How to Sell a Used Car Online

car sitting on keyboard

Selling a used car can seem daunting, especially when you consider the time it takes to prepare your car, advertise it for sale, and find a trustworthy buyer. Selling a pre-owned car is often a long and drawn-out task requiring you to get the car prepared for sale, figuring out a good price, and advertising it in a local paper.

Of course, finding the right buyer is as important as preparing a pre-owned car and offering it for sale. Before selling a used car, you have a few tasks you need to accomplish, including cleaning the car, having any minor repairs performed, and getting the proper paperwork in order. By following some simple steps, selling a used car can be quick and stress-free.

Part 1 of 4: Get your vehicle ready for sale

Materials Needed

  • Digital camera
  • Hose
  • Microfiber towels
  • Soap and water
  • Soft-bristled brush

The first thing you need to do before selling your pre-owned car is get it into good shape. When selling a used car, you want to get the most value out of it. By cleaning and repairing your car and then promoting its features to potential buyers, you are sure to maximize your sales price.

This includes making sure you have all of the proper paperwork, including the vehicle’s title. Once all of this is done, you can then begin the next step of the sales process.

Step 1: Get your paperwork in order. Make sure the vehicle is up to date on all of its paperwork, including title and smog check.

example title with paid off liens

Step 2: Check for liens. Check to make sure that the vehicle title is clear and has no liens against it.

Before selling your car, make sure the title is clean (ie, no existing liens) so there are no problems and delays once you find an interested buyer.

If there are any issues with the title, make sure to clear them up before starting the sales process. Also, check to see what the laws are in your area regarding transferring a title.

Step 3: Thoroughly clean your car's interior and exterior. If you need it, pay a professional detailer to clean the car.

The better your car looks, the more likely you are to make a sale and possibly at a better price.

  • Tip: When selling a car, it should look as good as possible. Even consider having your car professionally cleaned by detailers.

Step 4: Photograph your car. Take pictures of your car from a variety of angles, both on the inside and outside.

This is to give any potential buyers a good look at the vehicle’s condition. You should also present any damage the vehicle might have. A buyer will eventually see the damage anyway, so showing its extent now is a good show of faith on your part.

  • Tip: Using a digital camera allows you to take great pictures that you can easily upload to your computer. Make sure to use a simple background, otherwise you will distract from the purpose of your photograph, to showcase your vehicle.

Part 2 of 4: Decide on a price

Materials Needed

  • Computer
  • Paper
  • Pencil

The next step in the selling process is finding out what your vehicle is worth. A variety of Internet sites exist for just this purpose. A vehicle's market value takes into account such criteria as year, make, and model, with other factors like trim level, mileage, and overall vehicle condition also having an effect.

KBB check my car value
Image: Kelley Blue Book

Step 1: Use online resources. Start by visiting a site such as AutoTrader, Kelley Blue Book, or Edmunds, all designed to give you the fair market value of a vehicle.

Take into account any repairs you need to make. And once you decide on a price, make sure you don't jump at the first offer, unless it is within the price range you want.

Step 2: Enter your vehicle’s information. Input your car’s information into the site you choose to use.

Be sure to include the vehicle type and year, trim level and features, and mileage. The vehicle's price range usually fluctuates slightly according to your location, as different car types are more desired in certain regions of the U.S.

Image: Autotrader

Step 3: Use Autotrader to determine value. Autotrader will give you a good approximation of how much the vehicle is worth according to its condition.

A vehicle’s condition is usually ranked from poor to excellent. When researching how much your vehicle is worth, consider visiting various sites to get a better idea of the average worth of your vehicle across different sites.

Part 3 of 4: Place an ad online

Materials Needed

  • Cell phone
  • Computer or laptop
  • Digital camera

Once you have taken care of all of the necessary paperwork, cleaned the car up, and have decided on a price, you are ready to list the pre-owned vehicle online. You can choose from a number of sites, such as Cars.com, eBay Motors, and Craigslist, among others.

Step 1: Determine your sales channel. Decide if you want to sell your car online or in person, or try both methods.

If selling your used car in person, park your car in front of your house or apartment with for sale signs displayed prominently on the front, back, and street-facing side of the car.

If selling online, try sites like Autotrader, eBay Motors, Cars.com, Craigslist . Some sites require a small fee to advertise, while others are free.

Step 2: Register an account. After determining which site you want to sell your pre-owned vehicle on, you need to register an account.

Image: Cars.com

Step 3: Enter your information. Provide your information, including picking the package.

Packages can range anywhere from a free ad to longer and more detailed ads that cost a small fee. Some ad packages include a free Carfax for the vehicle in question, with the more costly ads allowing additional photos and a longer run time before needing to be renewed.

Step 4: Enter any additional information. Provide information about your car, including car specifics, the VIN, mileage, and location.

You also need to enter your personal contact information, such as your email and phone number, if you want to allow potential buyers to contact you via phone.

  • Tip: When filling out the for sale signs, consider leaving your asking price off and only putting your phone number. This forces any potential buyers to contact you by phone, allowing you to make a sales pitch first before announcing the price.

good ad vs bad

Step 5: Add the photos. Use the photos you took after cleaning the vehicle.

When selecting photos, use those that show a clear view of the whole vehicle from a variety of angles, as well as good close-ups of the interior. If the vehicle has any damage, make sure to show photos of that as well.

  • Tip: Enticing photographs include a variety of angles of the front and rear of the vehicle, various shots of the dashboard, under the hood, and the front grille area.

Step 6: Complete your ad. When designing your ad, make it specific and include such information as price, make, and model, trim level, mileage, engine size, and color.

Make sure to point out special features, such as leather seats, sunroof, seat warmers, tinted windows, and vehicle's service history.

  • Tip: Take plenty of pictures of the vehicle you want to sell, from a variety of angles, inside and out. This allows potential buyers to get a good look at the vehicle and clearly see the color and other features you specify in the sales ad. You can learn more about advertising your car in our article, “How to Advertise Your Used Car.”

Part 4 of 4: Meeting with potential buyers

Step 1: Have answers ready. Potential buyers ask a lot of questions. Have answers ready to questions about:

  • Why you are selling your car
  • What specifications are featured
  • How many miles it has, how many miles you have personally put on it
  • Your overall experience with the vehicle

Step 2: The test drive. It's important to accompany interested buyers on test drives, including if they want to take the car to a mechanic to have the vehicle inspected.

Remember to verify the person’s identity by meeting them in a public place before allowing anyone to test drive your vehicle.

Also, ask them to bring along their driver's license, and make sure their ID matches up with who they say they are before proceeding any further.

  • Warning: When meeting a potential buyer, consider having a friend or relative go with you when you meet them. This can stop any potential problems before they start. If something does happen, you will have a reliable witness as to what transpired.

Step 3: Sign the bill of sale. When you are ready to finalize the sale, have the buyer sign the bill of sale.

Don't forget to fill out any details on the back of the title.

Remember to have the buyer give you the amount of money agreed upon before signing both the title and the bill of sale.

You can print a free template of a bill of sale from many credible online sources, including the DMV

  • Warning: Do not give the car to the buyer until the funds have cleared. A common scam is to send a cashier's check to the seller and then back out at the last minute, asking for the money back.

After the funds have cleared and the bill of sale is completed by both parties, you have successfully sold your used car!

When preparing your vehicle for sale, make sure it is in the best shape possible to maximize your profit. Our expert mechanics can advise you as to what repairs are necessary and then help you get them done effectively, giving you maximum value when selling your car. If you would like to have the car checked, have a pre-purchase car inspection so that both you and the new owner can be happy with the sale.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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