Do You want to sell a car?
If you plan to sell a car, find out how to get top dollar by using these steps for success.
Learn the different ways to sell a car, how to prepare your vehicle for sale, and get tips on pricing your vehicle, selling a car safely, creating car ads, negotiating a price, paperwork, and more.
Once equipped with these and other tools, you’ll be ready to sell your used car and get the most out of the deal you choose.
Steps for Selling a Car:
- Different Ways to Sell a Car
- Documents to Gather to Sell Your Car
- How to Prepare Your Car to Sell
- How to Choose the Right Sales Price
- Advertising Tips and Tricks
- Selling a Car Safety Tips
- What to Know about Pre-Sale Inspections
- Tips for Price Negotiations
- Paperwork Checklist
- Payment Options
When putting your car on the market, you’ll want to decide whether to trade it in at a dealership, sell it yourself, or get an instant cash offer. The value of your car will vary depending on which method you use. There are pros and cons to each option, such as the speed of sale, costs, and taxes.
Why Trade in Your Car?
- Fast and convenient
- No costs for listing and selling
- No texts, emails, or personal calls
- Potential to reduce sales tax on your new car
Why Sell it Yourself?
- Negotiate directly with buyers
- Get paid more for your vehicle
- Save money because no dealer overhead costs
Why Use Instant Cash Offer?
- Quick and easy
- Can be redeemed immediately at a participating local dealer
- No obligations
To get a sense of what you can expect from any of these methods, compare the Kelley Blue Book Private Party Value and Trade-in Value. Then check out the Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer. The difference could also be the deciding factor.
The selling process begins with collecting your car’s paperwork. Do not overlook this crucial step. It’s important to tackle this before you offer to sell your car. You’ll be glad you did.
What Documents Do I Need?
- Car title. Be sure to keep the car title handy but in a safe place for selling the vehicle.
- Service records. These days, regular oil changes signal good upkeep to any potential buyer that the car comes well cared for. These will be great to show any interested buyer. No receipts? Check with your dealer, regular mechanic, or oil change center and ask for a statement that summarizes your visits. Having this information reassures a buyer that the car you’re selling is in good shape. These documents can help you obtain or negotiate a higher price whether selling it to an individual or a dealer.
- Original sales paperwork. While you may already know the basics (year, make, model, and current mileage), you’ll need to know your car’s trim level, such as a 2018 Honda Accord may be an Accord EX-L, which may include optional high-selling features such as keyless entry, leather seats, or a head-up display. Options can bump up your car’s resale value, so be sure you have a complete list. If you want to see if you missed anything, check your original sales documents or the window sticker.
- Vehicle history report. If your vehicle was in an accident, be prepared to answer any questions about it. It can be helpful to pull a vehicle history accident report and know what it says.
A broken door lock lever, a cracked windshield, the clattering of a noisy exhaust pipe — it’s in your best interest to fix these things before putting your vehicle on the market.
You’ll want to address the bigger mechanical issues unless you plan on selling your vehicle “as is” at a reduced price.
Consider getting your car professionally detailed, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s just one more reassurance for potential buyers that they’re stepping into a clean car. Cleaning your car professionally also helps you increase the sales value when selling the car.
Basic detailing can cost hundreds of dollars, depending on the size and condition of your car and where you live. So be sure to shop around for a price and know what you’re getting.
If detailing costs are out of financial reach, you can always do the detailing yourself.
Interior Tips to Sell a Car
- Remove all personal items and debris
- Shampoo carpets
- Clean dashboard, seats, mirrors, and otherwise put a shine on all surface areas
Exterior Tips to Sell a Car
- Remove all stickers and magnets
- Repair dents, dings, and scratches
- Replace any burned-out lights
- Fix windshield chips and cracks
- Check the brakes and consider replacing them if they’re worn down
- Inspect your tires and determine if replacing is needed
You may think your car drives and shines like new, but its value will depend on its actual condition. It’s important to be knowledgeable and realistic about the sales price when determining how to sell a car.
Some owners tend to overestimate the value of their car, which can lead to unrealistic expectations. If you ultimately set your asking price too high, you’ll probably have more trouble selling it.
