Is Selling Your Own Car Worth It? Here’s What You Need to Know

When it’s time to upgrade your car and get a new one, you have two options. You can trade in your old one at the dealer, or you can try selling your own car. Each option has its pros and cons.

Trading in your car and putting the money toward a new ride is fairly straightforward, but you won’t get as much money, and you’ll have to spend more of your precious time at the dealership.

Zoila Lopez from Miami, Fl, looks at the Ford Excursion
Why haggle at a dealership when you can sell your car on your own? | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Selling your own car is labor-intensive and time-consuming, but the upshot is you get more money, and you get to keep all of it. If you’re up to the challenge of unloading your car yourself, make sure you do it right.

What you need to know when selling your own car

The first thing you need to do when you’re selling your own car is to avoid the common and costly mistakes, such as getting the price wrong or falling for a buyer’s scam. But avoiding mistakes is part of what it takes to sell a car. Here are seven basic steps you need to know when selling your own car.

1. Find out what your car is really worth

used car for sale
Make sure you know what your car is worth before you sell it. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: You need to know your car’s value before you try and sell it. Resources such as Kelley Blue Book, NADA, and Autotrader are great places to start, but if the values they show aren’t as high as you like, then you might want to consider heading to the dealer after all.

However, if you’re determined to press on, then determining your car’s value is just the first step.

2. Gather the necessary paperwork. All of it.

Just because you’re not selling your car to a dealer doesn’t mean you get off light when it comes to paperwork. If anything, it might be the most time-consuming part of the process. Before you put your car on the market, you’ll need to have:

  • The title so you can eventually sign it over to the new owner;
  • Maintenance records for the entire history of the car; or at least for as long as you’ve owned it;
  • Warranty information;
  • And, most importantly, a bill of sale that includes names, addresses, phone numbers, signatures, and key vehicle information such as VIN, odometer reading, and price. Even if you’re state doesn’t require one, having a bill of sale can absolve you of any liability if any disputes arise between you and the buyer.

3. Prep the car

Would you want to buy a car covered in road grit and tree sap? Probably not. Wash, wax, vacuum, and thoroughly detail your car before you put it on the market.

4. Photo shoot

Once your car is clean, it’s time for the photo shoot. You’ll want to take pictures of both the outside and inside from multiple angles. It’s smart to get shots of the wheels and engine, too. The better the photos, the better the chance your car will stand out to potential buyers, so it’s smart to use a high-end point and shoot camera or DSLR, if possible.

5. Spread the word

Car for sale by owner -- selling your own car
A sign in the window is a viable way to sell your own car. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

You have multiple options for listing your car when it’s ready to sell, according to Craigslist, KBB, Autotrader, eBay, newspaper classifieds, and ‘For Sale’ signs in the window are viable options.

You should be sure to include the price, mileage, overall condition, recent repairs, and VIN in the listing.

6. Find the right buyer

Once people start contacting you about your car, you’ll want to sift through the responses to make sure you find a legitimate buyer. This is your chance to channel your inner car salesman and highlight the selling points. Make sure you’re clear about acceptable payment methods and get a buyer’s full name and contact info before scheduling a test drive. Never settle for monthly payments, though, since you have no way to collect if the buyer stops sending you checks.

7. Complete the sale — with more paperwork

Senior working
You’ll have to complete a lot of paperwork if you sell your car on your own. | DGLimages/iStock/Getty Images

Congratulations! Your ad was successful, you found a legitimate buyer, and you got your asking price. Now it’s time for more paperwork.

  • Complete the bill of sale with your signatures.
  • Whether you accept a personal or cashier’s check, go to the buyer’s bank to get your money. That way you know he or she really has the money to buy the car.
  • Hand over the warranty and maintenance records with your personal information blacked out (to avoid identity theft).
  • Sign over the title, hand over the keys, and get that car off your insurance plan.

Are you looking to buy another car?

If selling your own car was part of a downsizing effort, then you can pocket that money and use it for whatever you want. However, if you’re looking to buy another car, you might want to prepare for another arduous process.

There are several benefits of buying a used car such as avoiding fees and avoiding the big depreciation hit of a new car. However, you just need to avoid making the worst mistakes when you buy used. Just because a car isn’t brand new doesn’t mean you should settle for something you don’t want.

If you’re thinking of buying a newer car, it helps to know the golden rules, as well as the surprising secrets dealers try to hide from you.