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How to Sell a Used Car

Happy young man receiving car keys after second hand sale
Table of Contents

It’s time to say goodbye. With all the memories of countless road trips, mundane trips to the grocery store, and exciting adventures, your vehicle has served you well.

But now, it’s time for it to move on to someone else. Maybe you’ve finally saved up the money for your dream car. Or, your family has downsized.

Wondering how to sell a used car? We’ve outlined ten tips for an easy sale, provided useful tools for you to get through the paperwork, and answered some frequently asked questions to send you on your way.

1. Know What You’re Facing

The better your car is, the easier the sale will be. Other factors play into it, like location and price. But let’s face it, it will be much easier to pawn off a 2015 Subaru than a 1982 Honda Civic.

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Are you sitting on a classic? It’s likely worth every penny you’re charging for it, but it may take some time. If drivers in your area are mostly looking for something to take the kids to school, selling won’t happen fast.

However, the right buyer will come along. Whether it’s a classic car sale or a private bar that’s been looking for your 1972 Dodge Challenger, it will come.

If you’re selling a flashier car, though, know that summer is the best time.

Once the sun starts coming out, people think about taking long road trips with that sunroof open. In the middle of a January blizzard? Not so much.

When you’re setting your car’s price, it’s important to take multiple factors into account. Your car’s worth is dictated by basic facts, like condition and year. But the location also dictates demand.

What’s the first step? Check out those classified ads! If you’re not the type of person that reads the morning paper, looking online is also an option.

Look for similar cars. You may not find an exact match, but if most details are the same, that will dictate what price range most buyers will expect to see.

If you overprice your vehicle, buyers will avoid you. If you underprice it, though, you face a similar risk. Many savvy buyers will assume you’re trying to quickly pawn off the vehicle for cash because it has major problems that you don’t want to fix.

Even if that’s not true, it’s still an impression you want to avoid!

2. Wondering How to Sell A Used Car? It’s All About Price

When preparing to sell your car, know what it’s worth. There are lots of sites available that gauge your car’s worth by age, mileage, make and model, and condition.

With an emotional attachment to your car, it might be difficult for you to know what it’s actually worth. By knowing the market, you’ll be able to establish a ballpark price.

But to zero in on a number, you’ll need an unbiased eye. Many reputable websites allow you to input your information and will appraise your vehicle based on these facts.

One of the most reputable sites is Kelly Blue Book. They appraise your vehicle based on factors like mileage, condition, trim package, make and model, year, and location.

For instance, Kelly Blue Book lists a black 2020 Subaru Forester in good condition, with 10,000 miles on it and located in the Seattle area, as worth $21,400.

If you’re trying to sell that Forester, don’t list that exact number.

Have you ever haggled before? It’s not as common in Western purchasing practices, but it’s still alive and well in the land of used car salesmanship.

Haggling is the fine art of seesawing back and forth between what you want and what the buyer wants. Hopefully, you will reach a compromise, and the sale will be made.

If you want to sell that Forester for $22,000, you should list it for around $24,000. This is a higher number than it’s worth, and smart buyers will know it.

They’ll come to the table prepared to make you a lower offer. You can go back and forth until you land somewhere around $22,000.

Haggling is a long-time tradition when it comes to used cars. If you set your car at exactly the price you want to sell it for, you risk walking away with less money than you actually wanted in the beginning.

3. Polish It Up

You’ve heard the advice before: when you’re interviewing for a job, the recruiter makes a decision within the first few minutes. Unless you behave in a way that radically alters their impression, their minds are already made up.

Why? Because first impressions are powerful, and they don’t take long to establish. The same thing is true when it comes to selling your car.

If your car looks like it’s survived the apocalypse—even if that ‘apocalypse’ was just a particularly muddy road—buyers will immediately be turned away.

When you’re ready to ditch your car and get a new one, it’s tempting to offer it ‘as-is’. People can either take it or leave it, right?

Not so fast! A few weekend hours spent on TLC can make all the difference between a quick sale and that car rotting for months in your driveway.

Here’s what you need to do to make sure your car is popping with curb appeal. Make it a vehicle that someone would be proud to park in front of their home.

Have your car detailed. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes when there’s no trail mix crumbs or empty water bottles in the backseat!

If you can’t afford to have it detailed, vacuum it yourself. This is a good opportunity to break out all the attachments and get in all the nooks and crannies.

It’s also a good idea to find any owner’s manuals or warranty information that initially came with the car. Even if it’s old news, it’s better than nothing.

Even better, if you’ve got maintenance records, it’s time to show those off. You want to convince prospective buyers that the car has been well cared for.

Treat it like a house! It’s a struggle to visualize a house as yours when you’re staring at someone else’s heaps of dirty laundry. Get everything out of the car that isn’t the paperwork or a set of keys.

Want to set your vehicle a cut above the rest? The downside of buying used is that you never know what you’re walking into. After all, you could simply be inheriting someone else’s problem.

To avoid that perception, ask your mechanic to check out the vehicle and issue a report. This will soothe a lot of fears.

