The Complete Guide to Selling Your Car

When it comes to buying and selling cars, most consumers focus their attention on the tactics used by car dealers who are pushing new and used vehicles on eager buyers. Many people take great pains to prepare for buying a new car before they ever set foot on the lot, steeling themselves against the so-called "hard sell" and forcing themselves to remain firm on their set budget for the new car. But what happens when those same buyers are the ones looking to sell a vehicle to an interested buyer?

The same process of preparation must be undertaken before selling a used car to another buyer. Whether it's judging the demand for the vehicle in general, performing an honest assessment of its condition, or judging a proper, fair price for the car, there are plenty of things to consider and undertake even before the car is publicly listed for sale. For those consumers considering a private sale or trade-in of their existing vehicle, here are the considerations that need to be made before, during, and after that process.


Preparing for the Sale

Preparing for the sale involves everything from an assessment of the marketplace to an honest look at maintenance procedures. This is the time to judge just how popular the car is among used vehicle buyers, and it's the right time to perform regular maintenance and small repairs that will maximize the car's value when it's eventually listed for sale.

Before Selling, Understand the Demand

Cars, like virtually every other consumer product, are characterized by and ebb and flow in overall consumer demand. Some cars, like sports cars, tend to be seasonal. Other models remain in high demand throughout the year, including family sedans, trucks, and SUVs. Before listing the car, it's important to make a few key considerations about just how in-demand, or not in demand, the vehicle will be when it's eventually offered for sale.

1. Family Sedans, Trucks, and SUVs Have the Best Shot at Selling

Midsize family sedans are among the most popular cars in the country, and demand for a high-quality used model will be strong no matter the season. The same is true of trucks and SUVs, since there's really no wrong time to buy a new vehicle for hauling construction materials, hunting equipment, or half a soccer team, between destinations.

Conversely, sports cars and classic cars will suffer from a lack of demand based on a few factors. The first of these is the season: Sports cars are hard to drive in the winter, and most people just aren't looking to buy them until spring weather comes around and it's easier to show the car off. Classic cars present unique considerations, including their condition, value, age, and similar seasonal considerations. Most people aren't likely to buy, or drive, a classic car in treacherous winter conditions.

2. Age, Make and Model of the Car

A second major consideration is the age of the car and the make and model being sold. Newer used cars tend to sell better than older ones, if the price is fair, since most consumers are looking to buy the most recent model that their budget will permit. Certain makes and models also sell better on the used market, driven largely by their popularity and market reputation.

This includes industry-leading Toyota and Honda sedans, trucks, and SUVs. Ford trucks also tend to command a higher value overall. These generalizations are not set in stone, of course, so be sure to research each make, model, and year's popularity in advance. With an understanding of the demand for a given model, buyers can proceed to collect more information about the car and further prepare it for a successful sale.

Gathering Information About the Vehicle

There is more to a car's price and its likelihood of being sold than simply the overall demand for a given make and model. Indeed, several other pieces of information can make a real difference. To maximize the value of a car's asking price, provide an honest assessment of the following key characteristics:

Warranty: If a car is still under warranty, find out whether or not that warranty transfers to a new buyer. If it does, the car's value will inherently increase, sometimes by a very large amount. Buyers will pay extra for this kind of peace of mind.

Overall Condition: Cars without dents, dings, fabric tears, or other types of damage will simply demand a higher asking price. The goal of every used car buyer is to get a like-new car without the new-car price, so cars in better condition can command a premium.

Value-Added Features: Did the car come with heated seats? Did it come with a GPS system or Bluetooth? Any features that go above and beyond, especially in terms of driver convenience or passenger safety, will help the car escalate in price. A good way to find out whether or not these extra features are included is to simply review the car's make, model, and trim level, consulting the owner's manual for more information where any uncertainty might exist.

Mileage and More: Beyond the condition of the car's interior and exterior, there are other considerations that directly affect how much the car will ask during a sale. Mileage is chief among these. The lower the mileage, the higher the car's sale price will typically be. Likewise, the car's actual age will determine a great deal in terms of the sale price. Younger cars, like those with lower mileage, sell for more.

