Updated November 25, 2019

Looking to Sell Your Car for Cash? Try These 15 Tips

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If you need to make money relatively quickly, one thing you can do is sell your car for cash. Whether your vehicle is just a few years old, or it’s a heap of junk, you can likely find a buyer pretty easily.

However, you need to know how to prepare your car for sale and market it properly. You also need to ensure you carry out the transaction safely and you don’t get ripped off.

If you feel a little out of your depth right now, don’t worry. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about how to sell an old car and get the best price for a newer model. Selling your car is a great way to make extra money.

1. Make Your Car Look Good

Unless you’re trying to get rid of a junk car, you need to make your vehicle look as good as possible. People buy with their eyes and they are more likely to pay what you ask if the car looks attractive.

No matter how good it may be under the hood, most potential buyers will judge it by the way it looks on the outside. If you invest some time and a little money in getting the car ready for the market, you can make hundreds or even thousands more than if you don’t.

Figure Out How Much You Can Invest

The amount you will invest depends on how much the car is worth. If it’s valued at more than $5,000, ensure it gets a full detail. You should also get new floor mats if the old ones look too worn.

Buyers know they’re getting a used car but they prefer if it looks as new as possible.

Get an estimate of how much it would cost to address any stains, scratches, and dents and determine if it is worth it. Keep your cleaning costs within two to three percent of what you expect to be paid for the car.

Pro Tip: Overall, maintenance should be capped at ten percent of what you expect to get.

For cars which will only go for a couple thousand dollars, you can get away with doing an oil change and filling up on fluids. If you also do the regularly scheduled maintenance, the new owner would appreciate it.

Bonus Tip: Focus on the parts of the parts of the car buyers can see. Don’t spend money replacing things like belts and hoses.

2. Have the Maintenance Records Ready

People like to get a true picture of the car they are considering buying. Giving them the paperwork can help instil confidence.

Don’t rely on Carfax to give you all the information you need. While you will get lots of data, Carfax doesn’t work with all repair shops and dealerships.

You will likely have to call some of the places where you got work done to collect some of the information you need.

3. Prepare Yourself for the Sales Process

In your eagerness to sell your car for cash, you may forget about just how much goes into selling anything. You will need to field lots of questions and meet up with potential buyers.

This means you need to know lots of details about the vehicle and have the time to fit in inspections and test drives. Some of the things potential buyers will want to know about include fuel economy, performance, and safety features.

If you can’t adequately answer their questions, you may lose a sale.

Bonus Tip: Ask a friend or family member whom you trust to assist you if you don’t think you can handle everything alone.

4. Take Lots of Pictures

One or two blurry photos will not help your case if you are trying to sell your car for cash. You need to let interested people see the vehicle properly. You may need as many as two dozen photos to really show what you’re selling.

Walk around the car and take photos from different angles. Open the doors and let viewers see inside the vehicle. Give people a reason to contact you and arrange to see the car in person.

Pro Tip: Where you take the photos also matters. Try to get the car against a nice backdrop and in good, even lighting.

If you don’t have a camera and your cell phone doesn’t take good photos, ask a friend to help you with the pictures. It is really important that your car is properly portrayed. This doesn’t mean you hide the flaws but rather, you paint a true picture.

5. Do the Necessary Research

If you want to sell your car online, you need to know how much it is worth.

Remember: Your car’s value dropped by around 11 percent the first time you drove it and after a year, it dropped by about 19 percent. If your car is five years old, it has lost about half of its value.

To get an even better understanding of how much your car is worth, look for other cars of the same model which are for sale in your area. Look at the price, mileage, damage, and any special features.

You can also use prices posted online as a guide. Determine the average price and use that to inform your selling price.

6. Be Realistic in How Much You Ask For

Since many people sell used cars because they want quick money, they may accept much less than the vehicle is worth.

However, there are some people who want to make a lot of money even though the vehicle may not be worth much.

You will need to find the middle ground. You won’t get your car sold quickly if you’re asking for too much. While you will have a particular price in mind, you need to prepare to negotiate.

Pro Tip: When starting negotiations, it is a good rule of thumb to ask for a little more than you actually expect to get.

You should then know ahead of time what is the least you are willing to accept. It is not recommended that you rush to accept the first offer, you won’t get the true value of the vehicle.

Bonus Tip: Pricing your vehicle too low can also make potential buyers suspicious so you need to be careful.

7. Prepare a High-Quality Ad

In the same way that two photos won’t do, you also need to craft ad copy that will attract buyers. If writing is not your forte, get assistance.

How you describe your vehicle can make all the difference when you sell your car online. Focus on the car’s maintenance history, any characteristics that make it special, and the condition of key components.

If you don’t take the time to describe the vehicle, people will assume it doesn’t have much going for it. Some of the things you should include are:

  • Mileage
  • The size of the engine
  • Tire condition
  • Any recent repairs or replacements
  • Any special care you took to ensure the car is in optimal condition

Bonus Tip: Don’t say the vehicle is in excellent condition if it’s not. You’ll only waste potential buyers’ time.

8. Decide Where You Will Post Your Ad

Once you have the photos and text ready and you’ve decided on how much you’re asking for, it’s time to let people know you want to sell your car for cash.