Tools for Setting the Asking Price
- Consider getting a mechanic’s assessment. The mechanic can identify problems with the engine, plus things you may overlook, like a broken taillight or features you don’t use. Not only will this help you when setting the price to sell your vehicle. (See section — What to Know about Pre-Sale Inspections).
- Use valuation tools. Kelley Blue Book’s valuation tools will help you get a quick, easy, and accurate value for your car or truck.
- Peruse local listings. Check local listings, including Autotrader, to see what other similar vehicles — with similar equipment and options — are selling for in your area.
- Take the Kelley Blue Book Condition Quiz. This tool helps you determine your car’s true condition.
Keep in mind that a larger engine and a higher power rating will be worth more when gas prices are low but can result in a sale price reduction if the used car market favors fuel efficiency.
Options like leather seats (assuming they’re in good condition), navigation, and alloy wheels can be used as selling points to enhance a vehicle’s value. Kelly Blue Book has provisions to include those extras in calculating an accurate value.
More Tips to Consider
When to Price Your Car Higher
- Warranty. You’ll get more money for your vehicle if it’s under an extended warranty (bumper-to-bumper or powertrain), provided the warranty is transferable.
- Regular maintenance. If you’ve kept up with regular maintenance, including if you recently completed major scheduled maintenance, such as a 60,000-mile service, it adds to the bottom line of the sales price.
- New tires or brakes. You can add to the sales price if you’ve purchased a new set of tires or installed new brakes.
When to Price Your Car Lower
- Quick sale. If you want to sell your car quickly, lowering the price helps you get there faster.
- Needs maintenance. If the vehicle needs a major scheduled service, new tires, or brakes, that will lower the price.
- Accident(s). Whether a fender bender or a major accident, these mishaps will lower your sales price.
Once you’ve decided to sell your car privately, it’s time to get the word out to the largest audience possible and sell a car online.
Websites like Kelly Blue Book and Autotrader offer information on how to sell a car online and advertise classifieds services that put your car in front of thousands of active shoppers in your area in a matter of minutes. The car ads also run nationally for those hard-to-find vehicles. With a detailed description and several good photos, you can stand out to the buyers who are interested in your car.
Selling your car online also allows you to field questions first, which will help you weed out any unlikely buyers and limit your time showing the car in person.
What to Include in a Car Advertisement
- Start with a brief description. Highlight your car’s most in-demand features, such as low mileage, high MPG, any remaining warranties, and special features.
- Mention why you’re selling the car. Buyers want to know this most of all, so deal with it up front.
- List the vehicle’s condition. Be honest about the vehicle’s condition and list the vehicle’s VIN number to reassure buyers that you’re not hiding anything.
- State your asking price and negotiating terms. Begin by posting your car’s Blue Book® Value followed by your asking price, then give an explanation why you’re asking more or less than the Blue Book® Value. State whether the price is “firm,” “negotiable” or “best offer” – as this will help you target buyers.
- Define acceptable payment forms. Include information about the types of payment you can accept, including touchless online payments, certified checks, or money orders.
- Include lots of photos. Buyers love to feel like they’re inside the car, so include several exterior angles and close-ups of the interior, dash, and engine.
Learn about posting ads and costs now on Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader.
When you sell a car to a private party, you’ll want to keep these safety tips in mind to ensure a positive outcome for everyone involved. By following these tips you’ll be better prepared to make decisions along the way as you navigate the sales process to a private party.
Expert Strategies for Safe Transactions
- Meet in a safe area. Meet potential buyers in safe areas, such as well-trafficked retail or restaurant parking lots with security cameras. Local police department “online safe zones” can also be an option.
- Bring a friend. Always bring someone with you for a test drive or even the sale of your car.
- Tap into a verifiable escrow service. For a fee, an escrow service takes a buyer’s payment until the deal is done. This type of third-party service protects both parties from fraud. If the buyer suggests one, check the source first before agreeing to anything and determine who pays the fees. Beware of fake escrow services that claim affiliation with KBB.com and TRUSTe. KBB.com does not endorse any escrow services, and TRUSTe does not operate an escrow service.
- Choose only legitimate forms of payment. Cash is king but not so much for large transactions. Stick to online forms of payment if possible or use cashier’s checks from reputable banks or credit unions.
