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Car owners rarely have an end game planned out for selling their used car. It’s just not something most people think about until something goes wrong and the bad news comes back from the mechanic.
If you’re thinking about getting rid of your car, the trick is to start planning ahead of time, before the steering column breaks or the transmission fails.
By planning ahead, you can increase your chances of getting top dollar on your used car, recovering some costs, and perhaps even getting a better deal on your next vehicle.
Top ways to sell your used car
Before you head to the nearest car dealership and try to get a new car, you first need to consider your options for selling your used vehicle.
- Trade in the vehicle
- Visit CarMax
- Donate your car
- Sell your car to a private party
- Sell to a local dealer
- Auction your car
- Scrap the car for parts
1. Trade in the vehicle
If you require a car to get to work or shuttle your kids around to practices, then you should consider trading in your current vehicle for another one at an opportune time.
First, visit Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and enter the basic details about your car—like the year, make, and model, to name just a few data points. Know the estimated value of your car in advance to protect yourself when negotiating with dealerships.
Car dealers are notorious for trying to get the best deal possible for themselves, so you can expect plenty of lowball offers.
Unfortunately, new cars depreciate in value the second you drive them off the lot. So don’t be surprised if the trade-in value isn’t what you want.
That said, there may be enough value in the car to get several thousand dollars back, which can lower the asking price of a new trade-in vehicle, which can be new or used.
2. Visit CarMax
Another approach is to visit CarMax, a car retailer that sells used cars in just a few simple steps. CarMax is known for offering fair pricing, and they also have a large selection of used cars for sale.
CarMax—which was originally launched by Circuit City Stores, Inc.—is fair and easy to work with. Using the service, you may be able to get an instant cash offer for your old car.
So, if you don’t want to trade in your car or work with a dealership, check out CarMax. There are CarMax locations all across the United States.
3. Donate your car
In some cases, the value of a car may be too low to get a solid return. In others, you may be in a position where you don’t need to recover any money financially.
Either way, you should consider donating your car to charity to help make a difference. This is possible through organizations like Kars for Kids and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
When you donate a car to charity, the car is usually taken to a holding center and inspected by a mechanic. Then the car is usually either sold at auction to raise money, scrapped for parts, or given to the charity directly for volunteers to use.
As an added benefit, you can potentially count the donation as a tax deduction as long as you donate it to a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit or qualified institution. Talk to a tax advisor to walk you through this process.
4. Sell your car to a private party
Cars are expensive. It can also be difficult to find a quality car or gain visibility into its performance and history. For this reason, people often choose to help out their family and friends by selling them their used cars in a private sale.
If you’re thinking about selling as a private seller, scope out your network on Facebook to see if you have any friends who may need an automobile. Maybe someone is down on their luck and needs a break on a car. Or maybe you know someone who is just learning to drive and needs some cheap wheels to get around.
If you take this approach, you can get a few bucks for your car and help the prospective buyer out at the same time for a win-win situation.
5. Sell to a local dealer
You don’t have to trade in your car when getting rid of it. Selling a car and getting cash back is recommended if you’re about to do extensive traveling, work from home, or rely on public transportation. Approach a dealer directly and see what you can get for your car.
Just make sure to visit more than one car dealer before you accept an offer for your vehicle. The general rule of thumb is to talk to at least five dealers in your area to try to get the best price for the car’s value.
And don’t be afraid to play hardball either because the car dealer sure will. Car negotiations can be ruthless. It’s a jungle out there, and only the deal hunters survive.
6. Auction your car
In some cases, it could make sense to sell your car at auction. There are online auctions and live auctions to choose from.
To sell your car at auction, you need to establish ownership, set a sale price as a starting bid, and list the car in an auction.
This is useful if you have an expensive, rare, or souped-up car in pristine condition, or simply one in high demand.
Just keep in mind that auctioning a car could come with some risks. For example: you’ll have less of an audience than if you’re listing your vehicle in an online car marketplace.
At the same time, there could be hidden fees to watch out for—like auction fees and shipping fees—if you participate in an online auction.
7. Scrap the car for parts
If you’re the type of person who runs cars into the ground and keeps going, your car may have little to no trade-in value because its odometer is through the roof. That doesn’t mean it’s worthless, however.
For example: cars made after 1975 contain catalytic converters, which aid with emission control. Catalytic converters contain rare precious metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium, all of which are valuable.
You may be able to sell a used catalytic converter for $100 or more—and that’s just one of the many parts you can get rid of. Everything from mirrors, seats, steering wheels, windows, and tires can all be scrapped for cash. Visit a local junkyard to get an estimate on your vehicle’s parts. You might be able to pick up a decent chunk of cash this way.
