Should You Trade-in Your Car or Sell It Privately?

Should you try a dealer? What if the dealer lowballs you? What about selling it privately? How much of a hassle is it? Let us help you understand your selling options.

Should You Trade-in Your Car or Sell It Privately?

Selling your car can be almost as stress-inducing as asking your crush to the prom. How do you get ready to ask them? How should you actually phrase the words? What if they say yes!?!? The same kind of process goes for choosing how to sell your beloved vehicle. Should you try a dealer? What if the dealer lowballs you? What if they tell you something about the car that you were unaware of and it negatively impacts the price? What about selling it privately? How much of a hassle is it? There are so many questions to answer that it could seem overwhelming but we here at Instamotor are here to help make it simple for you.

Make Sure Your Car is Sale-Ready

Before selling at a dealer or going with a private seller, there are a few basic things you absolutely must do to ensure that your car is sale-ready.

First, make sure that all the routine maintenance is done and you have a record of it. That means all fluid changes, AC recharging, and tire rotation and balancing needs to be done before you drive it to the dealer or list it for private sale.

Next, clean the car thoroughly—both inside and out. Fill any scratches and repair any dents that can be taken care of using a paint-less method. Make sure the windshield is not cracked or chipped, and if it is damaged then replace it. Take out all the personal items, any garbage or miscellaneous items in the car, and check to see that all the factory items (like jack, lug nut wrench, manuals, etc.) are in the car.

Finally, be sure to check the tires and make sure that they are in good shape. If they aren’t, you may need to purchase new ones before selling the vehicle.

Find Out What Your Car is Worth

Once your vehicle is cleaned up, it’s time to start doing your homework. Plug the year, make, and model of your vehicle into either KBB or Edmunds to find out what price your car should fetch on the open market. Be honest about the state of your car as it will impact the price that you could get.

Find Out What You Owe

Do you still have an outstanding loan on the car? Additional payments? Not to worry, you can still sell it, it may just take a little bit more work. For more on how to sell your car with remaining payments left, check out our post, here.

If you don’t owe anything, then grab your clear title and head to the next step. Be sure you have all your paperwork in order before you get ready to sell your car. It will help make the transaction process go much more smoothly.

Selling Your Car To A Dealer

First, let’s tackle the most common way that people sell their cars. They roll into their local dealership and take the first offer that the guy behind the desk gives them and roll out with a new car or a fist full of money, right? Sort of.

The good thing about selling to a dealer is that they do these kinds of transactions all day long. They know how to get them done quickly and smoothly without a lot of hassle. Trading your car in or selling it to a dealer can also get you a better deal on a new car from the same dealer. You can use your old car as a chit in your negotiations and it can help you get better leverage.

The Age of Your Car Matters

When selling to a dealer, it’s best if your car is just a few years old. Generally, dealerships don’t buy cars that are 10 years old. If your car is older, you can take it to dealership locations like CarMax or Autotrader to sell it. Or you can decide to sell it privately. Keep in mind that used car dealers make money on the profit they turn on the cars on their lot. If they determine that your car won’t bring them a good price, they likely won’t buy it. You can also take your used car to used car dealerships that sell all kinds of cars, as well. You can sometimes get a better deal at local used car lots than you can at a big dealership—it just depends on the condition, mileage, year, and desirability of your car.

If your car is still relatively new, you should go to the same dealer as the brand of car you own. If you have a Lexus you are looking to unload, head to a Lexus dealer. If it’s a Volvo, take it to a Volvo dealer. At brand-specific dealerships, they are well versed in the prices that your car can fetch and will likely make you a halfway decent offer.

Understand the Offer

One thing to know when selling to a dealer; the prices they give you are generally significantly below what you could get if you sold your car on the private market. That’s because they are giving you the wholesale value of the vehicle. In many cases, they will turn your car around and sell it at auction for a wholesale price. Thus their goal is to get it from you at the lowest possible price.

You can also play dealerships against each other if you take your used car to a few different places. Some may pay more than others for used cars, and it pays to visit different spots. Never accept a deal from a dealer who hasn’t inspected the car themselves first. They should always appraise the car and look at it before giving you an offer. If you do find one dealership is willing to pay more, then go back to the other dealership and let them know. They may come upon their quote and even beat out the competition.

