How to Sell Your First Car

If you’ve been thinking of putting your car up for sale, but you’ve never done it before, we’re here to help you take care of it successfully.

We’ll cover all the angles from how you should prepare your car, the ways to promote a sale, the options you have for places to sell, how to avoid scams, and what happens with insurance when selling a car.

1. Prepare Your Car For Sale

Whether you’re upgrading to a bigger and/or a better car and aren’t interested in doing a trade-in, or you’re going the minimalist route and opting for alternative modes of transportation, there are a few tips that will help you get the most money for your sale.

Do An Inspection On Your Car

The better shape your car is in, the better your resale value. That’s why your prep should start with getting your car inspected. This will help you determine what needs to be done.

An inspection also shows buyers that you’re honest and upfront and not hiding anything. And if the buyer opts to have the car inspected by their mechanic and anything differs, your list could be a benefit during final negotiations.

Do Easy Maintenance On Your Car

Major repairs may not be worth your while to make, especially if you’re selling an older car. But there are several minor fix-ups you can do to show buyers you’ve been taking care of your car, including:

  • Replace headlamps and clean foggy headlights.
  • Change or refill the oil, radiator, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and windshield washer reservoir.
  • Buy a new pair of inexpensive wiper blades if the blades are dried out or cracked.
  • Use touch-up paint on scratches and dings.

Do a Paper Trail On Your Car

Collect as many maintenance slips and records for your car as you can. If you’re not the best at record-keeping and you’re missing some info, your local shop may provide them for you.

Consider purchasing a vehicle history report.

Also, make a copy of your vehicle title. If you want to sell a car you don’t have a title to, for example, you still have car loan payments — you have to pay off the loan to transfer ownership.

It can be done, but there are extra steps you have to go through, including:

  • Ask for the payoff amount and how to handle the transaction.
  • Determine what your car is worth using a pricing guide such as Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds.
  • Subtract the payoff amount from your car’s value: If it’s positive, you have equity in your car; if not, you’re upside down on your car loan, and selling your car means you’ll have to give the lender all the money from the car sale and pay for the negative equity.

Do a Good Clean On Your Car

If you can afford to have your car detailed, do it. You’ll be amazed at how well it will look, which will make a great impression on buyers.

But if this will be a DIY project, here are some pointers:

  • Materials needed: cleaners for the rug, glass, vinyl, and exterior; a few chamois cloths; a vacuum.
  • Clear out everything except the owner’s manual and the registration.
  • Clean the upholstery and remove any spots.
  • Clean both sides of the windows.
  • Make sure your car smells nice; use neutralizers or ionizers.

2. Promote Your Car Sale

If you’re selling your car yourself, here’s the list of what you should have in your classified ad:

The Basics For Your Car Ad

  • Make
  • Model
  • Mileage
  • Body style
  • Trim or version of your model
  • Several good photos
  • Asking price, and the reason you’re selling (buyers will ask)
  • Start your promotion with a phrase that generates interest, such as highlighting certain features; avoid general words and phrases such as “like new” or “loaded”

The Details For Your Car Ad

  • Show off good gas mileage
  • Highlight modifications
  • Include any warranty info
  • Overview of the car’s condition
  • Mention maintenance and service records
  • Set negotiating terms
  • Set acceptable forms of payment

Even if you’re not selling the car yourself, virtually all of this info is still good to have.

3. Where to Sell Your Car

If you want to take on the responsibility of selling your car, you’ll most likely get more money for it when you do it yourself. But here are options to look over.

Selling Your Car to a Dealership

Having a dealership buy your car will be a quick and easy way to go about it, but it won’t get you the best deal. Dealers aren’t in the habit of negotiating, and they’re usually looking for cars that are in good condition and aren’t too common.

But if you decide to go this route, do your research on a few dealers and approach the dealerships that carry your brand, as they’ll pay you on the spot and also complete the paperwork.

Selling Your Car Online

Some heavily trafficked sites include eBay Motors, Craigslist,, CarGurus, and AutoTrader.

