The Definitive Guide to Selling Your Car Online

Published: October 21, 2017 - 11:00am EDT

Man examining a used card

Just like buying a car, selling one is a high-stakes transaction that takes lots of preparation, paperwork, and patience – plus a little bit of business savvy and luck. The good news is that the Internet has made the process much easier, letting you download and print required documents, post digital advertisements, contact potential buyers through e-mail and VoIP services, and more! It's still a lot of work, though, so we've put together this ultimate guide to walk you through what you need to know and do to sell your car online. You'll learn:

  • Where you can sell a car online
  • The best websites and apps to use for selling a car online
  • A step-by-step process for how to sell your car online
  • Bonus tips for the best ways to sell a car online

So, are you ready to learn? Then start your engine!

Where can I sell my car online?

There are a number of general places on the Internet where you can sell your car. Which one is the right one for you can depend on a number of factors, including how much you think your car is worth, which facilities or buyers are in your local area, how soon you need the money, and so on.

Dealerships

The easiest way to sell your car online is to simply trade it into a dealer when you buy a new car from them. Dealerships for car companies such as Ford, Kia, and Subaru often have trade-in programs that let you sell them your old car and use the money as credit towards the purchase of your new one. Though this is one of the simplest ways to get rid of your car, it may not always be the most profitable one. If you're willing to put in a little more elbow grease, however, you may be able to get a better price.

Car dealership

Dedicated used car sale portals

The likes of AutoTrader.com, Cars.com, or CarMax.com are all fairly reliable websites/apps for cashing in on a car you no longer want, since everyone there is looking to buy or sell cars (and nothing else). Many of these portals have research tools for buyers and sellers, so you'll likely get a fair price for your ride... but maybe not a spectacular one.

General online marketplaces and auction houses

You can also try your hand at selling your car on general e-commerce platforms. Sites like eBay.com and OnlineAuction.com can be very profitable places to sell your car, if you think that your particular model will be in high demand. If it isn't, though, you may end up getting less than what you think is a fair price, so be aware of that risk.

Auction gavel

Online classified advertising services

If you're looking to sell your car a little closer to home, online classifieds may be the way to go. Craigslist.com, LetGo.com, OfferUpNow.com, and other sites and apps like them group advertisements by locale, so you won't have to go very far to seal the deal if you find an interested buyer. You'll probably also get a good price, too, but you'll have to do almost all of the legwork yourself.

Newspaper classifieds

Scrap car buyers

If all else fails, you can simply sell your car to a junkyard or donate it to charity. While this is probably the least profitable option for you, it's simple, it gets you cash fast, and it may even get you a break on your taxes! Websites like JunkCarMedics.com will tell you what you need to know and where you need to go.

Car junkyard

Now that you know the general options available to you, we'll take a look at some of the most popular websites and apps that people use to sell their cars. They all allow you to create advertisements for your car, and some of them have other tools and tips for things like finding out what your car is worth, putting together a good ad for it, or haggling over the price.

Top 6 car-selling apps and websites

1. AutoTrader

AutoTrader logo

AutoTrader, the award-winning website (and app!) is one of the most popular places for people looking to buy or sell cars online. You can look for dealers in your local area who may want to buy your car for cash or trade-in value, or you can try selling your car privately. If you go the private route, you can even hire AutoTrader's crack team to handle parts of the process for you, such as writing your advertisement or screening potential buyers.

AutoTrader button

Download the App: iOS | Android
 

2. Cars.com

Cars.com logo

Started around the same time as AutoTrader, Cars.com is another one of the biggest dedicated car exchange portals on the web. And, like AutoTrader, it's more than just a hub for advertising new or used cars. It also has directories, advice, and price comparison tools if you need to get your car fixed; video car reviews and safety checks, general automotive news, and more!

Cars.com button

Download the App: iOS | Android
 

3. eBay Motors

eBay Motors logo

Popular online marketplace and auction house eBay has a "Motors" section dedicated to the purchase and sale of automotive vehicles. And not just cars or trucks, mind you – eBay Motors also has motorcycles, powersports vehicles, specialty vehicles (like RVs and trailers), and even boats! You can also just sell your car's parts on eBay if you're planning to scrap it.

eBay Motors button

Download the App: iOS | Android
 

4. CarMax

CarMax logo

CarMax.com is the largest used car marketplace chain in the United States. You can make an appointment online to get your car appraised at your nearest CarMax store, and have an offer ready for you in as little as 30 minutes. You can then take up to a week to consider the offer, and it will be good even if you don't buy anything from CarMax! If you are looking to pick up a used car from them, though, they also have plenty of car reviews and research tools.

