Selling your old car or truck isn’t a complicated process. Choosing to sell your car privately is a great way to get a higher price compared to a trade in.

Although it may take a few more hours of time to list the car and meet with potential buyers, it may be worth it for the extra $1,000 over what your local car dealership offered you.

In this step by step guide, we will cover how to conduct research, how to create a listing with pictures and a description, and how to finalize the sale of your old car.

Conducting Research

The first step in the process of selling a car privately is to conduct some research to find out what price your car should be at.

A helpful tool that has been used by consumers for years is kellybluebook.com. Simply insert the year, make, model, and mileage and let KBB tell you the rest.

However, it is important to note that some cars and trucks are priced differently depending on the area you live in.

For instance, small sedans and coupes tend to be relatively cheap in South California, but buyers in rural states like Kentucky and Montana will have to shell out more money to purchase the same car.

Another way to see what your car is worth is to see what other consumers are asking for theirs. You can use websites like Craigslist or Autotrader to find this information.

Simply input the year, make, model, and a mileage range similar to yours into the search filters to see what other sellers are asking for their cars. If you have a car that is in high demand, such as a large diesel truck, you can expect to get more than the KBB value of the car.

Gathering the Correct Documents

When you are looking to sell a car, some documentation will be needed. First and foremost, you will need a vehicle title.

The title is a piece of paper that shows who the “true” owner of a car is. If the bank still owns the car, the title will have a lien on it. Be sure that the car’s title is clean and ready to go for the new buyer.

During this time, you will also want to gather any maintenance or repair receipts you may have had for the car. These can be vital to putting the history of a car together.

Oil changes, tire rotations, and other consistent maintenance can show a buyer that a car was well cared for. You will also want to print out a “Bill of Sale”, which is available on your state’s DMV website.

You can search for something like “Alabama Bill of Sale” and a printable document from the state DMV should be the first result.

To prepare for the sale, you will also want a contract to protect yourself and the future owner of the car. The contract can be very basic, written in pen or typed on plain paper. The contract should state something like:

“I, John Doe, have sold my 1999 Honda Accord LX with license plate number 5XXX420 to Jane Smith for the sum of $3,000 on the date of 4/21/18. The car has been sold as is, where is, with no warranties expressed or implied.”

Make two copies of this contract, one for you and one for the future buyer.

This basic but important contract can be the only thing between you and a major lawsuit if the buyer of your car does something crazy with it, prior to registering it in their name.

Gathering these documents before a buyer comes can save lots of time and headache. I have seen many car deals fall apart because the seller was not able to find the title even though the buyer was set on purchasing the car.

If you cannot find your vehicle’s title, you can go to your local DMV and ask for a duplicate (roughly $20-$30).

Taking the Photos

The next step in the process of selling your car is to take clear photos of the car A woman looks through a camera you are selling. Before you pull out your camera, we highly recommend that you take your car to a local car wash.

For $5-$8, you can get your car completely cleaned and vacuumed. Buyers like clean looking cars because it gives the appearance that the car was well cared for and maintained on time. Declutter the car and remove anything that did not come from the factory when the car was new.

Ideally, the photos should be taken at golden hour (4:30-6:30 PM), since the lighting allows the car to be seen at the best angle with the most color.

Spend roughly 20-30 minutes taking various images of the car (Exterior, interior, trunk, wheels, and engine pictures). Once you take a series of photos, choose the top 6.

Make sure that these 6 photos include pictures of the exterior, interior, trunk, and engine compartment. At this stage, the goal is to take as many photos as possible and choose from the best ones in the next step.

Creating the Advertisement

Websites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace offer ads with pictures and descriptions.

To keep buyers interested, its best to keep your car advertisements description to 6 sentences or less. Long essay style postings tend to get fewer readers and fewer eyes.

In your item description, you will want to include details about the car (the year, make, and model) along with other important information such as the current mileage on the odometer.

You can also spend a few sentences to talk about the condition of the car’s paint and interior. This is also a good chance to bring up any expensive maintenance or repairs you have done.

You will also want to include some details on the mechanics of the car. Does the car run and drive strong? If the car leaks a little bit of oil, there is no need to mention that in the ad.

But if the car has major mechanical issues, it’s worth mentioning in the ad to avoid “tricking” any buyers.

