Sell Your Car with This Step by Step Guide

If you have the time and inclination, you can sometimes fare better financially selling your car rather than using it as a trade-in. While a little time-consuming, the process isn't complicated and the money you could put back into your pocket will make it worth the effort. Use this "Sell Your Car Checklist" as a starting place for your research. We'd much rather see you keep your money in your pocket than watch you put it into someone else's!

Step 1: Determine a Fair Price for Your Car

Before you can sell your car, you need to determine whether or not the profit will be worth it. To determine the value of your car, check its current market value with one of the following online resources:

Car not worth so much? Consider making it a trade-in, donating it, or recycling it!

Step 2: Do Your Paperwork

Every state requires different paperwork to sell a car, but almost all require the following documents at some point in the sale:

  • The title (You should sign this and release it to the new owner)
  • Bill of Sale (Used to report the terms and conditions of the sale in case of a dispute)
  • Release of Liability (Form to keep you from damages after the car is sold but before its registered to the new owner)
  • Maintenance records (This can up the resale value of a car)
  • Warranty
  • As-is documentation (If there are no warranties, this form ensures that the new owner knows s/he will assume all responsibility for future repairs and damages after the sale)

Another piece of paperwork enters the mix if the car is still financed. An existing lien will not prevent you from selling the car, but it is another step in the process.

Step 3: Clean Your Car

A clean, well-maintained car will sell more quickly and for more money!

A quick checklist for cleaning:

  • Wash and wax the exterior
  • Clean the tires and hubcaps
  • Vacuum the interior
  • Detail the interior (wipe down cupholders, ashtrays, the dash, etc.)
  • Clean the windows inside and out
  • Wash or replace floor mats

Step 4: Take pictures

Tips for taking pictures:

  • Take pictures in a clean, attractive environment such as showroom or local park.
  • Take multiple pictures from multiple angles
  • Consider lighting
  • Be sure to take pictures of every part of the car (front, both sides, rear, trunk, dashboards, seats, carpets, the wheel, and under the hood)
  • The more pics you have, the better your car will sell!

There is something to that "picture painting a thousand words" business. Check out Taking Great Photos for Your Used Car Sales Ad for more ideas.

Step 5: Locate Places to Advertise


  • Newspapers
  • Online ads
  • Flyers

There are a million ways to advertise your car. Search online for options! To narrow your search, you should first decide if you are going to sell your car locally or broaden your base of potential customers by offering it online.

Step 6: Make an Ad

Be sure your ad includes the following ACCURATE information (Never lie in the ad! It's unethical and will not lead to a sale):

  • Asking price and whether or not this price is negotiable
  • Mileage
  • Maintenance records (a quick note on recent or needed repairs should do)
  • VIN
  • Number of previous owners
  • Condition
  • Vehicle history
  • Customizations

Step 7: Set Up Meetings with Serious Buyers

We recommend that you first screen potential purchasers of your vehicle by phone or email only. You want to ensure that you protect yourself against fraud. In order to make sure your potential buyers are legitimate, we suggest:

  • Asking for the interested party’s full name and location.
    • The interested party may be unwilling to share their full address with you, and this is not a sign of fraud. They will likely want to protect themselves against fraud from you as well. You are only trying to determine whether or not the potential buyer is local. Although this is not always the case, most buyers who tell you they are overseas are actually scammers.
  • Discuss forms of payment up front.
    • If the buyer is unwilling to discuss payment, or if they will not agree to meet you at the bank when the time comes to pay, you have a right to be suspicious. Also, note that cash is the safest option. Money orders and checks are acceptable, but riskier! Make sure the buyer knows that monthly payments are NOT an option!

Step 8: Showing Your Car

When showing your car, always offer to let the potential test drive the vehicle (Keep something as collateral if you choose not to ride with them) and talk up all of the car’s features. Don’t be afraid to try to persuade the potential buyer that your car is a smart purchase! Show the potential buyer the electronics and mechanical features of the car, discuss fuel economy, talk to them about the vehicle history. As long as you are being completely honest, there’s no reason not to make a sales pitch.

Step 9: Negotiate the Price

Unless you’ve already indicated that your price is firm, listen to the offer of the potential buyer and then don’t be afraid to counter offer. If you do intend to negotiate, make sure your starting offer is a higher than the minimum price you’d accept for the car. Also, don’t be afraid to deny the potential buyer the sale if they refuse to pay your minimum fair price. For additional help on this point, check out our negotiation guide.

Step 10: Complete the Sale (at the Bank!)

The best and safest option when selling a car is to go with the buyer to their bank to accept payment. This way, you know the form of payment is genuine and legal. After you’ve been paid, remember to:

  • Sign over the title
  • Fill out the Bill of Sale form and the Release of Liability form and submit them to the DMV (if required)
  • Hand over warranties, if necessary
  • Hand over maintenance records (but remove any personal information from the paperwork!)
  • Double check that you’ve completed all state required paperwork
  • Give the new buyer the keys!
  • Remove the car from your insurance policy

We hope this guide has been helpful and that your efforts will prove profitable. While we have tried to cover the big things, there are still pitfalls to avoid. Good luck and we hope your first sales commission is a big one!