How to Sell a Used Car

Buying a new or newer car leaves one with the task of disposing of the vehicle being replaced. Depending on the condition, it may be junked, donated to a charity, traded in for credit towards the replacement vehicle, or sold privately.

Any trade in will only be at wholesale value as the firm accepting the trade will anticipate making a resale profit. Any “allowance” above the wholesale value of the trade will be a discount from the asking price. Representative used car prices can be determined by examining local newspaper ads and consulting the NADA guide on the internet.

Maximizing the number of dollars to be realized from the vehicle to be sold can be had by selling it privately. Don’t expect to get top bucks, not being a dealer who offers a warranty, and the sales price should be expected to be less than what one would pay at a dealer.

Private sales carry no warranty, but vehicles with undisclosed known flaws may create problems, possibly even legal consequences. Private sales are “as-is, where-is” and a legitimate problem with a car, like a wheel bearing disintegrating three weeks after the sale should not prompt the seller to offer compensation to the buyer. Such action will prompt the buyer to anticipate a more or less permanent warranty.

Selling a car on your own entails more than just placing an ad in the paper. Thorough cleanup is in order, this means more than just emptying the ash trays and sweeping stale French fries from beneath the seats and removing the fuzzy dice from the rear view mirror. Removing bumper stickers is a good idea. Vacuuming the carpets, (shampooing the carpets if dirty), clearing accumulated junk out of the trunk and washing the car should be done. A few minutes applying tire dressing (from the auto supply store) pays big dividends.

A new buyer is more likely to be receptive to a car which needs little or no clean up. A vehicle worth a couple of thousand dollars might well benefit from a session with a professional auto detailer. An investment of a hundred or so dollars may allow the seller to get several hundreds more upon sale.

The general perception is that a good looking car has been well maintained. Having the oil changed and a service sticker applied with the mileage also adds to the fact that a car has been well maintained.

If a copy of the owner’s manual accompanies the car, so much the better. Sometimes one can be found on the internet for a few dollars, it could add substantially to the value.

Repairable damage should be attended to. I once sold a car owned by my wife, and its plastic grille had been damaged. A used replacement grille was found and installed, but it was from a different model year. This was carefully explained to the buyer and effort was made to be sure they understood this was only a cosmetic concern.

When you sell a used car, be prepared to provide more than a single key. A buyer should anticipate a couple of keys, so if necessary, have an extra key made.

The automobile title should be readily available for inspection by any potential buyer. Do you even know where your title is? A buyer will want to determine if the title shows any liens as it will be necessary for him/her to take legal possession of the car. If there is a lien, accommodation must be made to pay off and clear the lien to convey an unencumbered title.

When selling a used car, if possible, accompany the buyer to the DMV to be assured the buyer has transferred title. Failure to do so could result in legal complications if the title has been never transferred and the buyer gets in an accident or encounters some other unusual circumstance. It’s an ideal situation if the title transfer takes place once the seller has been paid, and before the vehicle leaves the seller’s location. Under no circumstances should the seller allow the buyer to “borrow” his license plates “just to drive it home.” The car should be registered and driven or towed or removed on a flat bed.

Payment for a car from a private seller should be only by cash or certified bank check. Any other arrangement is extremely risky.

Properly conducted, the private sale of a used car can reap more dollars than any other means of disposal, but the process entails a little effort to make sure things go smoothly.

Steve Sevits spent a portion of his career as a retail dealership automobile salesman for one of the Big Three automobile manufacturers.

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