CarMax button

Download the App: iOS | Android
 

5. Kelley Blue Book

Kelley Blue Book logo

Kelley Blue Book has actually been around since the mid-1920s, and it continues to be a trusted resource in automobile markets across the United States. While it includes functions for buying and selling cars, its claim to fame is the wealth of information and tools that it has for getting you through the buying (or selling) process smoothly. This includes tools for determining the value of your car, whether you're looking to trade it in or sell it privately. So, if you're completely clueless as to how much your car is actually worth, this is probably the place you should go first.

Kelley Blue Book button
 

6. Craigslist

Craigslist logo

As one of the oldest and largest general classified advertising networks on the Internet, Craigslist is also an option if you want to sell your car. It operates a series of sub-websites dedicated to various regions worldwide, so it's easier to sell in your local area. It also has a simple, free, no-nonsense interface for putting together your ad... but you may need to know a few more details about your car to use it to its fullest. If you want to learn more about other ways to make use of Craigslist, check out our free Craigslist course.

Craigslist button
 

Okay, so now you know the best places on the Internet to go if you want to sell your car. But how do you actually go about doing it? We'll cover that next, breaking down the process into eight parts from deciding how you want to sell your car to handing over the keys to its new owner.

8 easy steps for selling your car over the Internet

Though selling your car still takes a lot of hard work, the process itself can be summed up in eight key points. An abbreviated version of these instructions can be found on the U.S. Department of Motor Vehicles website, but for those of you who want all the ins and outs of how to sell a car online, we have a more detailed set below.

1. Find out what your car is worth, then decide how to sell it.

The first thing you should do if you want to sell your car online is research how much you should expect to earn from selling it. Visit one (or, preferably, more) of the sites we've listed above to check how much cars that are similar to yours are selling for. Some, like Kelley Blue Book, may even have tools that let you estimate the exact amount your car is worth, based on various factors. Once you know what your car might sell for, you can decide whether you want to sell it privately, put it up for auction, trade it in to a dealer, or simply scrap it.

2. Get your car's paperwork in order.

Depending on the method of sale you choose, some of the paperwork required for selling your car may be taken care of for you by the buyer. In general, though, it's a good idea to have the required documents on-hand and ready to be signed before you start advertising. That way, you won't be rushing around trying to complete them while the buyer waits for you, or if you need to finalize a sale by a certain date.

Binders of paperwork

The paperwork requirements for cars vary by country and region, but in general, you should have the following information on your car ready to process:

  • title deed
  • maintenance records
  • warranty documents (if the car is still under warranty)
  • original sales paperwork
  • bill of sale
  • release of liability form

Be sure to black out any personal information on any of these documents. This helps you avoid identity theft.

3. Clean and repair your car.

Whether a potential used car buyer is a seasoned pro or a relative rookie, they likely won't give your car a second thought if it doesn't look like it has been well-maintained. Make sure to wash and wax the exterior of your car, including the rims, tires, and windows (inside and out). But be sure to spruce up the inside of your vehicle, too, by vacuuming (and possibly shampooing) the floors, seats, and trunk. And if your floor mats are old and worn out, get them replaced.

Car wash

It's also important to make sure that your car is in good working order. Prioritize fixing the elements that you think buyers will be most interested in, such as:

  • lights
  • tire treads
  • dents and scratches
  • motor and oil
  • brakes
  • windows and windshield wipers

In general, though, it's usually worth the money to get as many defects in your car fixed by a professional detailing shop as you can afford. Buyers will almost always pay more for your car if they don't have to go through the hassle of fixing its problems themselves. Again, remember to have your receipts handy so that you can show prospective buyers you've tuned up your car so they don't have to!

4. Create ads on various car selling websites.

Once your car's ready to sell, you'll need to let people know that it's actually for sale! Be sure to post ads across multiple sites and apps; that puts your car in front of more people, and that means more potential buyers! However, it's equally (if not more) important to make a good first impression with potential buyers, so here are a few tips for writing an effective advertisement for your car.

a. Take lots of photos.

