Your Auto Warranty Expired?
2. Get It Cleaned
Who wants to give a good price for a car that's sticky, dirty, and all scraped up? Only the most desperate of buyers won't take that sort of thing into account when naming a price, so your car will need to be as pretty as possible.
There are two good options here:
Doing It Yourself: If you're comfortable working on mechanical tasks, you can obtain guides from the Internet and follow those to clean each and every part of your car. By the time you're done, it should look as close to new as possible - and your hard effort will be rewarded by people immediately thinking of it as more valuable. This can (and does) make a difference.
Going To A Professional: You also have the option of taking your vehicle to a professional detailing shop - these are businesses that specialize in putting a car into what's known as "showroom condition". Individual costs vary (mostly depending on the size and style of vehicle), but the average detailing job costs about $150. Up to $300 is a fair and realistic price for a complex vehicle - if the offer is any higher, you're probably getting ripped off.
Note that in most cases, the higher selling price detailing provides will more than cover the cost of getting it done. It's basically getting free money, so there's no harm in looking into it.
3. Decide Where To Sell Your Vehicle
You aren't limited to your local used-car dealership - there are many places you can sell a used vehicle, and this could have a significant impact on the final amount you receive. The following are the most popular and most reliable options.
Vehicle Dealerships: Official dealerships are often seen as more reliable than locations that deal solely in used vehicles, but both are reasonable options for selling a vehicle... especially if you want to sell it quickly. Note that you may get a better value if you're trading the vehicle in towards the purchase of a new (or less-used) vehicle.
Online Listings: Websites like Craigslist, Ebay, and specialty vehicle forums are all options for listing your vehicle online, and you may well get a better price here. Remember, dealerships want to sell the car again, so they're unlikely to offer the full value of the vehicle... private buyers are far more willing to pay at or near the real value of the vehicle.
Social Connections: Sometimes, the best buyers are the people you already know. However, it's best to be careful with this technique - unless you really want to haggle for the best deal with a good friend of yours, you'll probably want to give them a fairly big discount. That's not necessarily a bad thing - it's your vehicle and your decision - but this isn't the way to go if you're looking for the best possible price.
Donating it: In some cases, you may be able to benefit more by donating the vehicle instead of selling it. Your gain, in this case, comes from taking the fair market value of the vehicle as a write-off on your taxes. Given that owners can often subtract the full amount of the vehicle's value, you may effectively save more money by doing this than you'd get by selling the vehicle. Note that the value of any compensation you receive for the donation will almost certainly have to be subtracted from the write-off.
Disclaimer: We are not tax professionals. The laws regarding write-offs can and have changed over time, and we strongly encourage you to research the current regulations before deciding whether or not to donate a used vehicle.
Has Your Auto Warranty Expired?
4. Get Some Photographs
Most people want to see the car before they buy it - and you'll attract more interested buyers if you provide some outstanding photographs. Don't just take photos of it sitting in your driveway - go somewhere scenic, with good lighting, and try to exercise a little creativity.
If you can't think of any ideas, take a look at the manufacturer's website. You shouldn't use those exact pictures - and they probably don't even have pictures of the vehicle you're selling, given how frequently they're updated - but they can give you an idea of the kinds of places you could go.
Use the best camera you can - avoid smartphones and older digital cameras if you can, but don't buy a new one just for taking photographs of your car. That makes no financial sense, as the photos are more about finding a buyer than improving your selling price.
Note: This only matters if you're selling online. If you're selling to a local dealership or to someone you know in-person, photos are probably unnecessary.
5. Price Your Vehicle
Getting the right price for your vehicle isn't as easy as looking it up in the Kelley Blue Book... though that is the first thing you should do. The KBB is considered a fundamental resource by most people in the industry - it's reputable, comprehensive, and constantly updated with new information. However, it's not the only thing you should be checking.
Once you have the KBB price, start searching other ares. Ebay's vehicle section is an excellent place to start, as is Craigslist. Take notes on the average sale prices in each of these areas and compare them to the KBB listing.
You're not done yet, though. Once you have the prices, go back to your car and look at its actual components. Is there anything there that would improve the value of the vehicle? This includes things like:
An improved stereo system
A package of features originally installed by the manufacturer (and not reflected in the sale price of other vehicles)
New or improved tires
Any other improvements the vehicle has benefited from
If you do find something, you can increase your minimum acceptable price to reflect this.
Finally, you'll need to come up with two different prices.
The Listed Price is what you're going to tell others if you're open to negotiations, and you'll allow others to negotiate you down from this amount. The listed price shouldn't be unrealistically high - towards the upper end of actual sales prices is a good bet.
The Real Price is the minimum you're willing to accept for the sale, and what you're actually hoping to receive. If somebody tries to bid below this point, you'll be able to point out that similar vehicles have sold in the price range you want - and that you're not willing to go that low.