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How to sell a used car on a hot market

A close up of the back passenger side window of a red car with a for sale sign in the window
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As many Americans are in search of a vehicle due to the recovering market caused by the impacts of the pandemic, supply chain issues and the semiconductor shortage, now may be a great time to sell your vehicle. That’s despite a slight decrease in used car prices.

Selling your vehicle puts you in control when it comes to getting a good deal and with so many looking for a new set of wheels now is a perfect time. The average price for a used vehicle was $28,061 in August 2022, according to Kelley Blue Book. That’s a decrease of $158 compared to the prior year, but still far higher than two years ago.

Options for selling your car  

The best choice for you will depend on the amount of time you have available and your need for another vehicle.

Sell privately  

Selling your vehicle privately usually means a higher payoff, direct negotiation and the ability to avoid any dealer costs. But a private sale does take some extra work.

The best place to start is online. Sites like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds and AutoTrader can help you estimate your market value using search parameters that include make and model, mileage, condition and your location.

Other options for selling privately include local advertisements or Facebook Marketplace. But sticking to a trusted website helps weed out scammers.

Trade in your vehicle 

If you want another vehicle, a trade is an efficient way to sell your current car and drive off with a new one. Your local dealership can usually accept a vehicle trade-in. It’s a fairly simple process.

Be sure to fix known mechanical problems (if possible), clean up your ride and negotiate the trade-in value separately to get a fair price.

After paying off your current vehicle, you can take the remaining profit out of your new vehicle price. Rather than getting cash — like you would selling privately — you will instead lower the price tag on your new car. But new cars are going for a premium, so it might not go as far as you would like.

Sell at a dealership  

Like trading in your vehicle, selling at a dealership can be one of the easiest ways to get rid of your car. The dealership will handle most of the hassle of selling the vehicle. But with that convenience comes a lower payout than you could get if you sold the car on your own.

With the current car market, dealerships are more likely to be open to taking the used vehicle off your hands. But be sure to shop your car around and get a few offers before agreeing to one so you know you are getting the best deal.

Sell to a car-buying website

You could also use a car-buying website, like AutoNation or Shift, to get a cash offer for your car. You’ll need to provide the make, model, color and mileage of your car, along with the vehicle identification number (VIN). The online questionnaire will also request information about the history and condition of your vehicle and if you own it outright or are still making payments. You may also need to upload images of the car before the site makes an offer.

If an offer is available, you’ll generally have anywhere from 24 hours to seven days and 500 miles to accept it. Some car-buying websites will pick up your car, but others require you to drop it off at a partnering dealership.

While this is a convenient option to get your car off your hands, be mindful that a service fee that eats into your profits may apply.

Paperwork needed to sell your car  

There are a few items you will need to organize before selling your vehicle. Early preparation will mean you aren’t scrambling to find the necessary forms after finding a buyer. 

  • Vehicle title
  • Bill of sale
  • Loan information, if applicable
  • Repair and maintenance records

Tips for selling your car while the market is still hot 

These tips can help you get the most out of the vehicle you are selling before the market cools further.

Pay off your current loan   

Before moving on to your next vehicle purchase, ensure your loan is fully paid off. Selling a vehicle that still has a lien on it is a complicated process. Paying off your loan will protect your credit and avoid any future headaches.

Know your vehicle’s worth  

It is especially important to know your vehicle’s worth before diving into selling it. Research can help ensure you get the maximum amount possible from a private sale or at a dealership. Take advantage of Kelley Blue Book’s car value option and research what vehicles similar to yours have been selling for in your area.

If your car was properly maintained and is in pristine shape, you could set a higher asking price. This is also the case if you recently had a major service completed, installed new brakes or tires or the car is still under an extended, transferable warranty.

Get a pre-sale inspection

Potential buyers may request a pre-sale inspection before agreeing to buy your car. It involves having their mechanic inspect the vehicle. If you agree, be sure to meet up with the interested party and their mechanic in a safe location.

Or you can have your mechanic perform the inspection and have the results readily available for shoppers to review when checking out your ride. If you decide to get a pre-sale inspection before making your vehicle available for sale, you’ll have the information you need to set an appropriate price point based on the condition of your vehicle.

Don’t forget curb appeal  

Few want to buy a vehicle with too many scrapes or dents or an exceptionally unkempt interior. Consider whether your car could use some cosmetic fixes, minor repairs or detailing before potential buyers see it. Commit to spending a bit more money to clean up the car as best you can.

Step back and try and look at your car through the eyes of a potential buyer. Pay special attention to items and areas like seat upholstery, center console and windows. A used car that smells brand new may be more likely to sell.  

Make ads that pop 

Once your car is detailed, get good photos. This is especially important if you’re selling online. Cover every possible angle, inside and out. Part of buying a car online is avoiding scams, and a well-photographed car looks more legitimate than a listing with one or two pictures.

Include information like the price, year, make, model and mileage in the advertisement. Other important details are any special options, the car’s trim, what kind of gas mileage the car gets and why you’re selling it.

Keep the sale safe 

If you choose to sell your vehicle privately, there are a few ways to protect yourself. Keep track of the paperwork and be methodical about each step, including writing the exact mileage on the title before handing it off.

Payment should also be done safely — a cashier’s check or a big-name online payment processing service are two of the easiest options. Or you can use a reputable escrow service that will hold the borrower’s payment until the transaction is complete.

Meet in a public space and tell trusted friends and family your location. You may also want to bring someone with you for added safety.

Close the deal properly

When you’re ready to close the deal, you’ll have several legal and administrative details to complete. After the sale, contact your insurance company to have it removed from the policy, but not before you’ve notified your department of motor vehicles of the sale. Canceling your coverage prematurely may result in your license being suspended for having an uninsured, registered vehicle.

Reasons you might not want to sell your used car

It is tempting to try and get more for your vehicle before prices drop further, but you may want to hold off if you don’t have another ride to fall back on.

New car prices averaged over $48,301 in August 2022, according to Kelley Blue Book. That’s a hefty amount, even if you get a good amount for your current car. Unless you can secure an excellent interest rate, you might not walk away with more money in your pocket.

Next steps  

Decide how you want to sell your car and go from there. Trading in, selling at a dealership and selling privately all have their advantages and drawbacks. What’s best for you depends on how much time you have and what you are looking to get out of the sale.

Regardless of your chosen method, used car prices are at a premium for now but may continue to drop as supply catches up with demand. Now may be the best time to sell.

Written by
Rebecca Betterton
Auto Loans Reporter
Rebecca Betterton is the auto loans reporter for Bankrate. She specializes in assisting readers in navigating the ins and outs of securely borrowing money to purchase a car.
Edited by
Auto loans editor