Here is are a few examples of ads you can use:

“For sale is my 1996 Honda Accord. The car runs and drives great with around 125,000 miles. The paint is in good shape and the interior is very clean. It has always been maintained on time. New tires all around the car. Asking $3000. (Insert phone number here) “

“Selling my 2002 Chevrolet Tahoe LS. The car runs and drives like new with only 125,000 miles. The paint is in good shape with a few scratches. The interior is like new and very clean. The automatic transmission was also replaced around 3,000 miles ago. Has 3rd-row seats as well. Asking $4,500. Call or text (insert phone number here)“.

These advertisement examples to sell a car are all less than 6 sentences but truly get the main points across. We do not want to include too much information because it’s better to have potential buyers come to see the car in person, as they can be more likely to buy it.

People also tend to be much more receptive and open to small dings, dents, and rips when they see the car in person, instead of hearing about it over the phone or through text when they contact you.

When you are creating the advertisement, you should usually place your contact information in the ad. Although some websites do not allow this, most do. I always recommend “cloaking” your phone number to stop scammers.

Often times, when you post a car for sale, “robot-callers” or spammers will try to text or call you to learn about the car. They will often ask for a VIN number, a A picture of a Craigslist listingpicture of the title, or if they can pay you via PayPal.

Never give out any of the car’s information unless the buyer has seen the car in person. Also, buyers will either bring you cash or a bank check to pay for the car, never get paid for a car with PayPal.

To cloak your number in the car’s listing, simply change some of the numbers to letters. As an example, if my number is 562-555-0175, then I would write my phone number as 5six2 – 555 – O17five.

Although this may seem hard to read, its a very common technique used to filter out spam callers from calling you constantly because of your ad.

While Its For Sale

Now that your advertisement is live, you sit back and wait for the calls to start pouring in. Realistically, for every 10 calls or texts that you get, maybe 1 person will actually show up to see the car.

Potential car buyers that are looking for a car may contact you and ask a wide array of questions and then never show up to see the car.

Do not waste your time chasing after leads or calls of people who are not interested. If somebody truly wants to buy your car, they will ask a few questions, including your availability to show the car.

Do not be upset if somebody says they are coming to see the car and never show up, this is much more common than you may think.

Depending on the type of car you have and your pricing, your car may sell in 1 hour or in 1 month. This is why it’s important to ensure that your pricing is accurate compared to the competition, or else your car may sit a long time before it sells.

Price your car too cheap and you may lose out on a few hundred dollars more you could have made. Price the car too high, and the car sits for months. In a way, the pricing plays an intricate roll in your car’s sale.

Meeting with a buyer

The day has come. You’ve spoken to a random person on the phone about the car a few times and now they are finally ready to come and see the car.

Most sellers choose to have the potential buyer meet them at their home, as it is easy and convenient for the seller. If a buyer asks you to drive the car directly to them, do not do it.

They may not even buy the car, and now you’re out $20 for gas. If a buyer is serious about making a purchase, they will know that they need to come to you. That’s just how it works.

If you do not feel comfortable meeting with a person at your home, that’s completely ok! Just let the buyer know that you would like to meet them somewhere public.

For car deals, I prefer to use a local gas station or parking lot. This allows the buyer plenty of space to do their inspection. Avoid showing the car in a parking lot as it may make it harder for the buyer to conduct their inspection.

Avoid meeting at random locations as well, there is no reason to do a car deal at 11:00 PM behind a 7/11 in a dark alley.

Once you arrange a time and location, it’s time to meet. Always ask a buyer to let you know when they are 5 minutes away so that you can get prepared.

When the buyer comes, shake their hand, and go over the car. Spend a few seconds talking about the condition of the car and its shape, but no more.

Many sellers tend to “oversell” their cars to potential buyers by continuously talking about the car while the buyer is there. This not only distracts the buyer from doing their inspection, but you may let a detail slip out that can affect the selling price of the car.

Give your buyer some space to look over the car, stand 5-10 feet away and be prepared to answer any questions they may have.

Once the buyer has had some time to inspect the car, they will want to go on a test drive. Be sure to get into the car with them.

Some buyers will just hand you their car keys while they take yours for a test drive, but they can still run off with your car. Be inside the car for the test drive and ask if the test driver has auto insurance.

A savvy buyer may ask you to meet the car at a mechanics shop to perform a pre-purchase inspection on the car. This is a totally normal request, as long as you can schedule a time with a buyer to do so.