Comparing and Contrasting Offers from Other Sellers

When all of the factors above have been researched and documented, it's time to look at how the market is reacting to this particular make and model of vehicle. The best way to do this is to fire up an Internet browser and head to major auto sites that feature classifieds from private sellers, both nearby and across the country. When searching through vehicles, be sure to enter the exact make, model, and year of the car. If the option is available, fill in the mileage limit on new cars being listed. In this field, simply list the current mileage of the car for sale.

What will result is a long list of identical cars being offered for private sale. Using website sorting tools, which are easily found on sites like AutoTrader.com and Cars.com, it's possible to arrange these available vehicles from highest to lowest price. Be sure to check out the highest-priced models, evaluating their features, their length of time as an active listing, and their condition, and then comparing it the car that will soon be offered for sale.

Go through a few advertisements to get a general idea of demand, average price, and the unique considerations that might change the asking price based on car features and overall condition. With an idea of how the market is responding to these particular used models being offered for sale, it will be far easier to create an aggressive, but still fair, price for the car that will accommodate both the buyer and seller when the transaction is finally complete.

Pricing the Car

With a better understanding of how the market is accommodating this particular used vehicle, it's time to bite the bullet and set an initial price for the car. This is actually a pretty hard thing for many sellers to do, as they seek to resolve the conflict between their own high-priced ambitions and the lower prices that will almost instinctively attract buyers to their car instead of similar offers from competing dealers. As a general rule, setting this price can be done by making three key considerations

1. The Average Price of Similar or Identical Cars Listed Earlier

When researching competing listings for vehicles with the same make, model, and production year, an average price probably becomes pretty apparent. Generally, cars with similar or identical features fall within a range of about $1,500 of each other. Consider these average prices and then determine the key motivation behind the sale: Is the goal to get the highest price possible, or is it more important to sell the car very quickly? A quicker sale can be accomplished by beating the average price, while a higher price can be accomplished by sticking closer to the average. Of course, a higher price may make the sale process a bit longer from start to finish.

2. Remember that Buyers Will Want to Negotiate the Price

The car being sold was probably not purchased at the initial price placed on it by the dealer, right? Car buyers expect to negotiate the price to receive a deal that they deem more favorable to themselves and more fair based on the car's age, features, and condition. Negotiation is going to happen, so be sure to list the car at a price that will encourage negotiation, but won't leave the seller with a bad deal on their end once the transaction has closed.

3. Compensate for Any Value-Added Features

Finally, remember that a car's features can sometimes add a small premium to the asking price when compared to the average for all similar cars found in online searches. This is even true of aftermarket features, like improved sound systems or car stereos, in many cases. Those features were an added investment, either at the time of purchase or when they were added on at a later date, and it's fair to ask for at least some compensation for those things at the time of sale.

Pre-Sale Maintenance Considerations

One way to turn off a large number of prospective buyers is to present them with a vehicle that is close to requiring an oil change, could benefit from a tire rotation, and is nearing the expiration of its state-mandated inspection. These additional costs immediately figure into the sale price of the car when a buyer is considering the actions they'll have to take after the car becomes their own and they possess the title for the vehicle. Responsible, value-driven sellers should never let their car's maintenance languish while they prepare and list the vehicle for sale. Among the most important maintenance concerns to take care of:

1. Oil Changes, Tire Rotations, and a General Tune-Up

A dealer would do all of these things on behalf of a seller, handing them a vehicle that had at least several thousand miles before it needed to once again be examined by a mechanic, scheduled for an oil changed, and tuned up in any way. Private buyers, fairly or not, do expect the same treatment. Because these procedures are generally pretty affordable, it's a small expense for sellers and one that can pay off in terms of thousands of dollars when the sale price is agreed upon.

2. State-Mandated Inspections

Most states that require a current inspection for all vehicles generally allow that inspection to happen within 30 or 90 days of the expiration date each year. If the vehicle is within that window, even if it's a particularly large window, schedule an inspection before listing the car for sale. This adds a great deal of value and it gives the buyer as long as a year before they have to deal with this on their own.

3. Fix Minor Damage in Advance

Small dents, dings, scrapes, or scratches should generally be repaired before the car is listed for sale. Fixing these things is relatively affordable, and they'll add to the perception of the vehicle as a like-new model at a great, used-car price. Furthermore, they'll communicate to buyers that the seller cared for their car and treated it in a way that bodes well for future maintenance concerns.