Check out online forums and classified websites for your area as well as dedicated Facebook groups. Each platform is likely to have slightly different audiences:

  • Craigslist is free to use and available everywhere, but you need to ensure you don’t get scammed.
  • Autotrader requires you to pay for ads, but it attracts serious buyers who have the cash to spend.
  • eBay Motors lets you auction your car or take out a cheap ad.
  • Collector websites are better if you have a rare car to sell.

You should also use your personal social media accounts to let all your contacts know you’re selling your car. Even if they are not interested, they may know someone who is. Encourage them to share your post.

Good to Know: If you’re still driving your car, place a “For Sale” sign on it so more potential buyers can know it’s available.

9. Approach a Local Dealer Who Will Sell Your Car for Cash

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of posting ads and dealing with potential buyers, you can reach out to a dealer instead. They routinely buy and sell used cars so you wouldn’t have to put your marketing skills to the test.

A dealer will buy the car right away and take care of the paperwork for the Department of Motor Vehicles, leaving you with even less to worry about.

The downside is that you will likely have to accept less than your car’s value. You can lose up to 15 percent when you opt not to organize the sale yourself.

Good to Know: If you’re wondering how to sell an old car that can’t be driven anymore, consider selling it to an auto salvage business.

You can still make money when you get rid of a junk car. A salvage company will pay you upfront like a dealership, so you get the car off your hands and a chunk of money in your pocket.

10. Set Up a Test Drive the Right Way

When you begin to get some interest, you’ll need to start meeting potential buyers and letting them drive the car. Arrange to meet a safe, public area like a coffee shop and take someone with you if you can.

Go with the interested person when they take the car for a spin but don’t push them to commit to a sale. Just let them experience the vehicle naturally and be prepared to answer any questions they may have.

If they have the car inspected by a mechanic who comes up with a list of problems, you may need to lower your price. However, you should really only consider safety issues or things that need to be addressed immediately.

11. Meet the Buyer at a Bank

If you decide to sell your car directly to an individual, you need to ensure you actually get the money. One way to do this is to meet at either your bank or their bank to complete the sale. Ask the bank manager if you can have a room or desk to handle the transaction.

There are two benefits to this:

  1. You can verify immediately that the cash isn’t counterfeit.
  2. You also benefit from the bank’s surveillance system that will record your meeting.

If you tell a potential buyer that you will need to meet at a bank and they no longer want to continue the sale, it’s likely you were going to get scammed.

Bonus Suggestion: Never accept a personal check from a buyer. You may accept a certified check but it’s important that you cash it immediately. If the check is not from a nearby bank, don’t hand over the title until the funds are cleared.

12. Consider Using Escrow Services

If you’re selling your car to a buyer who is not from your area, you may not be able to meet at a bank. This is common if you sell your car online.

If you use a solution like escrow.com, the risk of fraud is reduced. The site acts as a third party to collect the buyer’s funds, hold them and then disburse them according to the terms of an agreement.

This means you don’t ship the car until you know the funds for payment have been cleared. When the buyer accepts the delivery, the money is released.

Good to Know: Escrow services are regulated, making this one of the safest ways to sell your car.

How to Sell Your Car for Cash When It’s a Heap of Junk

If you’re trying to get rid of a junk car, there are some specific things that you need to bear in mind. Preparing the car for sale, valuing the parts, and knowing where to sell the vehicle are all a little different.

The next few tips will help you with this.

13. Clear the Car of Everything but Metal

If you’re going to sell the car to a junkyard, they will likely only take a car which has been stripped. This means you need to remove all the fluids and wires as well as the seats, engine, steering column and most other components.

f you can’t do this yourself, get someone to help you. Scrap buyers only want the metal on the car.

14. Remove and Store the Car Parts Carefully

You can make money from some of the car parts you will remove. Even though the body is going to the scrap yard, remove the wheels, transmission, engine, and brakes carefully.

Assess their value and determine how much you can get for them. Virtually anything you remove from the interior or under the hood can earn you a few dollars.

Bonus Tip: Being gentle with the parts can help you to get more money than you expected when you decided to sell your car for cash.

15. Know the Value of the Parts

To ensure you get the best price, you should do your research. Look for parts similar to yours online and see how much they are going for.

You can also call around to junkyards to see how much they are willing to pay. You will probably get a lot of different prices, but you’ll be able to determine the average price and find some outlets that may want to take your car parts.

Bonus Tip: Know Where to Find Buyers

You can make good money if you can sell lots of parts from your car. However, you need to know where to.

When you start looking for buyers, keep these things in mind:

  • You may be able to get rid of the scrap metal and components on eBay or Craigslist.
  • Be prepared to haggle based on your research into the prices of similar parts.
  • Be willing to accept offers which are near your asking price but only slightly lower.
  • Less money is still better than no money, so you’ll need to make a decision quickly because the parts will only continue to depreciate.

Where do you look when you want to sell your car for cash? What have you found to be most effective? We’d love to hear your input so feel free to drop us a comment below!

Logan Allec, CPA

Logan is a CPA, Certified Student Loan Professional, and founder of Money Done Right, which he launched in July 2017. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.

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