How to Sell Your Car (And Get the Most Money Possible)

November 25, 2020

Updated 9/29/21

Knowing how to sell your car for the most money possible has never been more important. In 2021 we’ve seen used car prices appreciate nearly 30%, which means the car (or truck, or SUV) in your driveway is worth way more than when you originally bought it. What a time to be alive!

If you decide that it’s time to sell your car, there are a few things we recommend you do to make the most money possible. Right now, with new car inventory at all-time lows, car dealers, consumers, and everyone in between will be interested in your used car for sale. To maximize your profits we have a few suggestions.

Let’s explore how you can sell your car and address some common questions, like “Should I get my car detailed before I sell it?” “Should I sell private party or to a dealer?” And, “How much is my car really worth?” Let’s dive in.

Sell Your Car to Carvana, Vroom, CarMax, or Shift

National online used car dealers like Carvana, Vroom, CarMax, and Shift have been growing in recent years. These companies are publicly traded and focused heavily on growth. Because of this, digital retailers are always purchasing more vehicles in order to continuously expand their inventory.

To sell your car for the highest price possible we recommend you start by getting free online quotes from these four major players. Their business models rely on them having vehicles to sell, and because of that they have made it very simple to sell them your car online. Getting a quote from Carvana takes less than five minutes and only requires your VIN and the current odometer reading.

Carvana, Vroom, CarMax, and Shift vary their prices by geographic region. We recommend you get quotes from each company to see who is offering the highest price right now. Each company wants a different “mix” of inventory and one of them will want your car the most.

Click here to get a Carvana quote: https://www.carvana.com/sell-my-car

Click here to get a Vroom quote: https://www.vroom.com/sell

Click here to get a CarMax quote: https://www.carmax.com/sell-my-car

Click here to get a Shift quote: https://shift.com/sell-my-car

From our experience, we’ve seen that Carvana and Vroom will typically pay the highest price for newer used vehicles. CarMax typically pays the most for older used vehicles. Shift occasionally tops them all.

Bear in mind that Vroom has recently been admonished by the Better Business Bureau, so if the quote you get from Carvana is within a few hundred dollars of your price from Vroom, you may simply want to go to Carvana.

Sell Your Car to Your Local Car Dealers

Car dealers are notoroius for “lowballing” your trade-in. Well, in today’s market you are the one in control, and we recommend you give your local dealers a chance to buy your car from you.

Car dealerships are rapidly running out of inventory, and with Carvana, Vroom, Shift, and CarMax spending a lot of money to buy cars directly from consumers, local car dealers know they need to pony up some serious cash to do the same.

We recommend that you contact all of your local dealerships and share with them the quotes you received from the online digital used car dealers. To sell your car for the most money possible, you need leverage, and with online cash quotes, you have that.

If a dealership is willing to beat the price quote you have, that’s great! Your next concern is likely “will they change the price when I come in and they inspect the vehicle?” To mitigate issues there, watch this video on how car dealers appraise cars, and make them aware of any issues in advance.

We have heard a few horror stories from the online used car dealers that they revise their prices lower once they have inspected a vehicle, so the best thing you can do with them, or with your local dealer is to pre-empt that by telling them about any damage or issues.

Sell Your Car to a Private Buyer

After going through the prior two steps, if you are willing to invest more time in the process you’ll likely be able to sell your car for the most money possible to a private buyer. Unlike selling to a dealership, selling to a private party takes a bit more work, however an interested private buyer will likely pay even more than the dealership, because they know that if they don’t buy it from you, they’ll have to buy it at a marked up price from the dealership.

What price should I list my vehicle at?

Thankfully, the work you did in the steps before (getting quotes from dealerships) will inform your asking price. We recommend you take the highest offer you received from one of the car dealers and add 10% on top of it. That is a fair listing price for a private party sale.

Why 10%? It’s simple:

  • The dealership is likely going to sell the vehicle for much more than 10% than what they are buying it from you for, so it’s a reasonable price for a private party to expect
  • When negotiating with a private party they’ll likely want to haggle, and with 10% of extra “profit” built in, you have some room left to negotiate and haggle

Where should I advertise my vehicle for sale?

Advertising a vehicle for sale right now has never been easier. There is A LOT of fraud on peer to peer websites, however. We recommend listing your vehicle on the classic websites: Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.

In this market you will likely be receiving many inquires immediately.

Should I detail my car before selling it?