4. Deal with Dirt and Grime

A car being sold should never, ever, be dirty on the inside or outside. Before offering the car for sale, be sure the outside is washed and waxed and the inside has been vacuumed, cleaned, and made to look like new. Some sellers may prefer to simply car the car expertly detailed, and this is certainly a good option if the car is to look its best when it's shown to potential buyers.

5. Get Papers in Order

Have documentation of the warranty, all maintenance procedures, and any repairs that have been done to the car. This is the best way to demonstrate to potential buyers that the car was well maintained and thoughtfully prepared for sale.

Advertising the Sale to Interested Buyers

With the car's price set and its maintenance requirements taken care of in advance, it's time to list the car for sale so that interested buyers can get in touch, check out the car in person, take it for a test drive, and consider making the sale a done deal. A successful listing process increasingly has to embrace multiple websites and offline approaches, so here's what to know in order to have the best chance at reaching a potential buyer.

Online Listings: Where to Go When Reaching Interested Buyers

The Internet grows every day, with new users and websites that make it easier to connect, advertise, and sell. Generally, sellers should embrace some or all of the most common online sales and auction websites:


- Craigslist
- eBay
- AutoTrader
- Cars.com
- CarsForSale.com

In addition to this list of common websites used to place car classifieds, buyers should consider working their social media connections to reach local buyers, friends, family members, and acquaintances. Selling is most common on Facebook and Twitter, but buyers shouldn't shy away from letting their LinkedIn connections or Pinterest followers know about the sale.

Offline Approaches: More Traditional Ways to Sell

The Internet is not the only game in town when it comes to selling a used car, and smart sellers will make sure that their car can be found even by those without an Internet connection or any interest in online buying. That means embracing a few key resources:


- Newspaper classifieds
- Local magazines with "for sale" sections
- A "for sale" sign in the car's front window
- Placing the car, with its sign, alongside the road where it can be seen
- A bulletin board posting at work, on campus or elsewhere

By covering both online and offline bases, sellers will maximize their reach and ensure the largest amount of interest in the car. They'll also make it easier to find the car, get in touch, and work out an agreement with interested buyers. Those buyers will expect certain information to be included in either an online or offline ad:


- Make, model, year, and color
- Condition and features
- Pictures for online listings
- Phone numbers for offline listings
- Contact times and instructions for all listings

Finally, be sure that the listing is paired with an accurate description of the price. There are some buzzwords that will inform prospective buyers about how the car is being sold and whether their preference for negotiation will be honored:


- "OBO" indicates that the selling price, or the best offer made by a buyer, will be accepted to close the sale.
- "Asking price" indicates that there is room for negotiation.
- "Price firm" indicates that no such room for negotiation exists.
- "Must sell" indicates the car is aggressively priced, negotiation is encouraged, and the first offer will likely be the last.

With these terms in place, alongside pictures, contact details, and a concise description of the car's age, condition, features, and value, buyers can expect to engage with quite a few interested buyers and enjoy a rather smooth sales process in most cases.


Finding An Agreeable Buyer for the Car

Finding the right buyer for the car isn't often as simply as agreeing to finalize a deal for the first person to call, write, or send a Facebook message about the offer. Indeed, there are some unique considerations that sellers must make when talking to buyers, agreeing to show the car, and determining a fair sale price that will close the transaction and transfer the car's title to another party.

Screening Buyers: Be Discerning When Answering Inquiries

There's a general rule in sales that should be followed by those selling their car to a private buyer: No one likes a desperate salesman, and no one likes a desperate buyer. Both sides need to keep their cool throughout the process when first contacting each other and discussing the car, using intuition to determine whether the car is in good condition, whether the seller can be trusted, and whether the buyer is forthright. For sellers, that has a few implications:

- Answer the buyer's questions calmly and objectively, without including a "hard sell" with each answer. The buyer is already interested, and a hard sell will sound desperate. After all, the real sales opportunity will happen when they see the car in person anyway.

- Be honest. Don't inflate the car's worth, reduce its prior maintenance considerations, or try to persuade the buyer with information that won't check out when they see the car for themselves. This is a quick way to lose an otherwise interested buyer.

- Use intuition when assessing the character of the buyer and their likelihood of following through on a meeting or final sale. Some buyers sound just a bit too non-committal on the phone, and that can pose problems for sellers when they attempt to show, sell, and price the car fairly at a later time.

