15 Essential Tips For Selling Your Own Car

By: Jack Sackman
A car salesman handing over a car key to a buyer.
To get top dollar for your car, ensure you follow standard practices. Hispanolistic / Getty Images

We live in the “Do It Yourself” age, or “DIY” for short. Today, people are more likely to do everything for themselves. Cutting out the middle man has become common place. After all, why pay a fee or commission to someone else if you don’t have to? Better to keep all the money for yourself. This is especially true when it comes to selling a car, truck or minivan. More and more people nowadays are selling their vehicles themselves and keeping the profits. But are you doing everything you can to ensure you get top dollar for your second hand vehicle? Do you know all the steps you should follow to ensure that you get the most out of your old car or truck? Want to protect yourself and ensure that you don’t get ripped off? Here are 15 tips you should keep in mind when selling your own vehicle.


15. Keep Maintenance and Service Records

Show the person who buys your vehicle that you were a good owner by providing them with copies of the maintenance and service records. These include things such as oil changes, new tires, repairs, scheduled tune-ups and so on. A good set of service records provides assurance to the buyer that you were a diligent caretaker, and that the vehicle is in good working order. Don’t have the maintenance records? Not to worry. You can contact the service centres that have worked on your car over the years and get copies from them. They can most likely e-mail your records to you. Or, just write down what was done on a piece of paper with the phone number for the service center. This way, an interested buyer can confirm that you are an honest broker. Showing this type of care for the vehicle reinforces and justifies the price you are asking for the vehicle that you are selling.


14. Make Sure the Vehicle is Clean

This may sound like a no brainer, but you would be surprised how many people feel that they don’t want to do anything to their vehicle once they decide to sell it—including cleaning it. However, ensuring that your car, truck or SUV is clean when you sell it is critically important. First impressions are lasting ones and nothing can turn off potential buyers like the sight of a filthy vehicle. Be sure to thoroughly clean the interior of the vehicle—removing items such as loose change, coffee cups, sucker sticks, etc. Also ensure that the outside of the vehicle is clean and presentable. Ensuring that the vehicle shows well is the first step. After all, people who are turned off by a dirty car are less likely to take it for a test drive.


13. Fix Any Major Problems With the Vehicle

We’re not saying that you have to fix every little thing that might be wrong with your vehicle. But it is advisable to get any big problems fixed before trying to sell your car. It would not look good, for example, if you had an oil leak or a knocking in the engine when presenting the vehicle to potential buyers. If you are unwilling to invest any money in repairs, then you should be prepared to take a discount on the sale of the car, truck or minivan. People will certainly be less likely to give you your full asking price if they know that they will have to spend money themselves fixing the vehicle up after they purchase it.


12. Set Your Price

Thanks to the internet, it has never been easier to determine the value of a vehicle. To get an idea of what you can ask for your second hand car, take a look online at vehicles of the same make and model that are of a similar age and mileage. You can also search online price guides to get an idea of what vehicles such as yours are selling for. Once you have determined the price, add $500.00 on top of that amount for negotiating purposes. It is important to be realistic about the price you ask for your vehicle if you want it to sell quickly. Cars, trucks and other vehicles that are overpriced will tend to languish and not sell. Keep in mind that people have access to the same information online that you do and can see what your vehicle is really worth.


11. Spread the Word

The internet is a great resource when it comes to selling items. However, don’t rely solely on the internet to get the word out that you are selling your vehicle. Post photos of the vehicle with your contact information on social media websites. But also send e-mails to friends and families, and let people at work know that you are selling your vehicle. A sign posted in the window of the vehicle itself is also a good idea. Studies show that the majority of second hand vehicles are sold to people the owner knows personally. So don’t discount your own personal network. That neighbor down the street might be interested in buying your vehicle, and that kind of interest can ensure that your vehicle sells fast.


10. Draft a Punchy Advertisement That Will Get Noticed

If advertising online or in a local newspaper, be sure to write an advertisement that will get noticed. This will require that you use punchy language that peaks people’s interest and gets them to contact you. Shorter ads are always better. Hit the high points of your car, the price and a phone number where interested buyers can learn more. Don’t make the advertisement too long or focus on things that people are not interested in. Mention the make and model of the vehicle, as well as the mileage. If you want, note in the advertisement that the price listed is “firm,” meaning that there is no room to negotiate. Also, be sure to list any special features the vehicle has such as a sun roof, leather interior, satellite radio, etc.


