How to sell a used car

By glblguy

I sold my 2001 Nissan over the weekend. I didn’t get what I was asking, but I got what I wanted and the buyer got a great little car. I tried a number of different marketing techniques and kept track of the inquiries I received so I could share what worked and what didn’t. Here are the steps I took took when selling my car and hopefully will help you with how to sell a used car.

Step 1 – Determine the market value

The first item on the agenda is determining what you car is worth. I use exclusively to appraise my cars, as I’ve found their website easy to use and incredibly accurate. Walk through their appraisal process and find the True Market Value (TMV) for your car. Be honest and don’t select outstanding condition when your car is really just clean or average.

Step 2 – Determine your asking price

Using the TMV determined from above, determine your asking price. I generally start $500 – $1000 above the TMV and begin reducing it after a week or two. The intent here is to give you some room to negociate and still get what you want for the car. Always leave room to negociate as it makes the buyer feel like they are getting a better deal. The other reason for asking a higher price initially is that someone may just take you up on the deal!

Take into consideration any recent market influences as well. Edmunds may not have adjust for these yet. Two recent ones are high demand for small and high gas mileage cars and very low demand for large SUVs. Both of these were to my advantage. I sold my Nissan for $300.00 above Edmunds TMV, and bought my new Expedition SUV for more than $1000.00 below Edmunds TMV.

Step 3 – Clean your car

One of the most important steps in selling your car is cleaning it. If you can afford it, I highly recommend having your car professionally detailed. This is going to cost you $100 – $350 but will be well worth it and will really help sell your car. Remember, selling your car is all about presentation, and when your car looks immaculate, it will sell and for a higher price.

If you can’t afford to have your car professionally detailed, read through my article on how to wash your car. Get it looking as clean as you can before anyone comes to see it. Also important is the remove any personal items from your car. You want people to be able to imagine them as the owner. When you have tons of personal items and “junk” in your car, that’s hard to do.

Once clean, take some really good photos of the outside and inside of your car.

Step 4 – Advertise

The old stand by form of advertising was the local newspaper. While this is still an effective channel, most people are searching for and buying cars online. Here are just a few ways to consider marketing your car:

Window Signs

One of the first things you should do is buy or print up a few signs to place in the windows of your car. I usually put up 3, one on each side and one in the back. While in my recent car sale, I didn’t get any calls from the window signs I have sold cars this way in the past.  Placing the signs in your window doesn’t do any good if people can’t see them, so when out and about, park your car in a highly visible place and when parking at home, park at the end of the driveway. I always recommend putting the price on your sign as well.


Craigslist is completely free and offers a tremendous amount of visibility for your car. This is the first place I go to list my cars. While I didn’t sell my car via Craigslist, I did sell my camper in 2007 to a buyer that found it on Craigslist.

Make sure you include the photos you took in the ad. Here’s what mine looked like:

Title: For Sale: 2001 Nissan Sentra GXE – 32MPG!

Black with Gray interior, 1.8L engine, 5-speed, pw, pdl, power mirrors, A/C, 80/20 split fold down rear seat, rear defroster, spoiler, 129k miles

VERY very reliable car, no leaks, runs great. Tires and brakes in good shape.

Only $4500.00 or best offer

I included 4 pictures, two of the outside and 2 of the inside. Out of 10 inquiries, 3 of them were from Craigslist. is one of the more expensive options, but it works. This is how I sold my car this go round. I used the $49.95 option which runs your car for 6 weeks and includes both a print ad in their weekly magazine and an online listing. Within 3 days of listing my car, I received 3 inquiries and sold my car. If you want to sell your car quickly, this is a an option I highly recommend and one that you will find is well worth your money.


An option that is becoming more an more popular these days is to list your car over on eBay motors. This will not only get the attention of local buyers, but national buyers as well. With eBay you can either choose to auction your car (you can set a minimum bid) or use a buy it now option where you can set a fixed “buy it now” price.

I didn’t list my car on eBay, but have talked with a few friends that have had great luck using eBay.

Local newspaper

As I mentioned earlier, this option is the old stand-by. I have used this option with some success in the past, I’m not confident it’s worth the money anymore. Newspaper as in my opinion are a bit pricey and not really all that effective, especially when most buys are looking online.

Employer Bulletin Board

The company where I work as an employee bulletin board intended for employees that want to sell or buy something. I listed my car out on our bulletin board along with a few pictures. Out of the 10 inquiries I received, 4 of them were from our companies bulletin board. While I didn’t sell it using this option, I did get lots of calls and lookers.

This is a great free option and one that I found to be very effective. Your company doesn’t have one? Ask for your friends and neighbors if their employer does and see if they will post a listing for you.

