When you’re selling a car, there are many things you can do to make sure you get as much money from the sale as possible. Getting the best sales price can help you pay off your old loan and make a large down payment on a new car. Your options range from simply trading it in to a car dealership to selling it yourself to a private-party buyer. You’ll potentially get the most money from selling it yourself, but it takes more preparation and perseverance than trading it in. 


No matter how you sell your car, you’ll need to know how to negotiate, avoid intimidation, and be willing to walk away from a bad offer. 

Taking a step-by-step approach is the best way to get the most out of selling your current car.

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1) Decide How to Sell

There are several ways to sell a car. Each has its pluses, minuses, and potential to get you the most cash. 

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The easiest way to sell your car is simply to offer it as a trade-in to the dealership you’re buying your new car from. It won’t get you top dollar from your trade, but it may save you some sales tax. 

You have to be careful when you trade a car in, however. Many salespeople will want to mix the price of your new car, your trade-in value, and the cost of your financing into one confusing array of numbers that makes it easy for them to overcharge you. Instead, you want to treat each component as a separate transaction, and negotiate every facet. 

Dealers typically won’t offer you the best price for several reasons. First, they’ll be taking care of all of the paperwork for the trade-in sale and title transfer, saving you considerable time and hassle. Second, they’ll be refurbishing and advertising the car for resale, and both cost them money to do. 

Trading your car in at a dealership can save you some money in sales tax, however. In many states, you only have to pay the difference between the price of your new car and the trade-in value, rather than the entire purchase price of the car. If you have a high-value trade in, the amount of sales tax savings can be significant.

Selling It Yourself

Selling your car yourself can potentially yield the highest price, though it takes, by far, the most work. Not only do you have to spend time preparing the car for sale and gathering years worth of sales paperwork, you also have to meet with buyers and complete all of the sales documents. 

Many of the following steps in this guide are focused toward car owners who are selling their cars to private parties, though portions apply to dealer trades and instant cash offers. 

2) Get Ready to Sell Your Car

When you’re selling to a private party, a vehicle with a well-documented service and repair history can command a higher price than one with no paperwork. Gather as many of the service documents as you can find, so you’re prepared to show it to potential buyers. If the car has been repaired following a collision, proof of what was repaired and that it was fixed by a reputable shop can reduce buyer uncertainty. If you’re the first owner of the car, showing the initial purchase documents can get you a little more cash. One-owner cars are typically more valuable than those that have changed hands multiple times. 

Having all of the service records is not as critical with a trade-in or an instant cash offer, though having them handy will save you time if they ask to inspect them. 

A vehicle history report is like an X-ray into a car’s past. Buyers typically will purchase one from a company such as Carfax or Autocheck if they’re serious about buying your car. You can make it easier for them by getting one yourself, and providing them with a copy. A side benefit of getting one yourself is you’ll be able to see what’s in the report and be prepared to correct any errors and explain any negative information

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