Selling Your Car

By Kristen Castillo

September 4, 2013 5 min read

Juli Klie sold her car for the asking price. The secret behind this car-for-sale-by-owner success? "Besides having been realistic about the price, I think the key was that the car was very, very clean," she says, noting two would-be buyers commented on the car's cleanliness.

"Translation in their heads," says Klie. "This is a car that has been well cared for."

Prepping your car is the first step to selling it.

"Essentially, you're trying to recoup as much money as you can; and that means getting the shopper to see what good care you've taken of the car through the years," says Bengt Halvorson, deputy editor at High Gear Media. "That means presenting it honestly -- without quick cover-ups or major fixes, but in its best light possible."

*Detail It!

It's a smart investment to pay for a professional detail service from your local dealer or auto shop.

"The first impression is crucial, and you want people to like the car even before driving it," says David Bennett, manager of automotive buying programs for AAA. "Additionally, this may help you get a few dollars more for the car."

Halvorson agrees, calling the professional detail "one of the best things you can do to get full market value."

A detail can cost a few hundred dollars, but it can help the car look and smell its best. The detailers will wash, wax and vacuum the vehicle thoroughly.

*Should You Fix It?

Is it worth repairing minor damage, such as a few dings? Maybe, but maybe not.

For Halvorson, the general rule is "no," since even minor fixes can be expensive. Plus too many fixes can make the buyer wonder what bigger issues you're trying to hide.

He says, "The only exception here is 'paintless' dent removal," which "can be money well spent."

Cosmetic fixes like dirty car mats can be remedied as needed.

Try cleaning the mats first. "If the mats are still dirty and the carpet underneath is clean and undamaged, consider selling the car without mats," says Bennett. "If not, replacing the mats is a good idea."

*Paperwork Prep

Check your vehicle's value with Kelley Blue Book, and purchase a Vehicle History Report from CarFax. Both will help you present the car's selling potential to buyers.

When writing the ad, be specific.

"Clearly state the year/make/model and mileage of the vehicle," says Bennett. "Also, detail any extras, such as sunroof, satellite radio, third-row seating, etc. Include multiple pictures."

*Listing the Car

Once your car is ready to be listed, you need to decide how you want to sell it.

"Advertise in as many places as possible," recommends Bennett.

Many vehicles are sold simply by posting a "for sale" sign in a car's window or by advertising in your neighborhood. Others post in newspaper or online classifieds like Craigslist.

"If you have a relatively rare sports car, luxury or specialty model, you're going to be better off advertising through a forum or club specializing in that model, or with an enthusiast publication," says Halvorson.

No matter what make or model you're selling, it's also a good idea to post your vehicle's sale on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Don't forget to show photos of the car, too!

*Selling Tips

Be careful when potential buyers want to look at the car or take a test drive. "Always schedule to meet them at a public location and not your house," says Bennett, who advises not meeting the buyers by yourself. "Grocery store and bank parking lots are good ideas, as there are typically quite a few people around. Additionally, if you meet at a bank and they decide to purchase it, you can have the bill of sale notarized by a bank employee."

If you own the car outright, make sure you have the vehicle's title ready so you can transfer it upon sale.

"If the vehicle is not paid off, then you should be upfront with perspective owners, as there will be a delay in their obtaining the title and/or having it transferred into their name," says Bennett. "This is because you will need to pay off your current loan in order to transfer the title into another person's name."

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