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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. In fact, if you bought your car in the last two years it might be worth even more now.

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 climbed over $28,000 in December 2021 — more than 40 percent higher than two years prior — according to Kelley Blue Book. So, you potentially could make more money than you would otherwise by selling your vehicle.  

Options for selling your car  

The best choice for you will depend on the amount of time you have available, your confidence with the online market 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 will usually weed out any scammers.  

Trade in your vehicle 

If you are looking to get 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, and it’s a fairly simple process.  

After ensuring that your current vehicle is paid off you can use the sale price of your vehicle to be taken out of your new vehicle price. This means that rather than 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  

Similar to 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 that comes with selling the vehicle. But with that convenience comes a lower payout. 

Especially 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.  

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 

Follow these tips to get the most out of the vehicle you are selling before the market cools.  

Pay off your current loan   

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

Know your vehicle’s worth  

It is especially important to know the worth of your vehicle before diving into the selling process. This will ensure that you are getting the most amount of money possible when it comes to a private sale or through a dealership. Take advantage of Kelley Blue Book’s car value option and do some research on what vehicles similar to yours have been selling for in your area.  

Don’t forget curb appeal  

No one is going to want to buy a vehicle with too many scrapes or dents or an exceptionally unkempt interior, so 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 to the best of your ability.  

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 is much more likely to sell.  

Make ads that pop 

Once your car is detailed, get good photos of it. 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 is going to be much 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 to add are any special options you have, the trim of the car, 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 in a safe way — a cashier’s check or a big-name online payment processing service are two of the easiest options.  

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

Close the deal 

When you’re ready to close the deal, you’ll have several legal and administrative details to tend to. 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 suspension of your license 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, but you may want to hold off if you don’t have another ride to fall back on. New car prices averaged over $46,400 in December 2021, according to Edmunds. 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.

There is also the problem of inventory. You may not want to sell your vehicle if you don’t have another one lined up. Lots are still sitting mostly empty, and continued supply chain issues mean that you likely won’t find more anytime soon. As more businesses are going to a hybrid schedule, you may not be able to get around like you need to without a car.

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, and what’s best for you is going to depend on how much time you have and what you are looking to get out of the sale. Regardless of the method you go with, used car prices are at a premium so now is likely 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