By using intuition and remaining cool and collected throughout each phone call or email exchange, the car itself will retain a bit of intrigue that will compel buyers to arrange an in-person meeting. Furthermore, the seller will avoid scaring buyers away with a hard sell, too-good-to-be-true sales pitches, and other accidents that can derail the process before it even gets started.

Try to Anticipate Common Buyer Questions in Advance

Another key way to make sure that the car is presented in a strong light, but also a fair one, is to try and anticipate a few common questions in advance that most buyers are quite eager to ask. Having an answer at the ready will make the sale seem more trustworthy, and it will reassure the buyer that they're making the right decision in pursuing a private sale rather than a dealer offer. Among the questions to prepare for:

- Why have you decided to sell the car?

Everyone wants to know why the car is up for sale, and that's to be expected. After all, buyers want to make sure the car isn't being sold because it's too old, too expensive to fix, or too frequently broken and in need of mechanical repairs. Have an answer ready for this, as it will likely be the first question. If the car is in great condition but it's simply time for a change, discuss that with the buyer. Most people will understand. They, too, are clearly ready for a change in their own mode of transportation.

- How well was the car maintained? Is it still under warranty?

All cars come with hidden costs: Oil changes, inspections, tire rotations, and much more. Buyers will want to know if the car was properly maintained, whether or not it's still under warranty, and how much documentation exists to prove the vehicle's warranty status and maintenance schedule. Because those documents should have been prepared earlier, this question will be easy to answer and the proof will be even easier to furnish when the buyer sees the car in person.

- Is the price negotiable?

Even if the listing says the price is firm, or that the price is not negotiable, buyers will want to double-check and see if the buyer has changed their mind. Be honest about the price of the car and whether or not it's flexible. Some buyers are okay with the sticker price, but many will prefer to negotiate when they see the car. If they're unpleasantly surprised by a seller who won't negotiate very much, they'll view it as a waste of their time and likely walk away from any deal.

- Can I arrange a time to come see the car?

Finally, if the conversation has not gone poorly or failed to meet their expectations, buyers will almost always ask to see the car and arrange a time to meet. Sellers should already have a list of available dates and times in mind for this question, since the goal of any phone call or email is to arrange just such a meeting. Be sure to ask them whether they prefer days or nights, weekdays or weekends, and let them know how their scheduling needs can be met.

Next Steps: Making Arrangements to Show the Car

With the phone call or initial email conversation taken care of, it's time to arrange a time for the car to be shown. This is actually the easiest part of the whole process: Buyers should give themselves a solid margin of error for the showing, allowing time for a thorough inspection of the car inside and out, a test drive undertaken by the buyer, and the potential for a mechanic's inspection of the car at the request of the buyer.

Most of these concerns can be taken care of in a single afternoon or evening, and interested buyers will likely be okay with prolonging something like a mechanic's inspection of the vehicle if they're otherwise interested in completing the sale. Set an agreeable time for both parties and remember to be on-site early. Nothing turns buyers off more than a seller who doesn't seem to care enough to show up on time at a transaction this important.

What to Consider When Showing the Car to a Potential Buyer

With the big day officially scheduled, it's time to prepare for the car's moment of glory. Meeting the buyer for the first time is understandably nerve-wracking, with pretty big stakes for the seller and a high degree of uncertainty about how smooth and safe the transaction will be. For this reason, it makes sense to take a few precautions in advance and prepare for what will likely take place during this initial meet-up.

First and foremost, be sure to arrange for this meeting in a public place. There are entirely too many stories about people selling goods and services online or offline, meeting someone in the privacy of their own home, and living to regret what turned out to be a harrowing experience. Don't risk theft or personal injury. Instead, arrange to meet the buyer in a public parking lot or somewhere that can be easily seen by many other people. This reduces a great deal of risk that could otherwise be pretty scary.

As an added safety feature, bring a friend along for the meeting. The buyer will likely do the same, and it's a little easier to break the ice when there's a character foil or two who can be on the scene. Furthermore, the car may very well sell in a few moments and the seller might need a way home.

With safety precautions in place, it's time to focus on presentation. This includes a few key considerations that sellers should make long before they get to their agreed public meeting place:

- Put a smile on. Buyers will want to deal with someone who is happy, optimistic about the sale, and confident in the quality and asking price of their used vehicle.

