Selling Your Car Without Selling Your Soul

A very used car

What makes people crazier—negotiating a new-car purchase with a dealer, or selling their present car and negotiating with strangers? I think it’s a toss-up, though women tend to hate the latter more than men.

It’s fairly common knowledge that you will get a lot better price if you sell your car privately rather than trading it in, so let’s lay out the steps for doing that and, maybe, remove some of the anxiety.

The most important thing you can do is, first, determine a fair market value for your car. Second, once you have that, try to get yourself in what we’ll call the seller’s frame of mind.

Last month Guru tgriffith made some good points about selling to a dealer. To price your car, you should check Kelley Blue Book, NADA, and the CarGurus DealFinder. Remember, since you’re going to sell privately, you won’t be involved with wholesale prices and the perplexing ways in which some dealers price cars for trade-in. That should make you feel better!

Half price!Despite what some have argued, cars are not commodities. Yours is not only special to you in terms of usage, trim, and history, it is an important part of your life. But the act of selling forces you to detach, emotionally and literally, from something you may have come to love—or detest.

This is a good thing! In pricing your car, you need to be as objective as you can, because you’re entering a marketplace where value is relative to what the buyer will pay, not what you may want for your car. Add 10 percent to your price to give yourself negotiating room. If you are “upside down” (you owe more than you can get for the car), you’ll have to pay the bank the difference—or postpone selling the car.

The objective is first to find prospects, then willing buyers, and then negotiate your best price. To make the sale, you have to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. Here are the (somewhat simplified) steps to get you there:

1. Appearance: Unless your car is a real dog, spend the $75-100 to get it professionally detailed. Everything should be in good working order. Change the oil.

2. Documentation: Get a proper vehicle history report from AutoCheck or CARFAX. As one useful website puts it, this report can eliminate the buyer’s number-one reason not to buy your car.

3. Listings: List the car on all the major car-trading websites, including ours. You want maximum exposure at minimum cost. Newspaper listings are expensive and a waste of time.

4. Negotiate: Never put “Or Best Offer” (OBO) in your ad. Since you now know the approximate market value of your car, don’t succumb to the nice guy who offers you $1,000 less. Qualify your buyer. Be honest about any problems, and don’t hesitate to point up the positive features of your car. Let a bona fide mechanic inspect the car. And don’t permit yourself to get intimidated or bullied, ever!

Understanding the process of selling is at least one step toward controlling it. We’ll talk about closing the sale and getting your money in another post.

We’d like to know how you feel (or would feel) about selling your car. Anxious, eager, relieved—or what?


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