9. Include More Than One Photo With Your Advertisement

At a minimum, people should include two photos with their vehicle advertisement—one exterior shot and an interior one. However, don’t be afraid to include three, four or even five photos with the advertisement. Just make sure that the photos are flattering and show your car in the best possible light. Taking photos from multiple angles will help potential buyers get a sense of its look and appeal. They can also see if the body is in good shape, free of dents and rust, and this is likely to further entice them. Interior shots can give a sense of the space in the vehicle, as well as the condition of the seats, steering wheel, etc.


8. Use a Standard “AS/IS” Bill of Sale

Once your vehicle is sold, the last thing you want is for people to come back to you claiming that repairs were needed and blaming you for any problems that arise with the second hand car you sold them. To protect yourself, be sure to draw up an “AS/IS” bill of sale, which stands for “As It Is.” This means that you are selling the car with no guarantee or warranty on it. The buyer cannot come back to you later on claiming that you owe him money for repairs or demanding a refund if the vehicle breaks down. To get an AS or IS bill of sale, search online. You will quickly come across plenty of examples that can be downloaded and printed. In the U.S., there are many state forms that can be easily found and used. This is a great way to protect yourself.


7. Sell Your Vehicle Close to Home

There are plenty of scams out there and people looking to rip you off on the sale of your vehicle. Be especially wary of people who approach you online from far off places. It is always advisable to meet people in-person who live in your immediate area. Don’t be taken in by people who contact you online from out of state of overseas saying that they will buy your vehicle immediately without meeting in-person or taking it for a test drive. Ignore these type of phishing scams altogether. Make sure you sell your vehicle to someone you can meet in a familiar location and someone whose hand you can shake.


6. Meet Potential Buyers in a Public Place

There have been many instances of trusting people tossing the keys to their car to a potential buyer so they can take it for a test drive and then never seeing the buyer or their vehicle again. To ensure that you do not get ripped off, be sure to meet any potential buyers that you don’t know in a public place. Credit unions, banks and restaurants are all good locations for a meeting and test drive, as they all offer video surveillance and plenty of people around as witnesses. If you feel comfortable enough doing so, it is also advisable to go along on any test drive that takes place. Better yet, bring a friend along with you as well when meeting a buyer you do not know personally and both of you can go for the test drive.

5. Get a Temporary Phone Number

When meeting strangers and engaging them in a business transaction, it is advisable to provide some separation from them and your regular life. One of the best ways to do this is by getting a temporary cell phone number. There are services available that offer free and temporary phone numbers. You can also get an app that will forward calls from your main phone number to a temporary cell phone. This might strike some people as a bit extreme, but a temporary phone number can serve as a buffer between you and the person who buys your vehicle. And, once the car is sold, you can dispose of the number and move on without any worries.

4. Verify the Buyer’s License Number

The last thing you want is for someone who is not licensed or a criminal to take your car for a spin. The good news is that you can quickly and easily verify any potential buyers’ license number online or with a phone call. In many U.S. states, people can use an online driver license verification system that enables anyone to put in a driver’s license number and instantly see if it is legitimate or not. This is a quick check that can provide valuable peace of mind and ensure that you do not get taken advantage of, or in trouble, for handing your keys over to an unlicensed driver.

3. Don’t Feel Pressure to Settle

Negotiations are a two way street. And people selling a vehicle should expect some negotiation with the buyer. However, don’t feel pressure to settle quickly or to accept an offer for your car that you are not happy with. There’s no rule saying that you have to take the first offer you’re given. Feel free to reject a price if you feel it is too low. Or, tell the person on the other side of the negotiating table that you need a day or two to consider their offer. Holding out for more money or the price you want is fine. To help, have a price that you are unwilling to go below and stick to your guns when negotiating. Eventually you are sure to get the price you want for your vehicle.

2. Ask Questions and Be Upfront About the Vehicle

Even though you are the seller, it does not preclude you from asking questions of the person who is buying the vehicle. Don’t hesitate to ask the buyer where they live, what they plan to use the car for, and where they work. This will give you a better understanding of the person and the price they are likely able to pay for the car. At the same time, be upfront about the work and repairs you have had done on the vehicle. Let the buyer know the last time you had the tires on the car replaced, if the windshield wipers are new, the condition of the brakes, etc. This will make you look like an honest person and someone the buyer can come to a deal with.

1. Only Accept Cash or a Certified Cheque

There are lots of scam artists out there, and, as such, you should only accept cash or a certified cheque (which is as good as cash) from the buyer. Don’t accept personal cheques or online money transfers from PayPal, etc. unless you know the buyer and where they live. There are too many ways for people to manipulate things and rip you off with these payment methods. Getting cash upfront before turning over the keys is the best way to ensure that you get paid properly and in full. The last thing you want after going through this process is to find out you’ve been taken for a ride. Better to walk away satisfied that you got the price you wanted for your used vehicle, and that you have the money in your pocket.