How to Get the Most Money When Selling Your Car

Selling A Car
Just putting a 'for sale' sign on your car isn't enough; getting it in great shape can not only attract a buyer, but get you the most money for your car

Reduce the net price of your new car by getting the most for your old one.

When it’s time to buy a new(er) car, most of us generally have an old one to sell or trade in. But how can you get the most for that car? Trading a car in seems easy, but trade-ins can often net you less than the car is worth. And while selling your car privately can often get you more than a dealer will give you for it, it’s an investment of your time and possibly, some cash.

But it can be worth it.

Taking the time to sell your old car on your own to someone else will net you more money, sometimes as much as 25% or more. It may not be as convenient as just trading it in to a dealer, but the money you gain makes it definitely worth the time and effort. Check out the difference of the trade-in value versus the private party value on a site like Kelly Blue Book. As an example, I plugged in my car’s trade in and private party values into KBB’s formula and found that my car is definitely worth selling it to a private party versus trading it in: $1,603 more or 24%+ more.


Selling A Car

The private party vs trade-in value comparison for my car: The difference was stunning: 24%!

Start by taking good care of your car

To get your car ready to sell, there are a few things you can do to ensure you get the most money out of that old car (which means more money down on the new one). These suggestions impact the final sale price wether you sell the car privately or trade your car in, because dealers look at all these details, too.

Start by taking care of your car during the time you own it. Keep all of your maintenance records, receipts for parts and services, and other paperwork. Maintain a good appearance by washing your car regularly and keeping the interior clean. All of these things will make your job easier when you go to sell your car.

Give your car a good wash and detail

Washing Your Car Before Selling Puts It In Its Best Light

Washing your car before selling puts it in its best light

A clean car looks better to private parties and dealers and shows them you took care of the car. This needs to be a thorough washing, not just a run through the automatic car wash. It is worth the few extra dollars to take it someplace and have it cleaned well. The inside is just as important to have detailed as well as under the hood and in the trunk. Dealers may deduct from the value if they have to pay a service porter extra time to detail your car before they can put it on the lot to sell.

Know your market and price competitively

Selling A Car

Sites like offer research tools that let you value your car and also, know what similar models are selling for

Whether selling on your own or trading in, know what your car sells for in your area. Car values can vary greatly across the country. Resources like Auto Trader,, local Craigslist ads, and local newspaper ads can help you see what your car is worth. Be sure to match the year, model, and options as well as mileage and condition. Weather in your area may impact the value as well. If selling a convertible, for instance, try to sell it at a time when buyers will be in the market for it.

Take care of the obvious: dents, scratches and tires

If you have small dents or scratches, it is going to cost you less to have them fixed than the amount a buyer or dealer will deduct to repair those items on their own.

It’s the same with tires. If your tires need to be replaced, that is, if they have less than 5/32″ tread left on them, consider purchasing a new set of tires, even if inexpensive ones, before selling. Private sellers will see this as a plus and dealers will not deduct $300-$400 off your value thinking they will have to replace them before reselling.

Change the oil and have safety and emission inspections updated

Selling A Car

This is especially true if you are selling your car on your own. This small expense can add value and confidence to potential buyers. Laws on inspections vary from state to state so check your local guidelines to find out how long the inspections are good for and if they are transferable to the new owner when you sell the car.

Gather your records

Pull all of the written records you have from the time you have owned the vehicle and put them together to show a dealer or private buyer. Another good investment is in a CarFax report, which costs about $30. Ideally, CarFax will show potential buyers that your maintenance receipts match the up with repairs and maintenance reports to CarFax, adding confidence in the condition of the vehicle.

Take good photos

If you are selling your car on your own and using online ads or flyers with photos make sure they are good quality. If it is too bright outside the glare will detract from the ability to see the car. An overcast day is best for taking photos. Include full photos of both sides, front, and rear of the exterior. For the interior photos include front and back seat, trunk, and dashboard area.

Selling A Car

What would you want to see or know?

Think about what you look for when buying a pre-owned car yourself. What adds value or detracts from the value for you? Taking the time to do these few things will allow you to get top dollar for your old car when you sell it or trade it in. At most, these things will take a couple of hours of your time and a little cash, but in the end, will help you gain hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Car Shopping

Need a new car? Whether shopping for a new car or a used car we recommend using our car shopping service

Tire Shopping

Need new tires? We recommend Tire Rack

Car Repair

Need to get your car repaired? We recommend Repair Pal. Exclusively just for Girls Guide to Cars readers, call (877) 323-1708 to speak to RepairPal Car Genius for FREE automotive repair advice and if needed to find the right shop for you!

St. Louis-based Robyn Wright writes about family, food, pets, technology and all things St. Louis. Her interest in cars... More about Robyn Wright