5 Tips for Selling a Used Car for the Most Money

Picture of Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

Quick Tip

Looking to sell your vehicle? Get an instant offer in 90 seconds or less!

Everyone wants to get the most money for their car, but few know how to do it. If you are looking to trade-in your used car or sell privately you need to know what you’re getting into.

This is your complete guide to getting the most money when selling a used car. Learn the five tricks for successfully selling your car to a dealership or online. Find out how to maximize the resale value of your used car while selling it quickly.  

The first thing to determine is what is most important to you in the sale of your car. Are you looking for the greatest value or a quick turnaround time? It comes down to selling versus trading.

Private sales take more effort and caution. Dealership trade-ins are straight forward but require some haggling. However you plan on selling a used car, here are some tips for getting the most money:

1. Look Out for Buying Scams

Trading your car at a dealership is convenient, but you will not get the best price for selling a used car. Private used car sales are a better option to maximize your sale price, but it takes a lot more work. Another pitfall to look out for when selling a used car privately is car buying scams.

Most scams you run into when selling your used car are from online car buyers. One of the most common car buyer scams is for a fake buyer to trick you into laundering dirty money through your bank account.

The scammer makes a high offer on your car and agrees to mail you a check. The check also includes money to pay the person who delivers the car to the buyer. The check usually includes thousands of extra dollars to “pay” for the delivery.

The end result is that you scrub thousands of dirty-dollars through your bank account for a criminal organization. So, beware of online buying scams.   

2. Do Research Before Selling

Before you go into a dealership or reach out to online buyers you have to do your research. Never put your trust in a buyers offer without knowing the value of your vehicle. So, the first step is to educate yourself on the trade in and sale value of your used vehicle.

Get onto Kelly Blue Book to find out what your cars price range is. Depending on the value of your car it might be a good idea to invest in some mechanical work. In general, mechanical work raises the worth of your car beyond the labor expense.  

Read comments from consumers to see the common issues that your car experiences. Look on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist to see what your car is selling for in your area.

If you begin negotiation with a dealership or private buyer without knowing the value of your vehicle you lose money on the sale. The more you know about the state and quality of your car, the better your negotiation tactics.

No matter what you want to get for your used car you have to price it higher. But, if the price is out of a reasonable range it dissuades potential buyers. Determine the value of your car by researching and doing your homework before the negotiation.  

You may also want to consider getting a vehicle history report for your car to show buyers your confidence with your offer. Most buyers would purchase a car report which may not have complete vehicle data. You can run a free VIN check, for example, so buyers can compare the market value, title history, lien records, salvage records, and other results.

3. Negotiating with Dealerships

There are a few tricks if you are looking to trade in your used car at a dealership. The dealership wants to do two things: get your used car for as little as possible; and sell you a new car for as much as possible. You have more negotiating power if you keep these two deals separate.

Go into the dealership with the express intention of selling your used car. If you allow the dealership to lump the trade-in and sale together, they reduce the value and hike the interest. When a dealership shows you a monthly payment plan for your new car, they are hiding the trade-in value of your used car.

Before negotiating, ask if the dealership will honor your trade-in if you buy a new car somewhere else. The fact is, that used vehicle sales and trade-ins account for over 25 percent of car dealerships annual profit. A salesperson makes up to $4,000 on a trade-in, so you have $4,000 of negotiating room.

Even if the salesperson is acting uninterested, they are playing you. The salesperson at a dealership makes their living on trade-ins and sales. They are only trying to wear you down on the price.   

Dealerships are all about getting the most for a deal, so you have to match their effort. Without considering the new car, get your salesperson to agree on a price for the trade-in. Verbal agreements mean nothing at a dealership, so once they agree, get it in writing.

4. Selling Your Car Privately

Dealerships are not where you will get the most for selling a used car. Private car sales are 15 to 20 percent more profitable for sellers. If your car does not qualify for a certified pre-owned program that figure lowers to around 10 percent.

If you are selling a used car that is over seven years old, or over 100,000 miles the only place to get any real money is a private sale. Dealerships don’t make much money on older used cars, so they ship it off to a wholesaler. But a direct sale to a private buyer yields more profit than a dealership can make.

Private sellers have a wide range of options to advertise their car. A good first step is to stick a “For Sale” sign in the front window. Next, get online and hit up your social media community. The biggest asset is your immediate and extended friends group.

After you let your extended community know that you have a car for sale, list it on Craigslist, AutoTrader, eBay Motors, and Facebook Marketplace. Finding used car buyers online is as easy as setting up a sales listing.

Do not, however, negotiate the purchase price with online communication. The only way to negotiate for a sales price with a private buyer is in person. Legitimate buyers want to see the car before making an offer, anyway.

Meet at a public location where you can park your car. Do not plan to meet with a potential buyer at their home or your home. Pick a convenient location that allows the buyer to take the car for a test spin.

5. Interior and Exterior Detail

When you get to the point at which a possible buyer is looking at your car, make sure it looks good. There is nothing that lowers buyers price-point more than a filthy car. This means taking a few hours to detail the interior and exterior of your car.

Start by simply cleaning out the car and vacuuming up the filth. Dust particles accumulate inside a car and negatively affects the air quality. After you vacuum, wipe down all of the cars interior surfaces with an antibacterial cloth.

Washing the seats and carpets makes a huge difference to buyers. Be sure to test a small portion of the upholstery first, to be sure that it won’t get watermarks. When the buyer looks at your car, it should look, smell, and feel as though it is professionally maintained.

Give the outside of your car a thorough wash and shine. Use a touch-up paint pen to cover scratches to the body of the car. Clear any loose or hanging material that is hanging from the chassis.

Use a steel wool brush to scrape away caked dirt and grime from the wheel rims. If the seats of your car are stained beyond repair, get seat covers. If the floormats are old and ragged, get new ones.

If the value of your car mandates professional detailing, it will cost between $50 to $200. So, the more detailing work you can DIY, the more money in your pocket from the sale.

Final Thoughts

If you are selling privately and advertising online, it’s all about the pictures and description. Use a high-quality camera (most newer phones will work) and take detailed pictures of your clean vehicle. Pay attention to the scenery and lighting.

And, when in doubt, tell interested buyers to contact you for more information. When you meet a buyer in person, present them with a complete list of maintenance and work that was done on the car.   

If you like this article on selling a used car, share it on social media!

You can also read up on more information on getting the most value for your vehicle or get an instant online quote for how much we will pay you to sell your car to us. Thanks for reading!

Share this!


About the Author

Picture of Marc

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.

maximize cash offer on car

We'll buy your vehicle!

Wait! We REALLY Want Your Vehicle!

We pay up to $20,000 for cars, trucks, & SUV’s – no matter the condition. Get paid on the spot + free towing!

Or Call... 1-855-922-3095

There is no obligation to accept an offer.

Unable to verify mileage

Selecting “unable to verify” may decrease your offer and should only be selected if you cannot visually confirm the mileage of the vehicle upon inspection of the odometer.