So you have decided that it is time to get rid of your old car and move on to a new one. Many people in this situation choose to take their used car to the dealership for a trade in, which is certainly easy and convenient. However, you may be surprised to learn that you can make significantly more money by selling your car yourself. Dealerships have all kinds of ways to make it look like you are getting a great deal on your trade-when in reality, the great deal is only on paper. You can position yourself better by selling your car and walking into the dealership with a larger down payment-that is, if you are willing to put in a little work.
Getting your car ready for sale
Before even listing your car, take it to a trusted mechanic who can let you know what kind of shape it is really in. If you find that your car needs a repair, you can either subtract the price of the repair from your asking price so that the buyer can have it fixed, or you can invest the money yourself so that you can ask the blue book value. It may seem counterintuitive to try to find things wrong with your car before you try to sell it, but chances are, the buyer will want to take the car to their own mechanic anyway. It’s better to know there are issues with the car before you put it on the market, so you can deal with them upfront rather than being surprised right before the sell.
You will also want to give your car a good cleaning before putting it on the market. Take everything out of the car except for the owner’s manual; it will feel more like a new car without the baby seat, the spare pair of shoes and the coffee cup. If you can afford to have your car professionally detailed, it is worth the money to have it done. This generally costs $85 to $100, but it will make your car look the best it can look, and therefore more appealing to buyers. If you decide that you are going to clean your car yourself, however, go beyond the simple vacuum and wash job. Clean the inside of the windows, wipe the dust off the dash, and look for any sticky and grimy spots. To get rid of pet hair (if you let your dog ride around with you), take a sticky-roller to the upholstery. Also, deodorize your car as much as possible-air it out and use a product like fabreeze auto. And I hate to break this to you, but if you are a smoker-and you smoked in your car on a regular basis-you may be out of luck. The odor of cigarette smoke can be very hard to remove, and most people will not buy a smoke-smelling car. This is all the more reason to never smoke in your vehicle!
Setting a price
In order to price your car appropriately, start with the Kelly Blue Book. Be honest when you are evaluating the condition of your car-is it really in excellent condition? Kelly Blue Book estimates that only five percent of used cars really are in this category. Chances are, your car is in the “good” or “average” category. You can double check the market value at Edmonds if you want a second opinion.
After finding out what Kelly Blue Book or Edmonds says, go back to what your mechanic told you. If you need to make repairs, you need to either pay to have those done or discount the price of the car.
Once you have set a price, decide ahead of time if you are “firm” in this price or if you are willing to negotiate. If you are firm, you might as well say that up front. And even if you are willing to negotiate a bit, you should avoid putting the words “or best offer” into your advertisement. When people see those words, they read “desperate” and mentally chop your asking price in half.
Listing your car for sale
Once you have gotten your car ready to sell and you have done your homework to set a price, you need to look for ways to advertise. Nowadays there are virtually endless places to list online-just make sure wherever you list your car is a reputable sources such as cars.com, ebay motors, or your local newspaper classified section.
Make sure to list all the relevant information, such as the make, model and color of your car, as well as the year, the millage and the asking price. Include details about any improvements or extras your car or truck might have, such as trailer hitches or stereo system upgrades. Again, if you are firm in your price, this is a good place to include that information. And avoid the phrase “or best offer” unless you really want calls from people offering half your asking price.
Double check your contact information before you submit your listing. You would probably be surprised to know how many people never get calls on their advertisements just because they have put in the wrong phone number.
Making the deal
Once you have advertised the car, you’ll likely start to get phone calls. This is where you might want to remember the old phrase “safety in numbers.” Whether you are male or female, it is always a good idea to have more than one person around when you invite the perspective buyer over to take a look at the car.
Chances are, the buyer will want to drive the car before agreeing to buy it. Unless you know the buyer well, you should accompany him or her on the drive. This way, if something happens to the car while your perpective buyer is driving, you will have first-hand knowledge instead of having to rely on what they are telling you. (And they can’t make up any stories about hearing a “funny noise.”) However, before getting into the car with anyone, ask to see a driver’s license and write down all the information. Then leave the information at the house, and always let a third party know where you are and who you are with. If the person refuses to show you their license, you should see that as a sign of funny business, and end the meeting right then.
The good news is, the vast majority of people are not serial killers and car thieves-they really are just people who might want to buy your car.
Buyers may point out issues with your car, such as minor scratches and small dents. If you have honestly evaluated the condition of your car and have done your homework on the value, you will be able to respond honestly that your price has taken all that into consideration, and that you asking a fair market value for the car in its current condition. If the prospective buyer offers you a price you don’t want to accept, don’t hesitate to send them on their way. If you wait, another buyer will come along who knows a good deal when he sees it.
Once an agreement has been reached, all that is left is for the check to clear. Make sure you have accurate contact information for your buyer in case there are any problems with the payment. Chances are, everything will go well-but there are scam artists out there, so beware. Never agree to take a check for more than the amount in exchange for cash back. This may seem obvious, but lots of people are swindled by just such agreements when it turns out the check is a fake.
While selling your car yourself rather than trading it in can be more work, doing so can can put you ahead in the long run. Once you have the cash in hand, you can use it for a down payment, putting you in a better position to purchase the car you really want.