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Pros of Selling to a Dealer
  • Selling to a dealer is easy and convenient
  • All paperwork is handled by the dealership
  • The transaction is quick.
Cons of Selling to a Dealer
  • Dealerships often lowball offers to get the car at the lowest possible price.
  • If your car is older, most dealerships won’t buy it. You’ll have to go to a used car dealership or a large dealer like Carmax or Autotrader or sell it yourself.
  • Dealers are generally pretty critical of used cars and tend to ding you for every little dent and scratch. Unless you are buying a new car from them you won’t have very much negotiating power to bring their quoted price up.

Selling Your Car Privately

When it comes to selling your car privately, you can stand to make a lot more money, but it does come with a bit more work on your part. It’s not as easy as walking into a dealership and walking out with cash, mainly because you will have to do all the work of listing and selling the vehicle yourself.

In addition to the steps we outlined above, you’ll need to get more paperwork in order, to get your car ready to sell. Be sure to have your clean title (or one that will work if you still have remaining payments on the car), a bill of sale, a release of liability, any warranty documents and/or as-is documentation. Most of these items can be found on your local DMV site. It would also make sense to include a copy of a CarFax too. Buyers are more likely to purchase a car that has a clean vehicle history report. Be sure to have all your documents ready to go before listing your car.

Next, you’ll need to do your research on where to list your car. There are tons of places to privately sell your vehicle and they range in quality from places like Craigslist to eBay and even Instamotor. There are different pros and cons to listing your vehicle on each, and you should tailor your listing and photos to the platform you choose to go with. You can also list your car on more than one platform if you choose to.

When selling a car privately, you’ll need to take great photos of it and write a pithy and clear description of your car. Be honest in your description, as it never pays to exaggerate or lie about the true state of your car. Include things like the state of the title (do you own it outright or are there payments remaining?) Also, it pays to include things like the reason you are selling in the listing. People like to know the history of a car they are purchasing and want to know if it was well loved.

Your photos should show off the features of the car—does it have navigation? A touch screen? Fancy wheels? Take photos of them and show them off. Generally, listings with more than five photos sell faster than those with less. Want to know more about how to create a listing that will sell your car quickly? Read our detailed post, here.

Another alternative to selling completely privately is to enlist the help of a company like ours to help sell your car. We streamline the entire listing and selling process and can help you get your car listed within minutes.

Test Drives & Negotiation

Once you have it listed, you should get some interest in your vehicle almost immediately. Sellers will likely contact you via email to set up a time to do a test drive and check out the vehicle. Be sure to choose a public spot to meet in, and always clarify forms of payment. Always accompany the person on the test drive. Know that it’s more than fair for them to ask to have the car checked out by a certified mechanic and work out a time to make that happen. It will ultimately show the buyer how serious you are about selling the car, and they will feel much better about handing over their hard earned cash.

Once they’ve test driven the car and decided that they want it, it’s time to negotiate. This can be tricky. You want to sell them on the pros of your car (low mileage, great MPG, affordability, etc.) and downplay (but don’t disregard) any of the potential issues that the car may have. Don’t be afraid to make a counteroffer to the seller’s first offer, either. Keep in mind what Edmunds and KBB say your car is worth and what (if anything) you may owe on the vehicle. When you negotiate it’s a good idea to start at a price higher than the one you would take for the vehicle as it gives you wiggle room during negotiations.

When the price has been agreed to, you’ll need to complete all the paperwork to legally transfer the vehicle to the new owner. This includes things like the bill of sale, the liability waiver and the signed over title. Once the deal is done, you’ll also need to ensure that you remove your old car from your insurance. The rest is up to the new owner!

If you want to know more about the nitty-gritty details of selling your car privately, see the Ultimate Used Car Selling Guide, here.

Pros of Selling Your Car in a Private Party
  • Selling your vehicle privately generally means you will get more money for it.
  • You can list your car on multiple platforms to get more attention for it and increase your chances of selling.
  • You can make sure that your beloved car goes to a good home instead of to an auction block.
Cons of Selling Your Car Privately
  • You have to do all the paperwork and the haggling yourself.
  • You have to set up the test drives and decide when and where to do the final transaction.
  • You have to be willing to meet complete strangers and let them drive your car.

Whatever you choose, it’s important to do your homework before deciding how best to sell your car. For more on everything automotive check back here at the Instamotor blog.

The Instamotor TeamThe Instamotor Team

Not your typical used car salesman. Our team is here to provide honest and transparent advice about car buying and selling.