- Remember that buyers and sellers constantly evaluate, judge, and assess each other during a sale. Both sides are looking for flaws, potential pitfalls, and other risks that they might take on if they do buy the car. This is normal, and it should be encouraged. After all, the goal is a fair transaction that benefits both sides.

- Be ready to answer all kinds of questions about the car, and be ready to do so with the right vocabulary. Prepare for questions about everything form oil changes to computer sensors and aftermarket hacks. Anticipate trick questions about things like accidents, expensive maintenance, or costly repairs outside the car's warranty. For most people, this won't be an issue, but extra preparation certainly never hurts.

With the right preparations made in advance, sellers will appear confident in their car's quality, highly informed about owning a car in general, and trustworthy enough to continue dealing with while a sale price is hammered out and the transaction is finalized. In many cases, however, there are at least two more common considerations that come into place before buyers are willing to make the car their own.

The Test Drive: Why It's Important and What to Know in Advance

Most buyers will be eager to take the car for a test drive so that they can determine if the engine truly was maintained perfectly over the past several years, and so they can assess the quality of the transmission, brakes, steering, and the overall comfort of the vehicle in a variety of conditions. This is normal and sellers should have no problem offering a quick demonstration of the vehicle.

A test drive should be designed to showcase every possible feature of the car, all while being brief and redirecting attention back to negotiation and a final sale price. Buyers who request a test drive should be able to show a current driver's license, while sellers should be covered by a vehicle insurance policy that covers drivers other than themselves. With these requirements met, focus on a few key aspects of the car during this demonstration:

- Show the buyer how to use an adjust the driver's seat, steering wheel controls, entertainment system, and other key features.

- Take the car on a test drive through city streets to show how well it handles and how it performs in stop-and-go traffic.

- Take a brief detour down a nearby highway or expressway, showing the car's acceleration and its performance at an elevated speed.

- Bring the car back to the same public meeting place and allow the driver to see how it handles at a slower rate of speed as well as when the car is turned and parked.

With these unique environments covered during the test drive, buyers will have a clear picture of the car's engine quality, the effect of regular maintenance on its performance, and how well the car will ride when it changes hands. That may be all the buyer needs in order to commit to the sale, but one last consideration may come into play for some prospective takers.

Buyer Requests for Inspection: What to Know

Some buyers will simply not be satisfied with just a test drive before they make the car their own. In this case, buyers might request to have the car looked at either by the buyer's mechanic or the one they take their current car to on a regular basis. This can sometimes get a bit sketchy for sellers to deal with, but a mechanic's inspection can still be afforded.

Arrange a time when it's possible to accompany the buyer, with the car, when they take it their preferred mechanic. This will ensure the car remains in safe hands, and it will put the last piece of the puzzle in place to create a successful, rewarding sale for both parties.

Finalizing the Transaction and Completing the Sale

In terms of actually showcasing the value of the car, the hard work is now complete. The next major phase in selling the vehicle is simply to negotiate a price, come to a agreement that works for both sides, and handle the typically large amount of paperwork that's associated with selling the car, transferring the title and warranty, and producing a bill of sale to coincide with state requirements. When the test drive has gone well, the mechanic's report is spotless, and the buyer expresses interest in making it final, here's how to close the sale once and for all.

Negotiating the Price: Get Ready to Wheel and Deal

If the car's original advertisement indicated that the price was not firm, but was instead open to negotiation between the buyer and seller, that process will get underway immediately after the buyer has committed to the sale. Typically, negotiation will start off with a few, nearly universal statements, each of which indicates it's time to take the buyer's hesitation under consideration:

- "I love the car, but..."

This is easily the most common way buyers start looking for a bargain. Usually, the "but" will contain everything from a statement that the price is a bit too high, to an admission that their budget is a bit too low. Sometimes, buyers will cite what they believe is a direct problem with the car, using just one flaw to justify a slightly lower price. This is completely normal. Buyers can usually counter with, "What price are you willing to pay?"

This simple question takes the pressure of the buyer, who is clearly looking for a way to start negotiating. Their initial price should be considered the "floor," or the lowest possible selling price for the car. Sellers should counter with a price between their initial asking price and the one suggested by the seller. The two sides will likely come to a quick compromise.

- "Would you accept a certain price?"

