Should You Sell Your Car Yourself?

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Thinking about selling your car? If so, you’ll likely want to do whatever you can to get the most bang for your buck (or your Buick, for that matter). Well, there’s an easy way to maximize your profit: Sell the car yourself.

If that sounds like a hassle, don’t worry. Sure, closing a deal will require a little more effort than placing a “For Sale” sign in your car’s window (though that won’t hurt!). But like many other things in life, the Internet has made selling your car much easier and more efficient. Sites like CarGurus not only help you determine whether it makes sense to sell your own car, but they also let you list your vehicle for sale and connect you with interested buyers—all with a few taps on a keyboard.

Before selling your car, you should take a few steps to determine if this option makes sense for you, personally and financially. If it does and you’re willing to put in a little work and do a little math, you could make more money selling the car privately than you would trading it in to a dealership.

Do a Little Research

If you’re thinking of selling your car yourself, your first step is to determine its value. You might already have a good idea of this, based on when you purchased the car, its condition, and listings for similar cars in your area. However, there’s a simple, fast way to tell exactly how much you can get for your car.

Put the make, model, and other determining factors (e.g., mileage) of your current car into CarGurus’ Car Values page, and you’ll instantly see estimates as to what you would have to pay to buy that car as well as how much you should get by selling it or trading it in. Using the site’s Used Cars section, you can also see the prices for comparable cars. This information can give you a general price range to work with when setting your price.

It also wouldn’t hurt to visit a dealership and ask how much it would pay for your car. To maximize this number, choose a dealership that sells used cars and your brand of vehicle. That may make it more interested in purchasing a used model from your manufacturer and get you a better offer as a result. Its number may be below the trade-in market value you found online, but they’ll probably make their price sound like a deal anyway. They are salespeople, after all. Just remember, the power in this dynamic is yours. You can always walk away.

Doing this research will help you arrive at a price in your head that you’ll feel is fair for your car. This is important. Once you set a price in your mind, be ready to accept it. A negotiation trap that many fall into is continually asking for more. If you’ve done your research and someone hits your number, take it and be happy—don’t wonder whether you could have gotten more. Go to the dealership with your walk-away price in mind and see if they’ll meet it. If so, be ready to accept.

Know Your Goal

After determining how much you’re likely to get for your car as a trade-in or by selling it yourself, your decision largely comes down to a simple math problem: How big is the difference between those two numbers? If it’s substantial, it probably makes sense for you to at least try to spend some time, energy, and money to sell your car yourself.

Of course, that difference shouldn’t be the only thing driving your decision. Another should be how you plan to use the money from your car’s sale. Often, people use these proceeds as a down payment for a new car. Will you need to do this? If so, can you live without a car for the time between selling your car privately and purchasing a new one? Depending on how you commute to work, maybe not. And if that’s the case, you may need to be okay taking less money for your car by trading it in at a dealership to cover your down payment.

Alternatively, if you sell your car after buying a new one, you may have two cars for a while. That could mean having two car payments for a while as well. Will you be able to afford both? For how long? Also, if you don’t own your car outright, how much will it cost you to pay off that loan? You won’t want to sell your car for less than that amount and risk owing even more.

Calculate All Costs

If you’re worried about accepting an offer that sounds too low, keep in mind all the costs you may have to pay to sell your car. Ultimately, a low price from a dealer might actually equal a higher price from a private buyer down the line. You’ll just have to do some more quick math to figure it out (we warned you about the math).

To sell your car on your own, you’ll need to invest additional money to get the largest possible profit. That doesn’t mean adding new rims or upgrading your stereo system, but you probably should consider a professional wash and wax—perhaps more than one. This is especially true if you plan to keep driving your car while in the process of selling it. You’ll want to keep that car shiny and beautiful over the entire sales period. Don’t forget you’ll probably have to pay for an extra tank of gas for test drives as well.

If you choose to list your car only on CarGurus, you won’t need to worry about spending money on advertising—posting an online ad here is free. To speed up a sale, however, some people prefer to list their car in as many sources as possible. If you place a classified ad in a local newspaper or magazine, you’ll have to pay for it. If you want to list your car on a site like eBay Motors, for instance, you’ll pay not only to post the vehicle, but also to cover additional fees for promoting your car and other services.

Find Your Comfort Level

In addition to monetary costs, intangible factors come into play when selling your car privately. You’ll have to set aside time to field phone calls and answer emails from interested individuals as well as to meet with potential buyers to show off the car and arrange test drives.

With a purchase this expensive, expect people to haggle over the price with you. If you plan to sell your car yourself, make sure you feel comfortable not only negotiating like a salesperson but also dealing with people in general. Test drives and financial dealings with random individuals could lead to some interesting experiences at best and some unsavory situations at worst.

It’s important to protect yourself when selling a car, but you can do a few things proactively to help with this. Ask for a potential buyer’s full name and clearly define your payment terms in advance of meeting with them. You may not want to accept personal checks or money orders, for instance, as they have a higher likelihood of being fraudulent. It also never hurts to have a second person you know join you for any meetings with buyers.

There are many pros and cons to selling a car yourself. In the end, add together all the physical costs and fees, adjust for your level of comfort, and subtract this from the market value you determined previously. If the numbers turn out in your favor, take the plunge—clean up your car and visit our Sell My Car page.

And don’t forget to throw that trusty “For Sale” in the window, too.

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