How to Sell a Car That Needs Work

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

Perhaps your vehicle failed inspection, or needs some significant work before it can carry passengers safely over long distances.

Maybe following an accident it’s in a condition that an insurance company would consider a write-off. This is not going to attract the majority of used car buyers, but that doesn’t mean it is beyond hope.

We’ll take a look at a few approaches you can take to pass your vehicle on with both your ethics and your bank balance intact. 

1. Gather Your Facts

When it comes to selling a car that needs some work, facts are your friends. From an ethical and legal standpoint it certainly isn’t advisable to be anything less than scrupulously honest about the condition of your vehicle. You certainly want to be up front about everything from mechanical issues, to sounds which may cause distracted driving.

As with any car sale, potential buyers often base their decisions not only on the vehicle, but upon the seller. If you come across as honest, open, and informative, you may have a better chance of building the kind of trust that could lead to a sale

It is in the best interest of both you and your buyer that you obtain a full report of exactly where the problems lie. This could also reveal some underlying issues that may not be immediately obvious.

If possible, obtain an estimate of repair costs. This way you can confidently demonstrate that your asking price is fair, and that you’ve been proactive in providing your buyer with accurate, useful information.

2. Sell or Trade to a Dealership

Depending on the overall condition of your vehicle, you may not have too much luck with pitching to a private buyer. Let’s face it, even with just minimum liability insurance, a private buyer won’t want to pay coverage for a vehicle that barely runs.

The good news is you have other options. Dealers are well placed to receive cars that aren’t in the best condition, and usually have the contacts to maximize the vehicle’s earning potential. 

Your local dealer will undertake a thorough assessment of the vehicle in order to get a good idea of the true extent of the problems, and also to be sure that you’ve been entirely up-front in your representations. It’s best that you’re entirely honest about the problems you’re aware of. You’re also likely to be offered more on a trade-in, rather than cash.

So if you haven’t already lined up a replacement car, this could kill two birds with one stone. It’s worth bearing in mind though that, unlike a private buyer, a dealer is running a business. Their priority will be to get as much profit as possible from your vehicle, and this will affect the amount you’re offered. 

3. Target Mechanics and Hobbyists

If your vehicle really is on its last legs, your potential pool of buyers is going to be understandably shallow. Many of those in the market for a used car are looking for something relatively reliable that they can start driving immediately. Therefore it could be wise to focus your efforts on those who are specifically on the hunt for a project.

There is a whole industry surrounding mechanics and hobbyists who regularly purchase project vehicles. Cars which need a fair bit of work that they can lovingly restore. This can be a much more viable option if your vehicle is considered to be vintage, or even classic. There are also publications which cater for specific types of vehicles, such as muscle cars — these can be a valuable avenue for you to advertise your ailing machine as a potential project.

You should also look for specialist online forums, and even consider ebay.

4. Part Out Yourself or Scrap

If you work with vehicles — whether an experienced mechanic, or a young freight professional just taking your HAZMAT test — this may provide you with another option for selling your vehicle.

While it’s not the ideal scenario, taking the time to part out might be the most financially sound method for you to sell your old car. The core parts of the car — the engine, seats, airbags, and transmission — are usually the simplest to sell.

There are even methods to bring your car battery back to life. Often your best bet is to target the various online forums through which you can sell parts, including Amazon. 

Although, there are parts of your vehicle which will usually present a more challenging sell. The chassis could be a feature of your garage long after you’ve sold the other components. As a final resort, it’s possible to make a few extra dollars for the remaining items by selling them for scrap metal – especially your catalytic converter.

If you’re looking to sell your car, we’ll buy it off of you – no matter the condition that it’s in. Get an online offer in less than 90 seconds.

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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