If you’re selling your car to a private buyer we recommend you clean and detail it. If you are selling to a dealership there is no need to get the vehicle detailed, however it is a good idea to get the vehicle looking clean and like it has been well maintained.

CarFax Reports and Pre-Purchase Inspections

If you’re selling a vehicle to a private buyer do not be surprised if they ask to see a CarFax report and to get a pre-purchase inspection.

  • CarFaxAll serious buyers will want to view a detailed vehicle history for the car. This helps them determine if your car is a good investment. Be sure to have this ready, whether you are contacting an online retailer, visiting a local dealer, or finding a private buyer. We recommend you pay for this and have it ready to share with prospective buyers.
  • Pre-Purchase InspectionA serious prospective buyer will want to conduct a pre-purchase inspection. Be prepared for that and not surprised. We don’t recommend you preemptively get a pre-purchase inspection, because buyers will want their own mechanic to review the vehicle.

When considering how to sell your car, be prepared to accommodate a PPI and have a vehicle history ready for potential purchasers to review.

What Do I Need to Sell My Car?

Great, so you know how much your car is worth and you’re ready to sell it. You likely now wondering, “So what exactly do I need to sell my car?” 

The following items will be useful in making your sales experience as smooth as possible:

  • A driver’s license or other official identification
  • The vehicle’s title
  • The vehicle’s registration
  • Ten-day loan payoff (if you have a loan on the vehicle)
  • All sets of keys for the vehicle (at least two)
  • All maintenance and vehicle service records

If you’re selling to a dealership your experience will be pretty simple … Arrive, sign off on a variety of paperwork that allows the dealership to handle motor vehicle paperwork on your behalf, get your check, and leave.

If you’re selling to a private party it will look a little different.

Here are a few pointers:

  • Never allow the potential buyer to test drive the vehicle by themself. Always accompany the potential buyer on the test drive and have your friend tag along as well.
  • Establish the test drive route prior to leaving and set the ground rules for how the vehicle is allowed to be driven. The driver must obey all traffic safety rules and stay within the posted speed limit at all times.
  • Once you have agreed to sell the vehicle, complete the transaction at your bank, credit union, motor vehicle agency or local police station to protect all parties from any issues. Be certain to make sure that buyer’s funds are indeed good prior to releasing any paperwork or keys to the vehicle. 
  • Do not allow the buyer to drive off using your tags and registration.

Save more with YAA Premium

YAA Premium Membership pays for itself when it’s time to go to the dealership.

Unlimited access to YAA car buying tools, our team of Auto Experts, deal/lease reviews, and more.

Go Premium
Learn More

COVERAGE YOU CAN TRUST

YAA Extended Warranty

Peace of mind without the markup.
Flexible terms & pricing.
Coverage details

 

Join YAA for Free

Get instant access to members-only resources.

We'll email you updates
Or, we can text you
Hidden
Subscribe to receive:

Save more with YAA Premium

YAA Premium Membership pays for itself when it’s time to go to the dealership.

Unlimited access to YAA car buying tools, our team of Auto Experts, deal/lease reviews, and more.

100% money-back guarantee.

We work for you.

Car smarts. Right in your inbox.

We'll email you updates
Or, we can text you
Hidden
Subscribe to receive:

Get the latest trends and money-saving strategies, once a week.

We'll email you updates
Or, we can text you
Hidden
Subscribe to receive:

Related articles

6 Comments

  1. Chris Armstrong

    Started in this business as a Concierge ( broker ++++) over 40 years ago. Started working in a retail venue in the late 90’s up until the end of 2013. I worked at a small-medium three franchise dealership outside of Pittsburgh. The dealership sold AUDI, BMW and PORSCHE . The name of the dealership is The Sewickley Car Store. Perhaps we traded with you Ray.
    Had I known you I would have happily bailed out the kid. I enjoy your videos and have been able to get my wife to watch as well. You both are funny, light and it makes things move along at a good pace.
    One thing that I would add to your list regarding the sale of one’s own car is this. I do think it makes a difference, even to a dealership you may do business with, if you were to detail or have your car detailed before having them put a number on it. Dent removal, wheel scuffs can be repaired for a nominal cost and I think it puts you in a stronger position with regards to your trade number. Notice I said wheel scuff’s! Thanks for the entertainment and the service that you are providing to those that seek your help and advice. Regards, Chris Armstrong

    Reply
  2. Tony

    I usually use up my cars until $1g is a gift. They usually get sold on after a quarter million miles, or in the case of our 1999 Grand Marquis, old enough to drink.