If you’re going to scrap your car, just make sure to remove your license plate and make sure you’ve ransacked your car for personal items.
Tips for selling your car
Selling your car can be a complicated process. Sadly, it’s very easy to get ripped off if you don’t know what you’re doing.
With that in mind, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your vehicle.
Think about why you’re selling your current car
Older cars aren’t always sexy when they have high mileage, worn-out paint jobs, or scratches and dents. However, a car is still a car, and if it gets you where you need to go safely, what more do you really want?
Think hard about why you’re selling and ask yourself if you want to sell or need to sell. This is especially important if you’re considering rolling your vehicle into a more expensive payment on another higher-priced car.
Just because you got a promotion, received an inheritance, or are simply tired of your vehicle doesn’t mean you should start throwing money around. Consider keeping your trusted old hog around for another couple thousand miles or so.
Here’s a tip: If you really can’t bear the sight of the car anymore, try getting it detailed. Take it to a car wash and spruce it up a bit. It’s amazing what a fresh detail can do for a vehicle, and it doesn’t cost all that much compared to buying a new vehicle altogether.
Bring a “third baseman” along
If you’re not a car expert, it can be very difficult to understand dealers and mechanics when they start rattling off words like “suspension” and “steering systems,” “fuel injectors,” “hoses,” “wiring harnesses,” and “powertrain components.”
Most people smile and nod while secretly wishing they could Google these terms mid-conversation.
This can be a real problem when negotiating with car dealers. Once a trained sales team gets wind that you don’t know an axle from an alternator or that you’re an inexperienced negotiator, you’re toast.
One strategy you can use to counter a tough car dealer is to bring along a trusted friend or family member who knows about cars—including how they work and how to work with dealers. In the car industry, this person is called a “third baseman.” Relying on a third baseman is almost guaranteed to get you a better deal on a car.
A potential buyer should avoid being an “ace”: a person who signs up for the first offer that comes their way. Receive an offer and then visit every other dealer in your area to try to get a better one and test drive different models.
Dealers expect this. As such, you won’t be doing anything unethical by using an offer as leverage to get a better deal. It’s part of the process, and you don’t owe the dealer loyalty. Dealers have to earn loyalty by consistently giving you unbeatable deals and solid customer service.
Keep in mind that you have right until the last second to shop around. Don’t be afraid to hover your pen over the dotted line, scratch your chin, and break out your cell phone to text another dealer.
You just may throw the dealer for a loop and get a better offer. Be a merciless negotiator to get the best rate.
And don’t forget to check online marketplaces, either. Sites like CarGurus and Carvana might have some vehicles that interest you.
Don’t buy another vehicle
It’s worth considering what your life would be like without a vehicle. The fact is, in the age of remote work and Uber, owning your own car can be a huge hassle.
Imagine a life of no outstanding finance payments to lenders and no insurance premiums, maintenance, gas, or parking fees, either. In fact, you may even be able to rent your parking space or garage without a car taking up space!
Recent advancements in ridesharing and public transportation have, in some cases, made car ownership less of a necessity. Cars are also essentially guaranteed to depreciate or lose value, making them all-around terrible investments.
If you can avoid buying a new car, consider liberating yourself and making a smarter financial move. Just think of all the money you could potentially save and invest each month (assuming you don’t pump that money all back into alternative commuting costs).
This option is best for people who work from home or can walk or bike to work, and those who don’t need to ferry children to school and practices.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Autotrader?
Autotrader is an online marketplace where people look for used cars. You can place a classified ad on Autotrader to sell your car.
Other useful sites to explore are eBay Motors, Facebook Marketplace, Carvana, Carfax, Cars.com, and Edmunds.
Should I sell a car on Craigslist?
Craigslist is full of scams, so you need to be on full alert when using the site. However, car buying and car selling on Craigslist are very common. This is a great way to connect with local buyers and work out a deal quickly.
If you want to sell a car with minimal hassle and don’t know anyone in your network who is looking, this could be the way to go.
What is a vehicle history report?
A vehicle history report is a complete rundown of a car’s history. It can tell you who the previous owners were, whether the vehicle has been in accidents, what repairs have been done, and a variety of other useful data points.
Always request a vehicle history report when buying a car, and expect a buyer to use one when considering whether to buy yours. Nobody wants to end up with a lemon, after all.
The Bottom Line
Selling a car to a prospective buyer is a lot easier when you plan ahead. Know your car’s fair market value, do plenty of research, and consider the tips mentioned above.
Above all else, sell your car before it becomes a safety hazard or a pile of junk. The sooner you take action to sell your vehicle, the better the return will be.
Looking to sell more of your old things? Check out our post on the best selling apps.