A picture is worth a thousand words – as the saying goes. Take multiple photos of your vehicle from various angles, making sure to get the front, back, sides, wheels, seats, floors, trunk, dashboard, and engine. The more you show what your car actually looks like, the less chance that a potential buyer will back out of a deal because they spot something amiss that wasn't in the advertisement.

Images of car from different angles

b. List your car's strong points, but don't overdo it.

When you're writing your ad's copy, focus first on what makes your car stand out. Does it have good fuel economy? Is it still under warranty? Are there any cool additions that the buyer might like? Highlight what you think a potential buyer will want right off the bat.

Don't go overboard, though. Too many unnecessary details, spelling/grammar mistakes, or vague descriptors (such as "Like new!" or "Loaded with features!") can actually end up causing potential buyers to give your ad a pass. If possible, try to keep the copy to 1000 words or less.

c. Be honest about your car's condition.

Basic details about your car

While you want to highlight your car's strong points, you still need to be upfront about the rest of its details. Be sure to include in your ad information such as:

  • how many miles are on it
  • a history of accidents or other damage done to it
  • anything about it you've modified or recently repaired
  • how many people have owned the car, besides you
  • the VIN number, which will let the buyer get a full history report for the vehicle

d. Answer potential questions, like why you want to sell the car.

A question that will inevitably come up during the sales process is: "Why don't you want this car anymore?" Including the answer right in your advertisement is a display of honesty towards potential buyers, which can go a long way. Try and do this for as many other questions that you can envision a potential buyer asking you. This also cuts down on you having to answer these questions later in follow-up e-mails or phone calls.

Detailed advertisement for used car

e. State your asking price, negotiating terms, and accepted payment methods.

State how much you want to sell your car for, keeping in mind its estimated value from step 1. Then, declare if the price stands firm, is negotiable, or is subject to the best offer than someone gives you. Maybe also write a short description justifying these decisions, and be sure to list what types of payment you accept; ideally, avoid cheques and money orders, as these are prone to fraud.

f. Include your contact information.

Even if you've written the greatest car ad in the world, it won't mean much if a potential buyer doesn't know how to get in touch with you! Be sure to include your phone number, your email address, or both somewhere in the listing where readers won't easily miss them.

5. Build a rapport with interested buyers.

Once your ad has been posted, you'll hopefully start getting inquiries and offers trickling in. Some of them will be from people who really want to buy your car, but others may be from scammers trying to set you up. To sort out who's who, and to really hook those who are serious about buying, here are some tips.

  • If you are sent a phone message or e-mail from a potential buyer, try to respond within 1 or 2 days. Replying promptly is courteous and shows buyers that you're eager to make the sale.
     
  • Ask for a buyer's full name, e-mail address, street address, and phone number. Follow up through e-mail or telephone (whichever you haven't used already) to confirm their information is accurate. This builds trust and deters scammers, who usually won't (or can't) give you this information. It also lets you know how close the buyer is to you, which can help when arranging a test drive and/or finalizing the deal.
     
  • Clarify the types of payments you'll accept, and make it clear that you won't accept payments in installments. If a buyer tells you that they still need to get their financing together, or that they would prefer paying for your car another way, that's a big red flag. They're likely either not very serious about buying your car, or trying to pull a scam.
     
  • Re-iterate the selling points of your car, offer to answer any questions the buyer may have, and offer to take the buyer for a test drive. This will help you and your car stick out in the mind of someone who may be trying to choose from multiple different cars to buy. It will also give you an opportunity to show off your car and demonstrate why it's the one to purchase.

6. Use a test drive to make your sales pitch.

A test drive is a great way to let a potential buyer decide whether or not your car is the right one for them! However, you should take care when setting one up, as some sellers have been robbed – or worse – during test drives.

Make sure to meet the buyer in a busy public place, and ask them to show you their driver's license (and perhaps even take a picture of it) so you can determine that everything's on the level. You should also bring someone you trust along for the ride, or at least have a way to contact them if things don't go as planned. And never let the buyer test-drive your vehicle alone – they might just drive off with it!