Sometimes, the buyer will start negotiating by simply asking the dealer if they'd accept a given price for the car. If the price is acceptable, and the seller doesn't want to negotiate, they are well within their rights to answer a simple "yes" and make the purchase official. Sellers who think they have room to maneuver should feel free to negotiate the price as they normally would.

- "What's the best price you could offer me?"

This open-ended question can be a "gotcha" moment for some sellers. Do not, under any circumstances, answer this question with the lowest possible price for the car. Instead, answer with a price slightly lower than the original asking price and see if the buyer feels the need to negotiate. Be ready to engage with them in order to come to an agreeable final sale price.

- "Take it or leave it."

This phrase, which can almost be deemed as a threat during negotiation, should not necessarily be the end of the negotiation. Ask at least one more follow-up question: "Is there any chance you would still accept...." List a price that seems like it would be low enough for the buyer, but asserts that the seller isn't just going to roll over and take the lowest offer.

Finally, be prepared for any other questions that might arise during negotiation. Buyers may want to know how much money was put into recent maintenance for the car, if any. They may ask more questions about the car's entertainment or mechanical features. This "rolling negotiation" is best handled when sellers are ready to answer any question, and any price, with a confident reply of their own.

Securing Payment: Don't Sell the Car Until Payment is Cleared or Verified

Negotiation is, without a doubt, one of the most tense parts of selling a used car to private buyers. The potential for buyers to walk away, or for either side to overestimate how strong a hand they hold, is real. The good news, however, is that there is far more room for a successful negotiation than there is for a failed transaction when working with an interested buyer. The next logical step, then, is to arrange for payment in a highly secure way. When it comes to private transactions, this can be a bit tricky.

Generally, sellers have a few ways to request payment that will ensure their sale doesn't succumb to bounced checks, fraudulent transactions, or other common concerns. Among these options:

1. Check Verification

Sellers are well within their rights to call a buyer's bank and verify that a traditional check, written for the agreed purchase price, will clear when it is deposited into the seller's account. Since most people are ready to pay with a personal check, this is a common procedure and a virtual requirement for sellers who want to make sure the funds are in their account within a few business days.

2. Cashier's Check

Cashier's checks are considered "stored value," because the buyer as already paid the full price of the check. The funds are guaranteed, making the transaction hassle-free. There's generally no need to verify this check, either, making things a bit easier for the seller. Of course, the buyer will have to take a detour to their bank to get the check, but that's a relatively minor inconvenience.

3. Escrow

An escrow account is a great option for the buyer and seller, since it holds verified funds away from both parties until the transaction is finalized and the transfer is complete.

4. PayPal

Another option, relatively new among private car sellers, is PayPal. Since the service uses credit cards and verified checking accounts, it's possible to wait until the funds have been successfully transferred between parties, deposited, and made available. The only real downside to this method is that sellers will pay a 3.5 percent fee for the convenience of an electronic transaction, lowering their total profit from the sale.

With each of these methods, buyers will find a way to guarantee the availability of funds so that the transfer of the vehicle's ownership can proceed as quickly as possible. Some methods allow for same-day verification of available funds, while even the slower methods typically one take a business day or two. With verified funds paid and deposited, it's time to get started with the actual transfer of titles and other paperwork to the car's new owner.

Transferring Ownership

The ownership of a car is perhaps well-documented, with yearly registration and a lengthy title that must be signed away to the buyer when their funds have cleared. To make sure that the proper process for transfer of ownership is undertaken, sellers should either contact their state's Department of Motor Vehicles in advance of the sale or look for instructional information on the DMV's website. Both resources will make clear the documentation needed for a quick, same-day transfer between parties.

As a general rule, the car's current owner will need to bring the following paperwork to the DMV when transferring ownership:


- The current title, if the car is owned without being financed
- A copy of the title held by a lien holder if the car is still partially financed
- Current registration
- Proof of current inspection

Most states also require an extensive odometer disclosure that contains key details about the vehicle. Generally, be prepared with the following data on hand when transferring the car's ownership:


- Current odometer reading
- VIN number
- Year, make, and model of the car

In some states, but not all, this information must be presented to the DMV only after it has been certified by a Notary Public. Be sure to ask about this requirement ahead of time if there is any uncertainty concerning notarization.