Create a Paper Trail
When selling through a dealership, the paperwork is handled for you. When you sell to an individual, you need to keep a paper trail.
- Title transfer: Each state has different requirements when transferring a vehicle title. However, most states do require that both the seller and the buyer fill out paperwork to ensure the transfer is legal. Typically, the seller signs and dates the back of the existing title, adds the sale price and the exact odometer reading before handing the keys to the vehicle over to the buyer. Do not round up on your odometer reading. Keep it exact. Once you let the buyer drive away, you do not want to be legally held responsible for anything. TIP: Make a copy of both sides of the signed title for your records. Use a smart device to take photos if you have one on hand.
Ways to Protect Personal Information
Prior to handing over any service records to a potential buyer, be sure to block out any personal information, including your phone number, credit card numbers, or any other sensitive and personal information.
If you originally bought the car from a dealer, remove any contract or completed credit application from your glove compartment or owner’s manual. You wouldn’t want this information to fall into the wrong hands as it may contain your social security number and any previous addresses.
How to Create a Safe Test Drive for Both Parties
- Plan ahead. Discuss with the potential buyer their plans and yours and be honest about your limitations and don’t be afraid to ask about theirs. When both parties are comfortable, it paves the way for a successful sale. It takes away the guesswork.
- Test drive with others present. When a potential buyer wants to take a test drive, always accompany the person – regardless of what kind of collateral they offer. Ask a friend or family member to join you. The potential buyer may also want to bring someone else along. Only take the test drive if you’re comfortable. Plan a test drive that’s short and sticks to populated areas. Most buyers don’t expect a long test drive. If your buyer wants more time, let the person ask you for it. TIP: Due to COVID-19, discuss comfort levels and make arrangements for the process and procedures before the in-person test drive to ensure the health and safety of both parties.
- Check your insurance for coverage of other drivers. Make sure your auto insurance covers any test drive and ask to see the potential buyer’s driver’s license before handing over your keys. Take a picture of the license, just in case anything happens.
- Refuse unusual requests. If you feel uncomfortable, just say no and come up with alternatives. For example, never drive the would-be buyer to another location. Often, such a request is framed in terms of getting the money or arranging a loan to finish the sale. Instead, tell the buyer to make their own arrangements, leave a deposit and get back in touch when they’re ready to take a test drive or complete the sale.
Buyers often ask for pre-sale inspections. A pre-sale inspection is worth the investment because it’s just one more tool you can use to put buyers at ease.
Buyers often want their mechanic to take a look under the hood. Getting a pre-sale inspection of your vehicle before you put it up for sale will equip you with information that a buyer will find if they do their own inspection. It may also head off a buyer’s need to get their own inspection.
If the buyer still insists on using their own mechanic, meet the person only at reputable businesses, and drive separately.
The benefit of using the instant cash offer or selling your car to a dealer is that these methods can take price haggling out of the equation. When selling your vehicle to a private owner, let the buyer take the lead in any negotiations. Ideally, you’ve given yourself some padding on your asking price, so the buyer can either accept the price or counteroffer.
- Determine your lowest acceptable offer. Know your lowest acceptable offer beforehand and take into consideration the number of possible buyers you have in hand. The art of negotiation involves feeling confident that other buyers may be out there if you can’t agree on a price. Due to the microchip shortage, more buyers may be willing to pay a higher price, so bear that in mind.
- Be realistic. If a buyer offers below your lowest acceptable sales price, be prepared to move on. Suggest that they contact you if they reconsider. But if the buyer makes a reasonable offer, be prepared to say yes.
- Bring paperwork just in case. Be prepared to sell your car on the spot if the buyer wants to complete the sale. Remember to bring your car title and all the collected paperwork to the meeting but keep it in a safe place until decision time.
When the buyer decides that your car is the one for them, and you’ve agreed on a sales price, the smartest next step is to determine which payment option works best. For example, touchless online payments, such as Zelle or PayPal, or cashier’s checks, are safe ways to collect payment.
Cashier’s checks get drawn directly from a bank and not someone’s account. All these payment options keep your bank information hidden and your personal information safe as the buyer pays you directly for the car.
Any of these methods will help protect a seller against fraud.
