The Best Way To Sell Your Car

Your Decision Comes Down To Convenience vs. Value

If you’ve ever wanted to part with a car, you know how hard it can be. After all, you’re giving up the one physical object that’s been a part of all your awkward dates, mind-numbing commutes, and off-key power ballad sing-alongs.

But deep down, you know there’s something better out there for you. So whether you want a ride that’s cheaper/faster/more your style, or you just want to hang up your keys for a bit, here are three ways to get rid of a car that’s outlived its place in your life.

1. List It Online

Selling your car online can be a bit daunting. Sure, it eliminates the dreaded “middle man” and can fetch you more than you might get through trading it in. But it also might mean spending your Saturdays supervising total strangers on test drives through your neighborhood.

If that doesn’t scare you off from the sell-it-yourself game, then your first step is simply deciding where you want to do it. Popular options include Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or cars.com. Of course, you’ll want to consider the time you’ll have to put into responding to potential buyers via phone calls, text messages and in-person appointments. Personal sales are almost never immediate, so it could take a few days or even weeks get a serious buyer. If time is of the essence, this may not be the best option for you.

Next, do some basic research to determine your asking price. If you’re looking at listings like Autotrader, understand that those prices are mostly aspirational. They’re what are called “listing prices”—and they can be about 15 percent higher than the retail value a vehicle will realistically sell for. Keep this in mind so you’re not holding out for an offer that may never come. Services like TrueCar and KBB.com can help you figure out the actual value of your car, but again, you might not get that exact amount in the actual sale.

If you list your car online, you’ll also need to know how to take care of the proper paperwork that goes with a car transaction. This varies from state to state, but will generally involve a trip to a notary or the DMV. In California for example, the DMV requirements include releasing ownership on the car’s title, a valid smog certificate, and submitting an odometer reading if the car is less than 10 years old. It’s best to do your homework for your state on a .gov site to make sure you’re getting the right information.

If you feel like you’re prepared to sell your car yourself and don’t mind some face-to-face interaction, listing it online might be for you. You’ll likely see a financial reward for your hard work, as selling to a private buyer can sometimes get you closer to your car’s retail value than other options.

Convenience Factor: Not great.

Creepy Factor: Potentially substantial.

Value Factor: Better than the alternatives.

2. Take It to A Car Buyer

If you don’t want to sell your car yourself, another option might be bringing it to a pre-owned car buyer. While you could get less than you would selling it on your own, you also won’t get any of the hassle. In fact, some of these businesses promise to close your transaction over your lunch break.

One company doing just this is Trade-In Solutions in Los Angeles, which lets you make an appointment with an on-site appraiser. The appraiser gives you an instant quote, cuts you a check, and even handles all the paperwork.

So what’s the difference between this and selling your car at a dealership? Basically it comes down to these companies being exclusively in the business of buying pre-owned cars, having built a specific consumer experience around the process. As a result, you just might get a bit more money—and have an easier time—than you would selling your car at a dealership, where buying cars like yours is purely a side business.

Convenience Factor: High.

Ease Factor: Like butter.

Value Factor: Meh.

3. Take It to A Dealership

A low trade-in offer from a dealership is one of the most shockingly unpleasant moments a car owner can experience. In fact, it’s one of the big reasons we at Fair question the merit of buying a car at all.

But let’s make one thing clear: you shouldn’t blame the dealership for a low trade-in offer. After all, they’re a business. To sell your car at a profit, they’ll likely have to send your car through reconditioning—which usually consists of a full detail and cleaning beyond the rough vacuum and wash you were going to give it. They’ll give it an inspection and check to see if it needs any other parts or fluids. Finally, they’re going to pay their sales staff to advertise, sell and close the deal on the car.

That’s a lot of effort to get your car ready for the retail market. And it’s why your offer from the dealership is likely to be significantly lower than you expected.

Convenience Factor: There are dealerships everywhere so… pretty easy.

Speed Factor: Over and done, as long as you're not holding out for top dollar.

Value Factor: Painful. But you suspected that.

Whichever method you choose, remember to be patient and realistic. Most importantly, do your homework to make sure you get the best deal possible—with the least amount of heartburn.

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