How to Sell a Car

Successfully selling a car involves thorough market research, effective advertising, fair pricing and covering yourself legally. While you might be in a hurry to quickly get your car off your hands, practicing patience will go a long way to ensuring a successful sale and releasing you from further liability for the car.

Pinning Down The Price

Determining the right price for your car includes studying many facets of the auto market. These include determining demand, analyzing current pricing guidelines and studying up on your competition. Use your intuition, and pricing becomes a delicate balance of extracting data and listening to your gut.

Deciphering Demand

The demand for your car depends on the type of car you have and environmental influences. According to CarsDirect, there are a few specific used car models that sell better than others. They include the Honda Accord, Ford F150, Toyota Camry, Chevy Silverado and Honda Civic. Edmunds, a trusted website for all things automotive, states that trucks and vans used for work sell quickly. Sedans can sell quickly too when families are looking for inexpensive transportation. Gas prices and changing seasons can become significant factors in demand as well. Cars with good gas mileage sell fast during times of high gas prices. Convertibles are hot items during the summer, not so much during the winter. Deciphering demand isn't an exact science, but playing to your car's best assets given the current buying climate can make for a quicker, and sweeter, sale.


  • If you are trying to sell a car that is not in demand and/or is hard to sell, you have an option other than lowering the price. Consider donating it to charity. You can claim a tax deduction and recoup some of your money. For more information on donating your car to charity, click here.

Pricing Guidelines

Pricing guidelines include the values listed on sites such as Edmunds and the Kelley Blue Book. These sites take into account the year, make, model and condition of your car. Just follow each page and enter data about the car. The KBB uses the categories of fair, good, very good and excellent; Edmunds uses damaged, rough, average, clean and outstanding. Take the KBB condition quiz to assess the value of your car. For a car to rate in good condition, the most popular KBB rating, the car must have 50 percent tire tread remaining, have only minor scratches and minor rust. According to the KBB, 18 percent of cars were rated as fair; 54 percent good; 23 percent very good; and only 3 percent were rated excellent. Cars rated fair have substantial wear. Cars rated very good require minimal conditioning, and cars rated excellent require no conditioning. Edmunds follows similar guidelines in its true market value pricing. Cars rated outstanding need no reconditioning; cars rated clean, minor reconditioning; cars rated average may need considerable reconditioning; cars rated rough need extensive reconditioning and may have bad tires; cars rated as damaged may need so much reconditioning they are deemed unsafe to drive. Edmunds also states that cars rated excellent are older vehicles with low miles in pristine condition. Very few meet this standard.

Once you get the value, you can mark it up to give yourself some wiggle room when negotiating. Edmunds advises that the higher the value of the car, the more gap you should create between your asking price and your desired price. For example, for a car valued at $5,000, you should set the price at $5,750; for a value of $15,000, you should price the car at $16,500. Also consider how consumers think. Staying just under the threshold of a desired price can pay off too. For example, if you want to sell a car that is the same make and model as other cars selling for an average of $6,000, you might fare better if you price it at $5,975 because consumers will feel they are paying less even if the difference is insignificant.

Competing With The Competition

Your competitors' prices say a lot about what you might expect to get for your car. Listings in resources such as AutoTrader and Craigslist will help you determine a fair price. Take into consideration age and condition when comparing. Also check with dealers. Would a consumer buy a car from a private seller if he can get a similar car at a similar price from a dealer?


  • When the buyer assumes the title of the car, he must pay sales tax, or a use tax. The amount of tax depends on the state and how that state determines fair market value. When negotiating the deal, a potential buyer could use this as leverage. To learn more about paying taxes on a used car, click here. To find out the sales tax for used cars in your state, click here.

Legalities and Liabilities

Selling a car is not like selling your old couch. Cars come with titles and legal strings. After selling your car, you have to sign over the title to the new owner. Each state has different titling laws. In Texas, for example, the buyer must complete a 130-U Application for Texas Title within 30 days of purchase; The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles strongly suggests you accompany the buyer to the DMV. Most states will probably agree. Give the buyer a complete bill of sale that includes all of your contact information, the buyer's contact information, date, information about the car and payment amount. Don't forget to have the buyer sign it.


    • For a list of phone numbers for the Department of Motor Vehicles in each state, click here
    • To get a bill of sale template for your state, click here.

Making Your Mark

Your car won't sell without effective marketing. Several websites offer advertising services, some free, some for a fee. Check out free sites such as Craigslist and paying sites such as Autotrader. Most agree on what constitutes a good ad:

  • Provide pictures.
  • Give complete details about the car, mileage, condition and problems.
  • Explain why you are selling the car.
  • List the price.
  • Pump up its assets -- how about that good gas mileage? Does it have low miles?


  • With the rise of the Internet, consumers are more educated now than ever before when protecting their pocketbooks. Don't attempt to swindle a buyer. All you'll do is lose a sale and perhaps hurt your reputation in selling the car. Click here for information on what buyers look for when buying a car, perhaps your car.