And while he’s at it, ask him to top off the oil and the radiator fluid! That way, the car is completely ready for the new owner to take it home.

4. Showing Off Your Vehicle

Now’s the time to embrace those customer service skills that you may have learned in high school. It’s time to start answering those phone calls with a smile!

When you start advertising, it’s easiest to go old-school. Start with the classifieds.

These days, of course, ‘classifieds’ has a much larger reach. That could include your local newspaper, Craiglist, or online car forums.

The larger your reach, the more interest you’ll have. And if you get to play the field between several buyers who are making offers, so much the better!

When you start posting online, know that you’ll likely rake in some scam calls. Be wary, and know that they’re more common on free sites like Facebook Marketplace.

You can also start leveraging your own social circle to help spread the word for you. Post on your Facebook and Instagram accounts, and let your friends know that you’re selling.

Establishing an old-fashioned word of mouth chain can’t hurt, either. When you’re making conversation, mention that they’re selling a car. Someone might remember that their niece or best friend is looking for a car and will mention it to them.

Many a sale has been made that way!

Consider putting a For Sale sign in the car’s windshield if you’d like to minimise effort. Write the car details, pricing, and contact information on it.

If you live on a residential street where people can easily pull over and look, this can be a great way to get it done.

Remember that you’re living in the digital age, though. For better or worse, people tend to expect immediate responses. The longer you take to call or text back, the worse you’ll look.

It may feel strange to be ‘on-call’, but it only lasts until your car sells!

5. Reel Them In

Even if you didn’t major in marketing, now is the time to let your inner salesman shine!

Pay special attention to the words you use. For instance, “this must go” might be true. But it can also indicate desperation or a willingness to shove your vehicular issues onto someone else.

On the other hand, you can also use language to tell the buyer what to expect. If you use the term “OBO”, this means “Or Best Offer.” This tells the buyer to anticipate haggling.

By using the right language, you can reel people in and entice them to take a closer look at your car.

How should your ad begin? With the details. Don’t waste time on fancy adjectives, but instead, simply write it out. Year, make, model, condition.

If you can list your reason for selling without sounding fishy or too personal, do so. If someone knows you’re in hard straits and can’t afford an extra car, that sounds better than selling because the brakes are bad and the engine is shot.

In the used car game, building trust is everything.

6. Showing Your Vehicle to Potential Buyers

We’ve all dealt with unreasonable clients or coworkers. No matter what you do, they seem insistent on being as difficult as possible.

Expect no less when trying to sell your car. Of course, you’ll likely meet some great people along the way, whether they’re the right new owner or not. But be prepared to hit some bumps along the way!

Particularly if you live alone, selling a car can be a little stressful. After all, you’re constantly inviting strangers over to your home address to conduct a business transaction.

Always start with a chat over the phone. These days, you could even FaceTime them! This serves as a screening opportunity and gives them a shot to figure out if they’re actually interested in the car.

Remember, you don’t have to invite someone to your home. You can drive the car to a public park, for instance. However, you still have to trust a potential buyer enough to want to ride in the car with them as they take it out for a test-drive.

To stay safe, follow basic hiking procedures. Be sure to tell someone where you’re going, and give them the information about the person you’ll be meeting. Also, if you’re going to a public parking lot to meet them, tell someone when you expect to be back.

Once that’s done, remember to trust your instincts. If someone seems shady, there will always be another buyer. Nothing is worth putting your safety in jeopardy.

Now that you’ve established some basic safety principles, think about how you’ll come across. There’s no reason to seem like you’re hiding anything about the car.

Answer all questions with as much detail as you can. Even better, provide paperwork to back up your answers. Whether it’s a mechanic report or maintenance records, this can only help.

7. The Art of Haggling

Often, direct speech is considered rude. It may be very straightforward, with no malicious intent. But due to cultural norms, it can sound like someone wants to get into conflict.

Avoid this uncomfortable urge to feel affronted when you’re haggling. It’s not a war! It’s simply two people who are looking out for their own interests.

If they like the car and believe it’s the right choice for them, it’s time to talk turkey. However, remember that you’ve already made a move.

Your move was listing the price. It’s their turn to counter it. Phrases like “is it really worth that much?” and “would you accept XYZ amount?” are the beginnings of a successful negotiation.

Trust your gut and read the situation. But most haggling scenarios take several counteroffers. So, with the Subaru Forester example listed above, don’t immediately jump from $24,000 to $22,000.

Bring your price down gradually.

8. It’s Complicated

In an ideal world, the perfect buyer sees your car. They fall in love, take it for a test drive, and make an offer that’s pleasing to you both.

In the real world, though, selling your car might take a little more effort. There might be issues with the car.

Even if you’ve been forthright, it’s still a problem. The buyer is inheriting issues rather than buying a car that needs no work.

There are a few options. To start, you can stick to your guns. If you’ve demonstrated the issues, and they’re still interested, there’s nothing wrong with insisting the buyer take it or leave it.

Be aware this may make your car a tougher sell. But if you’re convinced that it’s worth it, the right buyer will likely come along.

Or, you may need to drop your price. Say you agree on a price of $23,000, but the car requires a $700 repair. It makes sense to drop the price by the cost of the repair.