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Car Maintenance Checklist: 9 Essential Steps That Anyone Can Do
Nobody likes reaching into their pocket to pay the mechanic. That’s why it’s important to take preventative measures with regular DIY maintenance, especially if you drive a vehicle that is considered “old” by today’s standards. If you want to save money while taking extra-special care of your daily driver, our car maintenance checklist will help ensure all your bases are covered when it’s time to pop the hood and kick the tires.
Beyond longevity, keeping any vehicle in good shape with standard maintenance procedures also increases safety. When a car is running smoothly and performing optimally, not only is there less strain on your car engine and other components, your driving ability won’t be impeded by a compromised vehicle.
Staying on top of a car maintenance checklist won’t singularly avoid potential collisions or accidents, but a highly functional vehicle can help save you on the road and in the pocketbook. With that in mind, here are some DIY vehicle maintenance tasks that you can do easily by yourself.
The first thing you need to do is find your owner’s manual…(hint: it’s in the glove box.)
Get familiar with your owner’s manual
Many drivers tend to ignore their owner’s manual, but think of it this way: If you bought a new tech gadget, would you just start using it without reading any of the instructions? That mindset also applies to a car.
Every car comes with an owner’s manual. This manual covers all the car’s features and components under the hood and inside the cabin. You can make a note of the areas and details you want to learn about as you go through this list.
The manual holds important information that includes a suggested maintenance schedule covering all the parts and fluids the car needs regularly replaced. It can range from how often to change your oil, and when is the best time to swap out filters or belts. In the case of motor oil, it will note which type it runs on, so you know what to look for when it’s time for a change.
Your owner’s manual will also outline all safety measures to take as you go through your car tune up checklist, so make sure you study it closely for your own safety.
A quick 60-second inspection can reveal a lot
Some parts of a car are highly visible so you know when something’s up. For example, make sure to check that all lights work every so often. Headlights, taillights, and turn signal lights are important to driver safety and are required to be in working order by law. You should also check for rust on the body, undercarriage, and under the hood. Rust can spread and do serious damage if left untreated.
Under the hood, you can also do a quick car battery check.
With the car battery, you’re looking for any frayed cables, cracks in the casing, corrosion, dirt, and other signs of damage.
You can also do a quick check of various fluids as well, especially oil and washer fluid, which are very accessible and easy to inspect. Anytime you see a leak, it’s important to get it checked out right away to mitigate any further damage and costly repairs.
But as important as routine 1-minute inspections are, you’ll need to dive a bit deeper from time to time to ensure your car stays in perfect running order. This checklist covers:
- Engine oil
- Coolant, antifreeze, steering, and transmission fluids
- Air and cabin filters
- Spark plugs
- Windshield wipers
- Check Engine light
1. Check the engine oil in your car
Oil change businesses will place stickers on the windshield with a future odometer reading as the recommended point for when you should return to change it again. Not every vehicle is the same—nor is every engine—so the number provided may not necessarily jive with the automaker’s suggested threshold.
Though man-made, synthetic oil lasts longer and is considered cleaner and more efficient than regular oil or synthetic blends. That usually means you can accumulate more kilometres before you need to change it. Your owner’s manual should offer some guidance on engine’s viscosity and the average mileage per oil change. Compare that figure to an oil changer’s estimate, and you will have a general idea on when to return.
You can always check oil levels by using the dipstick, or in some newer vehicles, an electronic gauge. If the oil is really dark or looks muddy in texture, it’s time for a change. Good engine oil is somewhat translucent with a smoother texture to it.
2. Check the other fluids in your car
Cars run on other fluids too, and you can manually check them yourself. The easiest is washer fluid, which can quickly run out in the winter, and is also very easy to refill when you’re running low.
Engine coolant, antifreeze, and steering fluid all come with dipsticks or gauges, making it easy to check fluid levels at a glance. Your owner’s manual may not specify how to check or refill them, but you can familiarize yourself with where they are and have a look.
Manuals often won’t mention transmission fluid, as there is no universal mileage figure on when to change it, so it’s best to check with the manufacturer to get a recommendation.
Coolant and antifreeze have distinct drains, though topping up and replacing/refilling it are two distinctly different tasks. If you are running low, be it a leak or something else, topping up is easy. If it’s time to flush or drain the fluids, then there is more work required to get there.
