Skip to main content

Selling your car can be a pain whether you sell it to a private party or to a dealership. In a private party situation, you must take pictures of the car, post them online, and then wait for a good candidate to come and buy it. That process can take weeks or months.

If you would rather offload it quickly, selling your car to a dealership or an online retailer like Carvana is the best way. Here are a few tips for selling your car to a non-private party if you choose this method.

1. Figure out the car’s value before stepping into the dealership

car dealership
Vehicles sit on display for sale | Getty

While you can easily head to the dealership and let the used car manager tell you the car’s value and give you a quote, don’t act so fast. Instead, head to Kelley Blue Book or the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) to obtain your car’s value. These sites have online evaluators that you input your car’s information into, and they will give you a ballpark estimate.

It’s important to be honest at this point. Are you listing your car as “good” when it’s actually in “fair” condition? Are you accounting for the oil leaks or squeaking belts? If not, then your car’s value might be skewed a little higher. If so, then you’ll be in for a big surprise when the dealership hits you back with a low appraisal amount.

Remember to input all of your car’s data as accurately as possible. Also, remember that these guides are just guides and don’t factor in certain fluctuations in the car market. As such, be prepared for a lower appraisal amount; but as long as it’s the ballpark range of what the online evaluators gave you, you’re doing well.

2. Run a history report on your own car

An automotive technician working on a car.
A mechanic works on a car. | COLIN MC CONNELL TORONTO STAR

Although you’re planning to sell your car to a dealership, it’s important to know everything about it beforehand so that you’re not blindsided during the appraisal. A Carfax or AutoCheck report can tell you whether or not your car was involved in an accident, how many owners it has had, and even some of the prior work done on it.

By knowing this information, you’ll have a better perspective on why the dealer offered you a specific appraisal amount for your car.

3. Get multiple offers

Whether you end up selling your car to a dealership or to an online retailer, it can be worth it to get multiple offers. You can get instant quotes from Carvana, Carmax, and Vroom, which will give you a good starting point. Then, you can head out to two or three different dealers in your area to get competing quotes.

According to U.S. News, “focus on dealers that sell the brand of car that you’re selling, especially if your car is only a few years old and in good shape, because then it may be a candidate for the brand’s certified pre-owned program (CPO), which will increase the dealer’s profit margin.”

4. Fix any minor repairs yourself

If your car needs a few minor repairs to address small oil leaks, scratches, or burnt-out light bulbs, then you can address those yourself. Doing so could lead to a bigger offer. Larger engine or transmission repairs aren’t worth fixing, and you may end up spending more than what the car offer is worth.

5. Clean the car before having it appraised

How to wash a car and dry a car like this one
A Volkswagen sedan being washed by hand | Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images)

While any dealership will likely tell you that it doesn’t matter if the car is dirty, it’s best to spruce it up beforehand. Doing so could possibly lead to a higher offer since it shows that you took good care of the car. You don’t need to have it professionally detailed, but a good wash will work wonders.

Be realistic with your expectations when selling your car to a dealership

Let’s face it, everyone wants the top dollar for their car, but you most likely won’t get it from a dealership. Every dealer will factor in reconditioning costs and market value adjustments before giving you an offer. As such, keep your expectations in check by doing all of the research you can before going to a dealership. By doing so, you may even be pleasantly surprised at the offer.


5 Important Tips For Buying a Car from a Private Seller