Test drive of a car

Before you meet a potential buyer for a test drive, though, it's a good idea to have a "sales pitch" ready so you can answer any questions they may have. Emphasize the great features of your car, but be sure to know about its shortfalls, too. In general, a buyer will likely want to know the following about your car:

  • its fuel economy
  • how affordable replacement parts are
  • the engine's performance specifications
  • its reliability and safety features
  • any other beneficial things it has, such as heated seats or an extra set of tires
  • whether or not any recalls have been issued for its model

One more thing: don't forget to question the buyer, too! Ask them about things such as what kind of car(s) they currently drive, why they're looking to buy a used car, and what's most important to them in a car. If you pose these questions right off the bat, it will not only show that you care about them as a customer, but it will also let you set up your sales pitch to ease any concerns they may have.

7. Negotiate your car's price.

Now comes the tricky part: working out how much the buyer is willing to pay for your car, and how much you're willing to let it go for. Here are a few pointers:

  • Have a minimum price you're willing to sell the car for in mind before you start, and stick to it. If the buyer insists on a price below that amount, be prepared to walk away from the deal. Leave the option open to contact you if they reconsider, but move on and find another buyer.
     
  • If you've listed your car's price as "negotiable" or "best offer," start with an asking price that is less than (or equal to) what the car is worth, but more than what you're willing to accept.
     
  • Let the buyer take the lead in negotiations. Give them the option to accept your price or to make counter-offers, but don't be afraid to make counter-offers of your own if you think their price offers are too low.

Two people negotiating

8. Seal the deal.

If you and the buyer agree on a price, great! The next step is to gather your car's paperwork and meet the buyer to complete the exchange. The best place to do this is at their local bank branch, because it lets you get and process their payment immediately before you hand over the keys. This cuts down on the risk of fraud. Oh, and be sure to have another way to get home arranged ahead of time, because you won't be able to take your car if you no longer own it!

Car keys

Once you have the money, there are just a few things left for you to do:

  • Complete the bill of sale, including having both you and the buyer sign and date it.
  • Sign over the title deed to the car to its new owner.
  • Fill out the release of liability form and send it to your regional motor vehicle administration.
  • Fill out any other car-sale-related paperwork your regional government may require.
  • Make copies of all paperwork you're handing over to the buyer to keep for your records.
  • Give the buyer the paperwork and keys for their new car!

Lastly, be sure to contact your insurance company and remove the sold car from your policy. After all, you don't want to be paying to insure a car that you no longer drive! Also, be sure to take down any advertisements for your car that are still active, since you can't sell a car you no longer own!

5 bonus tips for how to sell your car online

1. Use your social connections to advertise locally.

Placing advertisements for your car on websites around the Internet is a fine strategy for getting it sold, but remember that good old word-of-mouth advertising works too! If you use popular social networks or chat apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Kik, mention to your friends and followers that your car is for sale, and encourage them to let their connections know. That has a better chance of attracting local buyers more quickly than sitting around waiting for someone to find your online ad.

2. Give life to your car with a video advertisement.

Another good idea, if you're able to pull it off, is to create a video advertisement showing your car in action and post it on a video-sharing service like YouTube. That will give potential buyers a better idea of how it drives than looking at pictures of it sitting parked in your driveway.

3. Make your car photos look professional by cleaning up the surrounding area.

 When taking pictures of your car, make sure the surrounding area is well-kept and doesn't have any objects nearby that could serve as distractions. You want the focus to be on your car, not on how many weeds your lawn has or how much junk is in your garage.

4. Look professional and act approachably when negotiating a sale.

When you go to meet a buyer, make sure you're wearing nice clothes, have groomed yourself properly, and appear confident. It's important to look professional when trying to make a sale, but be sure to act personably, too. If someone is looking to buy a used car privately, part of the reason why may be that they want to avoid the impersonal, overly-slick sales tactics that dealerships are infamous for. So be honest and make the sale about what the buyer wants and needs.

5. Don't forget that the rest of a buyer's family will likely have a say!

Though you may only be talking to one person when trying to sell your car, chances are high that there are going to be other family members who will be weighing in on the decision to purchase it from you or not. Or, an entire family unit may actually show up to evaluate the car together. Be prepared for this by remembering to ask about the whole family's needs and wants, not just those of the individual buyer.

 

There you have it: a thorough guide on where you need to go and what you need to do to sell your car online. It's a big decision that takes research, planning, and legwork, but if you follow this guide, you should have a relatively straightforward path to using the Internet to help you trade your clunker for cash. Then, if you need a new car afterwards (or need one anyway), be sure to follow our guide for buying a car online!

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