Step 5 -Show your car

Showing your car is the most important step in selling it. If I can offer one tip that overpowers all others it’s: Be honest. Don’t try to hide anything as it will really burn you if the potential buyer finds out. Answer all questions openly and honestly.

Buyers will want to test drive the car, and frankly you should encourage them to do so, especially if your car runs and drives good. Offer to go with them, but don’t make that a requirement. Some buyers want the company, others do not. Many buyers will not be familiar with the area you live in, so offer a good route to them.

Smart buyers will want to have the car checked out my a mechanic. Allow them to do this as this is a very reasonable request.

Step 6 – Negotiations

Most buyers will want to negotiate. Unless you’ve advertised a firm or non-negotiable price (which I never recommend doing) be prepared to negotiate. Put some thought up front into what your bottom line price will be and how you will respond to various offers. This will make the process less stressful when negotiating time arrives.

Many people will just straight out ask what you best price is. While some here may disagree, I recommend being honest and just giving it to them. I did this when I sold my car and got what I wanted, $3500.00

Step 7 – Finalizing the deal

Once you have agreed on a price, it’s time to finalize the deal and give them the keys. The first thing you should do is write up a simple bill of sale. This should include the details of the transaction including date, sale price, VIN number, and make and model of the car. Both buyer and seller should sign it. The bill of sale should also include a mileage disclosure statement declaring the amount of miles on the car at the time of sale. Again, signed by both buyer and seller.

Signing over the title will depend on which state you live in, so make sure you read up on this process before making the sale.

When taking payment for the car accept only cash or a certified check. If the buyer need a day or two to get the funds, take at least a 10% down payment to hold the car.

Finally, remove any personal items still in the car, round up your various keys and key fobs and hand them over to the seller. Don’t forget to remove your plate and call your insurance company to cancel your insurance!

Photo by: dave_7

18 Responses (including trackbacks) to “How to sell a used car”

  1. Ryan McLean Says:

    There is a great service where you just type in the type of car you have and the year model and it will tell you an average sales price for your car. Unsure where it is on the net, but a little googling would be able to tell you.
    Great post with some really useful information. Don’t think I am selling a car for a little while but I will remember this if I ever need to.

  2. ChristianPF Says:

    great post, I am with you on the upfront part of negotiating…

    also, if anyone is interested here is a bill of sale template that can be used…

  3. Mo Money Says:

    This is a good list. Selling your car yourself is the way to get the most money from a car. Trading in a car is not usually a good way to go. It does as you pointed out take some time and energy, but is usually fruitful.

  4. Connie Brooks Says:

    Heh. We normally drive our cars to death and then donate them. I guess I never really thought about selling them. Thanks for the guide. I’m going to talk to my husband about this one before we get rid of our next car.

  5. Laura Says:

    I keep my car until they die or are wrecked, but I’m thinking of selling this car when I finish payments. It’s valued over $5000 and I would get a $2000 car and use the rest to knock out some debt. We’ll see how it goes. Great post!

  6. Bettsi Says:

    I’m thinking of selling my 2001 Town and Country in order to get rid of some of my debt too. Another benefit that I am thinking of is a decrease in my insurance needs. Thanks for the tips.

    P.S. I haven’t been there personally, but also offers listing service and I think it’s free.

  7. "Cents"able Momma Says:

    Great article. We sold my husband’s car a couple of months ago using Craigslist. We got a great price for it within a couple of days with no listing fees…definitely the way to go at first before you go the more expensive routes.

  8. No Debt Plan Says:

    I sold my car in a very similar way. Parked it out front of a very busy road with signs in it. Let the guy test drive it. Posted on Craigslist.

    I also bought my currnet car on Craigslist. It was a steal of a deal (about $4,000 less than what the dealer would charge — I asked the dealer because I worked in the car rental industry at the time.)

  9. Savings Toolbox Says:

    really helpful article.

    I think a lot of people think only of a trade-in and do not realize that they can get so much more for their car on their own with a little effort. Kudos for your tips including a lot of alternative ideas for getting the word out about your car for sale.

    Good job to ChristianPF for the bill of sale template too. I think there are also a lot of folks afraid to sell on their own because of the various rules and regulations involved. It’s really not as complicated as it seems and you are much more likely to get what your car is worth by selling it on your own.

  10. lookout Says:

    well y to put your car in such expensive sites or wtever , you can post ur car for free with photos and all it’s details and it works, just try websites like at least it worked with me.

  11. Cheap Car Leasing Says:

    Its definetly worthwhile trying to sell your car yourself, why let a main dealer make a fortune from it? By selling your own vehicle you are reducing the costs of a replacement!