In states that charge a sales tax at the time a vehicle is sold, sellers will have to list the final sale price on the form that indicates a transfer of ownership. The buyer will be responsible for paying the state's assessed sales tax, along with any title transfer or registration fees, before the process can be completed.

Transferring or Providing Final Paperwork

Finally, some buyers will have even more paperwork that needs to be either transferred to the new owner's name or simply provided to them for future use. Perhaps the most important piece of information to be transferred, if relevant, is the car's warranty. Buyers will generally be expecting this information unless the car was listed "as is" with no implied or transferable warranty policy for the car.

In some states, especially those that charge a sales tax levy on top of car purchase prices, buyers will have to draft and produce a bill of sale for the seller. This can be used when the seller declares sales tax paid for the vehicle, and it can be used for tax purposes where relevant if either party needs to declare or deduct the price of the car for business or personal reasons. Bills of sale generally must include addresses for the buyer and seller, basic information about the car's year, make, and model, and information about the sale price and transaction date.

Buyers may wish to take ownership of all prior maintenance records and receipts, if they're available, so that they can present this information to a mechanic at some point in the future. Be sure to have these documents on hand when the sale closes. With all of these documents printed out, transferred, and quickly taken care of, the vehicle is officially someone else's property. The sale has succeeded and the car is likely to make someone else very happy for a long time to come.


A Guide to the Trade-In Process

Though there are plenty of drivers who sell their vehicles to private buyers using online services and traditional, offline classifieds, there are potentially even more drivers who simply prefer to drive to a local dealer and go through a routine trade-in process. There are actually quite a few benefits to using a dealer trade-in offer instead of listing the car for private sale, many of them having to do with instant gratification and the far lower level of risk and work on behalf of the seller.

Opting for a Trade-In: Why it Just Makes Sense for Many Drivers

Trading in a vehicle is generally the most common way to replace an old ride with something newer and more appealing, and there are plenty of good reasons for that. Among the most popular reasons for trading in a car at the dealer, rather than pursuing a private sale of the car to another buyer:

- The process is simply quicker than listing a vehicle for private sale. Most dealers will give drivers a quote for the value of their used car in about 15 or 20 minutes. Conversely, it takes that long just for a private seller to answer the first inquiry about a car they've listed for sale.

- The dealer takes care of the paperwork and all of the behind-the-scenes transfer processes. This frees up a large amount of time for drivers who would otherwise have to dedicate an afternoon to traversing the DMV's nearest location after a private sale.

- The car's trade-in value immediately comes off the price of a new car, making it affordable for drivers to leave the dealer with a new car, at a great price, and without a prolonged period of salesmanship.

For these reasons, trading in a car at a dealer remains the fastest, easiest, and most convenient way to turn an old car into a great opportunity for a new set of wheels. The convenience of dealer-based trade-ins is simply too alluring for many vehicle owners to resist.

Before the Trade: What Drivers Can Do to Maximize Car Value

The value of a trade-in is primarily related to the car's age and mileage, but there are plenty of things that drivers can do to maximize the value of their old car as they seek to get a price that will make it easier to drive off with a new one.

1. Wash, Dry, and Detail

A clean car tends to sparkle in the sunlight and look a bit better to prospective buyers. If the dealer feels that they can get more money for the car when they offer it for sale on their own lot, they'll be more likely to offer a higher overall trade-in value to the driver as they seek to buy a new model.

2. Basic Repairs and Maintenance

Fix minor scratches, scuffs, dents, and dings. These small imperfections are very cheap to repair but, if they're left in place when the car is traded in, they can actually result in hundreds or thousands of dollars being deducted from a dealer's offer. In this case, it's actually true that drivers have to spend money to make money.

As an added way of increasing the trade's value, bring any maintenance records along when the car is traded in. This will give the dealer a better idea of the car's current condition and the car with which it was maintained since it was purchased by the driver. With more confidence in the car's ability to perform well for the next buyer, they'll likely escalate their trade-in offer by a modest percentage.

3. Research Trade-In Values in Advance

Dealers are in the business not just of selling cars, but also of making a healthy profit when they do so. For this reason, their instinct is to "buy low," with a very low trade-in value offered to drivers, and then "sell high," by charging an elevated price for a high-quality used car. The best way to reverse these tactics is to know a car's approximate trade-in value, based on its age, make, model, mileage, and features, before going to the dealer. If they offer something that seems unfairly below market value, make it clear what the car's fair value is according to sites like Kelley Blue Book and demand a better offer.