However, you may run across a buyer that really wants the vehicle, but is insistent on picking out flaws. There may be nothing wrong with the car, practically or safety-wise. But they’re still circling the car with a magnifying glass, trying to haggle down the price for $5 per dent.

If it’s a non-vital repair, this is where you’ll need to exercise some instinct. Is it more hassle to let them talk down the price or wait for a new buyer?

After all, it’s a used car. So it won’t have the pristine appearance expected of a new car. Sometimes, you just have to take it or leave it!

9. Sign It Over

What’s the car worth? If you’re selling it for a few thousand dollars to get rid of your ride from college, expecting cash is reasonable.

The more valuable the car gets, though, the more complicated it gets. If the car is worth a lot, carrying that much cash can be dangerous and inconvenient.

A cashier’s check is the next best option. This will help prevent fraud, but you should always call the bank associated with the check so that you can verify it. That way, you don’t get cheated when selling your car privately.

What if you don’t ‘own’ the car, though? This means that you haven’t quite finished paying the bank for this car. In that case, the bank still holds onto the title.

Once the buyer has paid you, pay the bank. Then, you’ll be in possession of the title and can transfer ownership. That way, they’ll be the legal owner of the car, and you’ll no longer be responsible for anything that happens with the car.

It might not be that simple, though. What if you purchased that Subaru Forester in Colorado, then moved to Washington State?

In that case, you’ll need to travel to the DMV. Go to a nearby location with the buyer.

The DMV can provide a temporary operating permit. This is contingent on a bill of sale, though, so make sure you’ve provided that.

Once you pay the out-of-state bank, you’ll have the title. Then, you can mail the title and sign it off to the car’s new owner.

10. What Happens Next?

Remember that you aren’t a new car dealership. That means that you’re not responsible for providing a warranty, fixing anything that goes wrong after the sale, or look at the car after you’ve already sold it.

If you’ve been transparent about the car’s condition and taken care of all paperwork to make sure everything is legal, there’s nothing to worry about!

Cross your fingers that the car’s new owner loves it as much as you did, and start looking for your next ride.

Useful Tools

Feeling a little overwhelmed? Here’s an easy checklist to remind you what you need to do.

  1. Investigate the market, which includes classified ads and local information
  2. Use online appraisal tools to nail down a price
  3. Clean up your car, so it’s ready for the next owner
  4. Obtain maintenance records and get a mechanic to provide a report
  5. Write up your ad and place a sign on your car’s windshield
  6. Interact with potential buyers and set up opportunities for them to come to see and test drive the vehicle
  7. If they’re interested, start the negotiation process
  8. Get paid, which might be cash or a cashier’s check
  9. Get all paperwork done and signed
  10. Say goodbye to your car

Of course, this process might be a little more time-consuming than those steps seem. Here are some tools that might make the process easier.

FAQ’s About Selling a Used Car in Massachusetts

What documents do I need to sell my used car?

Before you advertise your car, it’s essential to make sure you have the paperwork you need. You’ll need the car’s title which must be in your name before you sell. You should also have a bill of sale to provide the buyer with legal documentation of the sale and the cost paid for the car. Your car’s title is an official document that you should have received when you completely paid off the car. A bill of sale is easy to find online and print to allow you to fill in the details of your vehicle. While it’s not required, it can be helpful to have the car’s service history available.

Do I have to provide a warranty to the buyer?

No, but there are certain acts required by the Massachusetts DMV to ensure the buyer receives a road-worthy vehicle. As a seller, you must disclose information about any defects that affect the safety or use of the vehicle. It’s also your responsibility to make sure the vehicle can pass a state inspection.

Can I sell my car if I still owe money on it?

Yes, but you have to make additional arrangements to transfer the payments to the buyer or pay off the car first. If you can’t afford to continue payments and want to escape your car loan without defaulting, you may be able to contact your lender so the buyer can take over payments. If you have good credit, you may be able to get a loan to pay off the car, then use the proceeds from the sale to pay off your new loan.

How do I determine the price range?

Certain facts about your car will help you determine the price. This includes the age of your vehicle, how many miles it has on the odometer, and the condition it’s in. Some other factors you may want to consider are a slightly higher price allows room for negotiation and a low price can help you get a quick sale.

Do I have to let the buyer test drive my car?

Not necessarily, but you’re not as likely to sell without allowing potential buyers to drive the vehicle. Take these steps to ensure you’re comfortable with the test drive.

  • Contact a friend or family member to let them know when the test drive begins and ends.
  • Make a plan ahead of time with a time limit and planned route for the test drive.
  • Ask the buyer to reschedule if you feel uncomfortable or suspect the buyer is inexperienced or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Invite a friend to accompany you and the buyer for the drive.

Making the Sale

Wondering how to sell a used car? Honesty always wins the day. By taking the time to invest in a new buyer, you’ll establish a great relationship that will pay off for you.

Of course, you’ll need the right insurance to cover your new ride. If you need help, we cover all of your insurance needs. Check us out today—that’s what we’re here for!

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