How To Sell A Car Privately

At CarZeus, we understand that our cash offer may not always match what your goals at the moment when looking to sell your vehicle.  We also understand that you know to get top dollar for your car, truck, or SUV, trying to sell privately may be the way to do it.  We even understand that there are very few resources out there that tell you HOW to sell your car privately.    

In this short article, we will share our 30+ year industry experience with you to give you the best shot at trying to get your car privately sold, plus we will break down the steps it takes to accomplish this.

Working in the retail automotive industry, we’ve seen it all:

  • Listings with bad photos, 
  • Lack of descriptions
  • Insane prices

And honestly, those folks are not selling their cars quickly or for the most money, but wondering why it’s not happening.  Since we are not a car dealership, we are happy to share these secrets with you because you are not our competition.  

In this article we will show you how we consistently sold over 100 used cars a month by targeting these items:

  • Asking price
  • Paperwork & Legalities
  • Vehicle Reconditioning
  • Listing & Merchandising
  • Salesmanship

1.Asking Price

Why is asking price so important?  Because you want to have the most views on your listing as possible.  If your vehicle is priced too high, it will be filtered out or pushed to the bottom of a list because most buyers sort by price.  Pricing it too low will put doubt in your potential buyer’s mind because it’s “too good to be true.”  

How to determine a good asking price:  Research the market.  Visit a few different websites such as CarGurus & Autotrader to do your research.  For each website, follow these steps:

  • Perform a search of your exact vehicle down to the trim level (EX, LX, Limited, etc.), in a 100-mile radius (if no results, push out further)
  • Write down info for the 3 vehicles that are most like yours with the best deals
    • Miles
    • Color
    • Price
    • Dealer or Private Party
    • Days on market (if available, CarGurus actually shows how long a vehicle has been listed)
  • After gathering all of the information, analyze the similarities and differences
    • Are most of the vehicles at dealerships? (dealerships offer warranties and easy paths to financing for all types of consumer credit)
    • How long have they been online?
    • Where do the prices vary?  Where are they the same?
  •  After a thorough review, choose a price point that is more aggressive than the dealerships because they have an infrastructure that private sellers don’t have.  

2.Paperwork & Legalities

Why is this close to the top of the list?  Because having everything ready to go builds credibility with your next buyer and it will minimize any issues that could arise.

Start gathering this documentation:

  • Locate title
    • Contact your local tax office for instructions on how to properly fill out & sign
    • If you cannot find the title, contact your local tax office to apply for a duplicate
    • If you have a lien on the vehicle, contact the lienholder to get a payoff estimate and to find out the best way to transfer title when selling Private Party
  • Get a CarFax or AutoCheck report
    • Invest the money to have this printed so you can show it to potential buyers
  • Gather all vehicle maintenance & repair information you can find
    • It seems tedious but potential buyers want to know the car was well cared for by the previous owner
  • Visit NHTSA website to search for any open recalls
    • Selling a car with a factory recall can come back to haunt you legally if it malfunctions
    • If the vehicle does have an open recall, call the local dealership to schedule the repair

3.Vehicle Reconditioning

Would you buy a car that was dirty, unmaintained & smelled like someone else?  Probably not and neither does anyone else.  This is one of the most important parts of the car selling process.  

Prospective buyers will see these flaws and may choose to walk away without even telling you why they didn’t like the car.  Minimize this by taking the time & effort to recondition the vehicle.

  • Take it to a reputable mechanic and have all issues addressed & repaired
    • Always change the oil, air filters & rotate the tires (have receipt to show)
  • Address & repair any exterior cosmetic issues such as damaged paint, dents & wheels/hubcaps
  • Invest the money to have a professional detail performed
  • Address & repair any interior cosmetic issues such as rips, tears & odors
  • Keep it clean – remember this is a new car to your prospective buyer.  They want to feel that feeling when sitting in it for the first time.

4.Listing & Merchandising

What does listing & merchandising mean?  Listing is where on the internet that you choose to showcase your vehicle for sale.  Merchandising is how attractive you make your listing.  

People can’t buy what they can’t see, so make sure you implement these tips to get the most potential buyers looking at your vehicle.