4. Be Ready to Go to a Different Dealer

There are two things that strike fear into dealers' hearts. The first is a buyer that knows the approximate trade-in value of the car and is unwilling to accept anything less. The second is a buyer that's more than prepared to head out to multiple dealers, comparing and contrasting available trade-in offers to make sure they get the right one for their budget. Be ready to do this.

Dealers who know that a customer is willing to walk will often reconsider their trade-in offer, making a new one that might actually be too good for the customer to refuse. And if they don't make such an offer, there's certainly nothing wrong with checking out the competition to see what they can do when they crunch the numbers.

Right Time, Right Place: How to Get the Best Trade-In Offer

Sometimes, the trade-in value of a car is simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. That's because some cars tend to increase in value during the summer, while others tend to increase in value as gas prices go up. A few considerations deserve evaluation before driving to the nearest dealer for a trade-in assessment:

- Sports cars sell better during the summer, and they also tend to command higher sticker prices for new, used, and trade-in models during the warmest months of the year.

- When gas prices spike, buyers flock to dealer lots for compact and subcompact cars that sip, rather than guzzle, gasoline. If prices are on the rise, drivers with a small car should take advantage of the likely premium that will be applied to their trade's value.

- Dealers sometimes offer trade-in bonuses and allowances that apply universally to all vehicles, largely in an attempt to draw new trades and sell customers new cars. Don't be afraid to use these promotions for all they're worth, especially when it means getting a better bang for the buck on a trade-in assessment.

Trade Evaluation: What to Expect from the Dealer

It's important to remember during a trade-in that dealers are always angling for customer business. Their goal is to turn someone's old car into a sale that benefits themselves, the dealership, and the buyer. For this reason, trade-ins are almost always treated fairly. Despite a bad reputation for underestimating the value of cars at the time of the trade, most dealers respect buyers' market research and know that they're dealing with people who expect a certain amount based on their car's condition.

To that end, dealers generally use a pretty objective system of assessment when determining a used car's value. The factors considered during a trade valuation include:


- The year, make and model of the car
- Current mileage
- Number of owners the car has already had
- The Current Kelley Blue Book or Manheim value of the car
- Condition of the interior
- Condition of the exterior, including dents, dings, and paint quality
- The car's history of accidents, or lack thereof
- Mechanical condition and fluids
- The results of a brief test drive

After evaluating each of these concerns, and perhaps some other data points that vary between dealers, a value will be returned to the consumer. This is the time when it's important to compare the car's stated value at the dealer with the Kelley Blue Book price that was researched earlier.

In many cases, the car's value might be slightly lower than the price stated in the Kelley Blue Book. While this could be a sign of the dealer offering an unfair trade value, that's almost always not the case. Instead, the dealer usually subtracts a small amount from the trade-in valuation for the car's required mechanical fixes, detailing, and other services that make it more appealing to new buyers.

With this information in mind, it's time to determine whether the offer is fair or whether a bit of negotiation might make sense. In the end, the dealer's price will often closely coincide with the Kelley Blue Book value or the auction value of the car, presenting buyers will a great way to subtract from their new model's purchase price.

Alternative Methods of Trading Old for New

While traditional trade-ins remain a mainstay of shopping for a new car, many buyers are leveraging the power of the Internet to find new ways of turning a trade into a lucrative deduction from the price of a new model. Online trade-ins and new car purchases typically offer flat, up-front values for cars based on their age, make, and model, which allows buyers to get a fair price without dealing with a salesman or negotiating the value of their older model.

Known in many cases as a "protected buying experience," buyers will find that they often get the same or similar pricing on trade-ins and new models, within a few hundred dollars of the dealer offer. For customers who value peace of mind and shy away from hard sells or tough negotiation, that represents a negligible difference overall.

No Matter the Car, Trading is Just Good Business

Despite the occasional requirement for negotiation and discussion about a car's trade-in value, the fact remains that smart trades remain the best way to deduct a significant amount from a new car's sticker price. Furthermore, trading in a vehicle is convenient, fast, and allows the dealer to handle all of the paperwork that would otherwise take hours to complete at the DMV. For these and other reasons, consumers looking for a quick trade and a fair value continue to trade in their cars more often than they choose any of the alternatives.

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