While selling your car online is a great way to get the word out to potential buyers, it’s also rife with opportunities to scam you, especially on Craigslist, which is the second most popular website for selling cars but the least secure.

Some tips to avoid a scammer:

  • Screen potential buyers.
  • Beware of buyers who want to purchase your car sight unseen, want to overpay or make a payment plan, use an unknown escrow service, or promise to wire money but need your personal information, such as Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers.
  • Document everything.
  • For a test drive, meet in a public place, ask for a driver’s license, and go along.
  • Block out personal information on any records given to the buyer.
  • Verify checks with the issuing bank before you transfer the title.

Selling Your Car Privately to a Friend

We’ve all had that friend who eyes your car and frequently brings up taking it off your hands. Should you take him up on it? You don’t have to deal with advertising and waiting for bites, so promotion and demand are covered.

The downside? If there are any snags in any part of the process, it could damage or even end your friendship. Also, the transaction paperwork will be in your court.

Selling Your Car to a Car Buying Service

You can also unload your car through a car buying service, like Carmax. Since they have actual lots, you drive in, and they’ll inspect your car and make you an offer. These types of companies also include Vroom, Copart, and AutoNation.

You’ll most likely receive more money for your car than if you sell it through a dealership, but still less than if you sell it yourself.

And beware of scams in this area as well: There are loads of mom-and-pop shops promising to buy your car for top dollar, Sounds too good to be true? Then watch out; it probably is. Make sure you make your deal with a reputable establishment.

4. What To Do About Insurance

Just because you want to get rid of your car doesn’t mean you should get rid of your car insurance just yet.

Why Keep Your Car Insurance

When you put your car up for sale, you still need car insurance to cover it.

Until the car ownership is transferred to a new owner, the vehicle is still registered and titled in your name, so you’re still responsible for it.

This means when a potential buyer wants to take a test drive, your car has to be up to date, including valid plates and insurance.

As long as you still own the car, you’re still the one responsible for damages. If there’s an accident, you’re footing the entire bill without insurance. You’ll also be in hot water legally for not having insurance — from fines to even having your driver’s license suspended, depending on what state you live in.

Being uninsured while still having a car, even though it’s one you’re selling, will also negatively impact you when you want to get insurance for another vehicle. The insurance company’s many factors in determining your rates include checking your motor vehicle record, and any infractions can drive up your insurance rate.

And if you’re planning on buying another car after you sell one, you really don’t want to get rid of your insurance. Save yourself time and money by keeping the policy open and proof of car insurance.

If you’ve been with your car insurance company for a long time, you most likely have received a loyalty discount. But once you end the policy, you end the loyalty and basically have to start over in that regard.

Besides, it’s easy to do a vehicle replacement on your insurance. Just contact your insurance company with your new vehicle’s VIN, pick the effective date of coverage, and modify your coverage if necessary–see if you’re eligible for any new discounts, such as buying a new car, or having more safety features in the car.

Frequently, you won’t need to make a payment for coverage: any difference in premiums will be billed to you later.

When to End Your Car Insurance

So if you are done with owning a vehicle for a while…

After you sell your car and all of the documentation has been handed over — title, odometer disclosure, warranty or “as is” documentation, and bill of sale — you can start the ball rolling to stop your car insurance.

Contact your Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and ask to speak to a representative or go to your state’s DMV website. You need to inform them that you sold your car and then complete a Notice of Release of Liability. The form informs the DMV who bought the car.

Once that form is filed, you can legally cancel your car insurance without any penalties. The DMV will not do this for you, so you need to contact your insurance company.

And depending on your billing cycle, you may be eligible for an insurance refund.

Now that you have some basics in hand about selling your car, we hope you can quickly decide what you want to do and not overthink how to take care of it all.

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Chris Tepedino is a writer that has written extensively about home, life, and car insurance for numerous websites, including Car Insurance Comparison.

He has a college degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and has experience reporting, researching investigative pieces, and crafting detailed, data-driven features. His works have been featured on several top news sites including Yahoo and MSN.