  • Take LOTS of pictures from these angles
    • All 4 corners of the vehicle
    • Inside every door
    • All damage
    • Dash panel/instrument cluster showing odometer
    • Radio (center stack)
    • Center console
    • Steering wheel
    • All extras including moonroof, navigation, power seats, dvd, etc
    • Under the hood
    • Trunk
    • Wheels
    • Tire tread
    • And if by chance you have this…the original window stick from the factory
  • Create contact information (you do not want to use your personal information for this transaction)
    • Create a new email address (there are several free options such as Yahoo, Gmail & Hotmail)
    • Create a new phone number (free services we recommend are TextNow & Google Voice)
  • List on various listing sites to maximize prospective buyers
    • CarGurus (investing in paid listings will get your vehicle to show up in more searches)
    • AutoTrader (investing in paid listings will get your vehicle to show up in more searches)
    • Craigslist 
    • Facebook
    • Ebay Motors
    • Offer up
    • Let go
  • Write a description that is detailed & engaging.  Ask these questions while writing the description to make sure you’ve got everything covered
    • What makes your car special?  (low miles, well-maintained, great gas mileage, etc)
    • What features does the vehicle have?  (navigation, sunroof, power seats, etc)
    • How will it make someone’s life better?  (fun to drive, lots of head & leg room, etc)
    • Does the listing have a call to action? (invite the person looking at your listing to schedule a test drive or to inquire about the vehicle)  
    • Is the description long enough?  (the most effective descriptions have between 50-100 words)
    • Here’s an example description:
      • CLEAN CARFAX!  FUN TO DRIVE!!!  LOOKS BRAND NEW!  LEATHER!  SPORT SEATS!  MOONROOF!  GAS SAVER!  NEW TIRES!  This 2016 Mini Cooper Countryman is a great car!  It’s fun to drive, great on gas, and still looks brand new!  It’s the perfect car for someone who is looking for fun & distinction to brighten up the daily commute!  There’s lots of head & leg room that’s perfect for road trips!  Call 210-555-5555 to schedule your appointment today to experience this awesome car for yourself!

5.Salesmanship

What exactly is salesmanship?  Salesmanship is the art of being able to negotiate a transaction where both parties win.  This is super important!  You want to feel like you’ve accomplished your goals and so does the person buying your vehicle.  Follow the steps below to ensure you are not missing out on potential buyers

  • Answer the phone.  Answering the phone is the most important thing you can do when trying to sell your vehicle; if you don’t answer, the potential buyer will move on to the next vehicle
    • Answer the phone in a friendly tone (no one wants to talk to a grump)
    • Be kind and answer the questions the potential buyer has
    • Ask any questions you may have
      • How will you be paying?
      • Are you pre-approved?
      • Are you insured?
      • When are you looking to make a decision?
  • If you can’t answer the phone, make sure you have a voicemail greeting set up that is inviting and mentions the vehicle you are selling
    • Example:  “Hello!  You’ve reached Phil.  I’m not able to get to the phone right now, so please leave your name & number and I will get back to you as soon as possible.  If you are calling about the 16 Mini Cooper, please let me know so I move you to the top of my priority list.  Talk to you soon!”
  • Reply to written messages such as text, email & listing app messages
    • Use the same energy to respond to these messages as you would a phone call – it makes a difference
  • Schedule the appointment to test drive in a public place where there are cameras present (bank, police station, grocery store, etc)
  • If they told you they were pre-approved over the phone, ask to see the pre-approval
    • If they refuse to show it to you, do not allow this person to drive your car
  • Before the test drive verify that they are adequately insured to cover themselves, you & your vehicle in the event there is an accident on the test drive
    • If they don’t, then do not allow this person to drive your car
  • After the test drive ask questions to find out how motivated the buyer is
    • What do you think about the vehicle?
    • What are your thoughts about the price?
    • Are you ready to buy this vehicle today?
  • Negotiation is uncomfortable, especially if it’s not something you do regularly.  Remember these things to make sure you win the day:
    • You’ve already done the research, so you know what your vehicle is worth and the least amount you’re willing to sell for
    • Honesty is always the best policy; not being truthful or withholding information about potential issues with the vehicle can come back to hurt you later
    • Don’t try to convince people that are not convincible; it’s okay to tell them “No” 
    • If it doesn’t feel right, chances are it’s not right, so it’s okay to say “no”
  • Once you’ve agreed on a price, make arrangements to finalize the sale
    • If the buyer is paying cash, make sure you are being paid in exact change or with a certified check
    • If the buyer is financing, meet the buyer at the bank or financial institution to ensure you are paid immediately
  • Finalize the sale
    • Have a bill of sale created with the VIN, mileage & price of vehicle
    • Everyone signs bill of sale
    • Everyone signs the title (if title is present)
    • Receive payment
    • Go online and fill out a “release of liability” form to protect you in the event of illegal activity in your sold car

Congratulations!  You just sold your car!

Some more advice from the writer:

  • This process doesn’t happen overnight; in fact, it can take up to 60 days to sell a vehicle depending on the price & market
  • If you are not getting much response to your listing after a few weeks, click here to send the listing link to us.  We will be happy to audit it to see where it could use some tweaks.
  • If at any point you are tired of the phone calls, test drives & unqualified buyers, click here to upload your vehicle information and we will send you a real cash offer for your vehicle

Good luck on your car-selling journey!  We wish you so much success!