3. Checking the battery
Car batteries are integral to running a healthy vehicle, and when following the right steps, are relatively straightforward to test or replace. You can get more detailed information on how to manage your car battery with our comprehensive guide.
4. Check, rotate, and change your tires
Tire pressure always requires some inspection, so a simple walkaround can provide clues on whether any of the four tires are lower than they should be. Check the treads and make sure they aren’t too worn. The “Toonie Test” is a great trick to help you know if new tires are needed:
Image Credit: Alberta Motor Association
It’s always a good idea to have a tire pressure gauge in the car because it’s a low-tech way to know how much air is actually inside each one. There’s plenty to learn about tire maintenance to maximize mileage and ensure safety on Canada’s tough road conditions.
5. Air and cabin filters
There are two key filters that you shouldn’t ignore because they protect the engine and affect the air quality in the cabin. The engine air filter keeps dirt, debris, and other contaminants from getting in. That also includes dust or other particles going from the cabin into the engine as well.
The cabin filter blocks pollutants that could potentially flow through the car’s HVAC system. Dust, smog, pollen, and mold spores, among others, are prevented from contaminating the air inside. To keep that up, you will need to replace the cabin filter as well.
While the cabin filter is usually easy to access, the air filter can vary, depending on the make and model you’re driving. Clogged filters make the engine work harder to push air through, thereby affecting performance and fuel efficiency. Automakers may have recommended maintenance timeframes based on mileage in the manual, or may not mention it at all. Either way, they all offer some guidance on when is the right time.
You can also use your own eyes and nose to interpret how clogged or dirty the filters are. An odd or musty odour in the cabin, especially when heat or AC is on, could indicate the filter is in bad shape. When inspecting an engine air filter, try raising it toward a source of light. The rule of thumb is if you can’t see any light pass through, it’s time to replace it.
6. Spark plugs
Spark plugs play an important role in engine efficiency, and they can be susceptible to buildup that ultimately affects overall performance. Your owner’s manual usually tells you how often spark plugs will need to be replaced, but your spark plug may need to be replaced sooner if:
- Your car struggles to accelerate.
- You have trouble starting the engine or hear weird “popping” misfire sounds.
- You notice a worsening fuel economy.
Copper spark plugs have a longer centre electrode than iridium ones do. Iridium plugs are more expensive but last longer and offer a better spark. When you check your spark plugs (your owner’s manual will tell you where they’re located under the hood) the electrode and tip shouldn’t be black from engine crud. If it is, you need to either clean it or replace it.
New spark plug compared with a fouled spark plug (Photo Credit: Car From Japan)
7. Looking at the belts
Timing and serpentine belts are the most common, and sooner or later, you will have to replace them. Manufacturers have different recommendations on when you should do that, so there isn’t a universal number to stick to for every vehicle. These aren’t easy to replace outside of a garage, so is better left to a mechanic to handle.
However, you can check them for some basic telltale signs. Cracking, fraying, and loosening tension are warning signs of a belt on its way out. Know what to look for and you can get a good idea when it’s time to swap it for a new one.
8. Replacing windshield wipers blades
Windshield wipers can take a real beating, especially in Canadian weather, so it’s important to stay on top of their performance. Once you notice leftover water streaking to the windshield after every swipe, it may be time to swap them out for new ones. You can always try wiping down the rubber with a washcloth to see if that improves performance.
Wipers have standardized lengths and sizes, so it depends on what your car supports. Sometimes, the left and right ones will be different lengths. They are also made up of two parts—the metal arm and the blade with the rubber attached—so you may only need to replace the rubber and not the arm.
9. What to do when the check engine light comes on
The check engine light is always a little jarring when you see it pop up because it doesn’t give you any context beyond that. What does that little light mean? It could mean anything! Sometimes it’s nothing serious. Sometimes it is. Thankfully, there are ways to investigate and figure it out.
Time for a new car?
If you find that regular car maintenance is becoming more constant, it might be time to trade up for something that’s a little easier to maintain.
Canada Drives makes it easy to trade in your old car for something you can rely on.
See what you’re eligible for with a quick pre-approval, or dive right in and search hundreds of certified cars, trucks, and SUVs today.