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Tips for Selling Your Car

Updated: Nov. 27, 2018

Tips for getting the most for your car when you sell it yourself

tips for selling your carFamily Handyman
To get the highest price when selling your car yourself, catch up on maintenance, detail the car, advertise, organize your records, avoid cheesy signs and other helpful tips.

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Tip 1: Catch up on routine maintenance

Routine maintenance

Top off all fluids. Replace worn belts and the air filter if it’s dirty.

You’re thinking about buying a hybrid. The numbers will work, but only if you sell your car yourself and pocket the difference between retail and trade-in. So how do you get the most for your car?

We interviewed several people who only buy used cars from private parties. They shared their “turnoffs” and the selling techniques that impress them the most. Here are their best recommendations:

Catch up on routine maintenance

Savvy buyers check fluids (engine oil, coolant, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid) to see if they’re clean and topped off. They also check for worn belts and burned-out bulbs. Every small problem you fix before you list the vehicle is one less buyer obstacle when it comes time to negotiate the price.

Tip 2: Detail the car

Remove personal items

Go through the entire car and purge it of personal items.

Professional detailing

Save time and money by hiring a professional detailer. Tell buyers that a professional did the work—it’s a selling point.

Buyers equate a dirty car with one that hasn’t been maintained properly. That’s an instant turnoff. Detailing means cleaning every nook, cranny and surface of the entire car. Do-it-yourself detailing sounds simple. But trust us, it’s a lot of work and it will take you an entire day. And even then it won’t look spotless. Plus, the cleaning supplies can cost you up to $85, not including the cost to rent a carpet/ upholstery shampooer. All in all, DIY detailing is a losing proposition.

So what to do? Start by removing all your personal items (that is, junk) from the console, glove box and trunk—including the spare tire area. Then hire a professional detailer! That should cost $135 to $150. Tell potential buyers that you had the car professionally detailed—it’s a selling point.

Tip 3: Organize your records

If you’ve saved all your service records, great! Use them to prove you’ve diligently maintained the car. But it’s a mistake to think you can impress potential buyers by handing them a fistful of service receipts. They’ll be overwhelmed by the number of receipts and think you’re selling a lemon. Instead, enter all the maintenance and repair items separately on a single sheet of paper, listing them by date and mileage. Then staple it to the receipts.

Tip 4: Advertise as a private party

Photograph your car

Sell your car faster by including high-quality photos in your Internet ad. Park the car in the shade and shoot the exterior, interior and the trunk.

Small dealers often fix “salvaged” or “auctioned” cars and sell them in the classifieds by posing as private sellers. Differentiate yourself from the “dealers in disguise” by flaunting your private seller status. If you’re the original owner, put that at the top of the ad as well: “Private party/Original owner.” Place a free ad on an Internet car-selling site. Make sure you include plenty of high-quality photos so buyers can see the condition of your vehicle.

Tip 5: Avoid cheesy signs

Drive-by signage

Make your own drive-by car for sale sign and include calling cards. Highlight your maintenance records, and if you’re the original owner, emphasize that, too.

Drive-by advertising is a great way to sell your car, but don’t rely on cheap store-bought “For Sale” signs. Make your own car for sale sign on your computer and tape it to the inside of a side window. Then print “calling cards” with the make, model, year and mileage, price, phone number and selling features. Never force buyers to call for the price—they won’t make the call. Put the cards in a plastic page protector and tape it to the outside of the window.

Try to answer all phone calls in person rather than letting them go to voice mail—prospective buyers won’t leave a message. Then encourage callers to see the car in person. If you follow these steps, you’ll have cash in your hands in no time!