    The Grand Marquis sold for $2500 after 3 days on the market. Only a buy here pay here dealer would have wanted it due to age.

    However it showed well and sold to someone who saw the sign in the back window.

    Not only did the buyer get our extra car with two keys and an aftermarket Bluetooth head unit, but got the sign as I forgot to grab it. Left it in because in that segment of the market, you never know when a buyer will flake out or not produce the cash, etc.

    Must have been a good car because after 3+ months, no calls complaining.

    I would add to the list, a bill of sale document not to mention any state documents noting the transfer of the vehicle. This varies state by state, but one should be able to find the requirements at your DMV or Secretary of State office.

    Make sure the bill of sale notes As-Is and that the buyer was not prevented from having the vehicle professionally inspected.

    Two copies, on for the buyer and one for the seller.

    If the seller keeps the tags, take a screw driver and make sure you can remove the tags easily before going to the sale.

    Reply
  3. Ben Shipe

    Decades ago I used to “flip cars” as an additional income stream. I have owned/sold about 65 cars over the past 40 years. While that is nothing to what a car salesman will sell in his career, that’s a lot of cars for your average Joe to put across the curb. In selling those cars, I believe I have heard it all-trade offers for a hunting dog, shotguns, console color TVs, guitars, and drums. I’ve been asked to carry accounts for up to two years and more than a few offered to pay with 3rd party checks.

    Yesterday, I bought a new Subaru Legacy. (I already have an Outback and an olderTrailblazer). Since we are in this China Virus situation I didn’t want to try and sell privately…knowing of course that this is how you can see the most return. First, I checked with “We Buy Any Car” to get their number. Then, I decided to see just what I could get for my black 15-year-old Cadillac STS in very nice condition with only 80K miles from the dealer. I wasn’t expecting much knowing this would be a wholesale transaction.

    I had already pitted this dealer against other Subaru dealers online. I had a good price before I pulled onto the lot. I drove the Legacy and I liked it. Getting back to the lot “I was going to look around some more.” Then, I was able to shave off a few more bucks and have the dealership agree to install a factory CD player, a Rockford Fosgate audio upgrade, (I’m a drummer and really enjoy good sound), and factory body side moldings to push the deal through.

    It was then that I said, “you know, I think I would like to perhaps trade in my car.” Well, I knew there was no room to pull any money out of the deal so I figured they would hit me pretty low since there was nothing left to “cover the trade.” I had a dollar figure in mind and if they hadn’t hit it I would just keep the car or sell it later. They came back $500 over what I had hoped for-but this was a very clean, inside and out Caddy. I tried to squeeze another $200 just for giggles but that wasn’t going to happen. If the car had had the V8 and a moonroof he said they would have.

    I remember you saying once, Ray, that a good deal is one where you feel good about it the next day. (To paraphrase) I do feel good about it and this car deal was as relaxed and stress-free as any I have been through for over 5 decades.

    I used both “Find The Best Car Deal” and the Auto Advocate site in searching for my new car. I already knew good deals are on the sedans in the current market and how many days the car had been sitting on their lot. You guys are doing a great service and I really enjoy your YouTube channel.

    Reply
    • Debra

      Thanks for the websites

      Reply
  4. Douglas Smith

    My sister in law normally leases Hondas. To help her youngest, (55 year old) daughter, she leased a 2018 Nissan Rogue Sport. Two or three months later, daughter gets a job with a company car, and sister in law drives the Nissan.
    The lease is up, and she wants a Honda CRV. Honda dealer says the buyout, with very low miles and very clean, is too high at $14,000. They won’t buy it to resell or to auction. Its her problem. She leases the Honda anyway.
    Honda dealer says its worth less than $14,000. Carvana says $13,000. She has just been diagnosed with Lymphoma, and has an 89 year old husband to tend. Private sale is out of the question. We are in SW Florida and the lots are loaded with ex rental Nissans.
    Turn in inspection is today, and should present no problems. Nissan said over the phone that there is no termination fee. We shall see.

    Reply
    • Alfred Pollock

      Thanks to both of you for being such a great resource for your members and non-members alike.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

🚘 Stay in the know

The market is changing quickly. Keep up with our weekly email about car buying, auto trends, EV news, and more.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!