The entire inspection should take no more than 1 hour. Do not pay for this, if the buyer requests it, they must pay for it. If their mechanic of choice is more than 15 minutes away, ask if they can have the car inspected at a more local mechanics shop.

It is important to be ready for this step because you never know who the buyers mechanic is. After all, the mechanic could be the buyers cousin helping him score a deal.

He could start saying random odd things need to be fixed when they don’t, in order to help lower the price for his cousin. If a buyer’s mechanic tells you that there are significant problems with the car when it runs and drives fine, they may be trying to fool you.

Negotiating the Price of Your Used Car

Once you have found a buyer who is interested, there is a good chance they’ll want to negotiate. After all, it’s only natural to want to get the best deal.

If you have looked online and your car is the lowest priced option given the mileage and condition, you can stay firm on your price. However, its normal to let a buyer get a $200-$300 discount on the purchase of a car.

Many car buyers are what we call “lowballers”, AKA, people who come see the car and offer a ridiculously low amount compared to its value. These people come in and offer half the asking price, hoping to walk away with a deal and possibly resell your car.

This is also a common theme in the game of car selling, so it’s best to not get insulted by a low offer, just offer a kind refusal and walk away. If they want the car, they’ll come after you.

In most cases, a buyer is a decent person and just wants a small discount. As an example, if you have priced your car at $3,000, and the buyer offers you $2,500, there is a good chance you can settle at $2,700.

Once a buyer has made their offer, you can counteroffer with a higher amount and bring up some positives about the car.

Some positive reinforcement points can include:

  • “The car is in amazing shape compared to the other ones for sale at this price”
  • “This is already the lowest price Accord in this condition”
  • “We just spent $3,000 servicing the motor of the car”
  • “You can’t find another Accord in this great shape for such a low price”
  • “We have already had other offers for $2,500 that we rejected”
  • “We just spend $600 on brand new tires for the car”
  • “I already had an offer for $2,600 but I said no”

Here is another key point to keep in mind. Many sellers tend to develop a “bottom dollar” price in their head for a car. If the car is priced at $3,000, they might be willing to take $2,800.

However if after a hard series of negotiations a buyer can only pay $2,700, the extra $100 loss may be worth the time saved from meeting with other buyers who could just be wasting your time.

The Final Sale

Now that you and your buyer agreed on the price, it’s time to do the paperwork.A car title and a bill of sale First, never sign off a vehicle title to another person unless you are paid first.

Do not accept a written check, only cash or a cashiers check. Your states vehicle title will also have instructions on where the buyer and seller need to sign and date the document to complete the sale.

Some buyers may try to ask that you simply sign off on the title and hand it to them without them signing for it.

This is bad sign and usually means the buyer is a reseller, hoping to avoid detection by the DMV by not showing up as a registered owner of the car.

They may sell the car to another person and mark the title so that it looks as if though you sold the car to their buyer. Ensure that a buyer fills out the title with their real address and information before they leave.

Take a photo of their drivers license and provide them with one of yours too.

Many state automotive titles have something called a “Release of Liability” form attached to them. This “tear off” form must be filled out by both the buyer and seller of the car, but mailed out by the seller to the DMV.

This form is used to release you of all liability from the car. If the cars new owner uses the car to rob a bank before transferring the title in their name, a release of liability will protect you from lawsuits.

Many sellers forget this one crucial step only to find out the car they thought was sold weeks ago had been impounded by the police with a $500 fine. If your title does not have a release of liability form, you can simply google something such as “Alabama release of liability form”, and you should be redirected to your state’s DMV website to download and print the correct document.

This is also the step where you want the buyer to fill out and sign the homemade contract we discussed above.

This simply provides you with additional protection. Take this time to also fill out the Bill of Sale you had printed from your state’s DMV website. Give a copy of both to the buyer as well.

Final Note

Selling a car can actually be a time-consuming task. Between finding time to create the listing and meeting with potential buyers, you could be making a big time investment.

However, for most people, selling a car themselves is worth the time cost. You can get a much higher price for your older car by selling it yourself instead of relying on a car dealer.

If you are looking to buy a new car but are in need of financing, CrediReady can help. Our nationwide network of trusted dealers and verified lenders work with buyers in all credit situations. Take a moment to fill out our free no-obligation loan inquiry form and start shopping for your dream car today!