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9 Tips for Selling a Car in 2021

9 Tips for Selling a Car in 2021
Kelly Boyer Sagert

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Updated November 5, 2021
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
Selling a car privately, rather than trading it in or selling to a dealer, can mean that you get more money for your vehicle. To help you with the process, here are practical tips on selling your car, along with a couple of other options to consider. 

1. Research the Market

There are plenty of useful free online valuation tools, including the following. You can also use car apps to browse dealership sites and/or visit places that sell cars like yours to see what the market will currently bear.This research can help you set a price for your car that’s fair; that won’t turn off potential buyers; and that allows for a bit of negotiation. Having the info can help you to allow for car depreciation, which varies by makes and models. Overall, vehicles that are more competitively priced sell more quickly than ones with higher price tags. 

2. Price Your Car Strategically

As you research the market, you’ll notice that online valuation tools provide wholesale and retail values. The first is what you might receive when trading a vehicle in at a dealership. The second is what a dealer might list as a price.When you’re selling a car privately, picking a price in between these two values is typically a good strategy. Be sure to factor in the vehicle’s mileage, condition, and any extra features and equipment.Aftermarket accessories (such as fancier upgraded wheels) may add some value but usually not as much as you paid for them. Check to see if you have any warranties in effect and if they’re transferable to a buyer.

3. Clean Your Car

First impressions matter when you’re selling a car. So, before you show your car to a potential buyer, wash it well, including the wheels and underneath the vehicle. Wax the vehicle and clean its headlights using products recommended by the manufacturer (check the owner’s manual). Vacuum the interior, including the dashboard and console. Clean the upholstery and try to remove any stains. Get the windows shiny clean, both inside and out. If there are leather seats, clean them appropriately. You want the car to appear in the best light to potential buyers. 

4. Don’t Cheap Out on Small Repairs

Although you won’t typically want to invest money in large repairs, don’t ignore smaller ones that can make a big difference in the appearance and functioning of the vehicle. Taking care of even small fixes can help you get a better price. Check all lights, inside and out, and replace any burned out bulbs. Change or top off fluids, as needed, such as the vehicle’s oil, transmission fluid, radiator fluid, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid. Replace your windshield wipers and, if your windshield is scratched, consider replacing it, too. You may also want to fix small dings and dents and touch them up with paint. 

5. Create Ads That Will Sell

One of the most important things to do when selling a car is to show it off to potential buyers. So, after you’ve cleaned it, take clear pictures of your vehicle, inside and out. You’ll want to show what’s appealing while also sharing images of any dents and scratches; the engine; the odometer; and anything else that a buyer might want to see. Provide an accurate listing of the vehicle’s make, model, and year, mileage, and vehicle identification number (VIN). While you want to show the car to best effect, you also want to be accurate and not mislead any potential buyers. Share information about mechanical issues as well as cosmetic ones. Then, list your car on trusted free/low-cost websites like CarGurus.com, AutoTrader.com, and Cars.com, among others. 

6. Don’t Get Emotionally Attached

It’s normal to appreciate your vehicle. After all, it may have transported you to the place where you interviewed and got your dream job and/or to your wedding. You may have used it to take your children to their first day of kindergarten. The problem, though, is that this kind of attachment might make you believe that your car is better than other comparable ones on the market and could lead you to overprice it. When it’s time to sell an old car, it’s wise to put your emotions to the side and develop a clear understanding of what constitutes a fair offer—and be ready to accept one when it’s made.

7. Thoroughly Vet Potential Buyers

Of course, it’s key to make sure you stay safe from fraudsters and worse. It’s sensible to take precautions, like speaking with potential buyers on the phone and agreeing to meet them only after they’ve shown real interest. And even then, be sure you meet somewhere public, and, ideally, bring a friend with you. Don’t let anyone test drive your vehicle without you (you may never see the vehicle again or it could come back damaged) and don’t go for a test drive alone with a stranger (have a friend or family member go with you). Before you and a potential buyer go for a test drive, ask to take a picture of the buyer’s driver’s license and insurance information. Send it to a friend who is expecting this info and explain to the buyer that you’re doing this for everyone’s safety. If the friend doesn’t hear from you in a predetermined amount of time, they should try to contact you. If you don’t respond, they should give the police the driver’s license and insurance images.

8. Negotiate for the Best Price

This is an important step, and it helps to be preparedBe clear about the value of the vehicle, including why certain features may raise the price (for example, a transferable warranty or low mileage). Also, decide ahead of time how much flexibility you have on the price. This will help you know when to continue to negotiate; what dollar amount is your absolute minimum; and when it may be time to walk away from a particular buyer.  Finally, don’t let a potential buyer bully or manipulate you during the negotiating process. For example, a prospective buyer might ask you to lower the price because they’ve had a family tragedy and are short on funds. (This may or may not be true.) Be logical, stick to your price, and don’t be swayed by emotion.

9. Maintain a Paper Trail

Keep good written records of each step of the process. Once you get an acceptable offer and receive the cash, you’ll need to sign the title over to the buyer along with any other documents required by your state’s laws. Your buyer can then record the title in their own name at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It’s a good idea to confirm later with the DMV that this has occurred as you’ll no longer want to have any responsibility for the vehicle.

Considering Trading In as an Alternative

Trading in a car can be a time-saving alternative to selling it yourself if you’re buying a new car from a dealership. The salesperson will offer you a certain amount of money for your vehicle, and, if you accept, apply it as a credit toward your purchase. Typically, you won’t get as much money as you might if you sold it yourself,  but, in many states, you’ll only need to pay sales tax on the difference between the new car’s price and the value of your trade-in, which can save you money. The dealer will also usually handle paperwork for you, which saves you time. If paying off a car loan early is a possibility for you, then the entire value of the vehicle can go toward your new one.

Looking to Lower Your Car Payments? Consider Auto Loan Refinancing

When you’re selling a car privately, your goal may be to find another vehicle with a lower car payment. In that case, refinancing may be another good solution. In refinancing, you take out a new loan on the vehicle (ideally with a better interest rate) to pay off the current one. You don’t even necessarily have to go to a dealership, especially if you try auto loan refinancing online. With Lantern by SoFi, you can fill out one simple application and, without paying a fee, receive refi offers from our network of partners. You can prequalify in just minutes, and this does not affect your credit score if you decide not to move forward so there’s nothing to lose.

The Takeaway

Selling your car privately can provide you with more cash (although there are also benefits to trading in or refinancing your old vehicle). It’s up to you to decide what makes the most sense for your situation and preferences, but fortunately, there are a variety of options.
Photo credit: iStock/Denis_Dryashkin
The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.SOLC0921175

About the Author

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Kelly Boyer Sagert is an Emmy Award-nominated writer with decades of professional writing experience. As she was getting her writing career off the ground, she spent several years working at a savings and loan institution, working in the following departments: savings, loans, IRAs, and auditing. She has published thousands of pieces online and in print.
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