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How to sell your car

If there’s one thing that’s often more stressful than buying a used car, it’s selling one. All those strangers turning up at your door, the negotiating, trying to get as much money as you can. No wonder so many sellers prefer to just trade in their car instead. But with a bit of legwork you could be much better off financially if you sell your car yourself – and it needn’t be as time consuming as you might think. That’s why it’s worth putting the effort into selling your car privately. Here’s how.

Where and when to sell

When it comes to choosing where to advertise your car you’re spoiled for choice, but be realistic. If your car is worth very little and it’s a mainstream model, nobody will travel hundreds of miles to buy it. These are your options:

  • Social media: Even if your friends aren’t interested, some of their friends might be. That’s the beauty of social media; put up a post and it can go viral. Take this route and the audience could be huge while the cost will be zero.
  • Online advert: Your audience is potentially massive and the costs are low, but time wasters can be a nightmare.
  • Local paper: If you’re selling a low-value mainstream car, advertising it only locally should be fine. It’s only worth promoting to a national audience if it’s rare or valuable.
  • On the roadside: Stick a For sale sign in the window and you needn’t pay anything to shift your car. You’ll be advertising wherever you go and you could sell your car without it even leaving the drive. But beware of local authorities getting the hump; some will take action against people trying to sell their car on the roadside.
  • Online auctions: Advertising costs can be low and the audience is gigantic. You can also set a reserve price, but it’s not unusual to have to make more than one attempt to sell, because of timewasters.
  • At a dealer: You’ll always get more for your car if you sell it privately, but if you want a hassle-free option this is it.

It would be easy to think there’s an optimum time for selling your car, but that’s generally no longer the case. Modern convertibles are usable all year round while 4x4s and SUVs are perennially in demand, so they no longer have a season as such. The bottom line is that if your car is a bit of a heap it won’t find a buyer very easily at any time of year while if it’s clearly been cherished, whenever you try to sell it there should be a queue of buyers around the block.

Preparing your car for sale

While the make, model, age, mileage and service history will all affect what your car is worth and how easy it’ll find a buyer, how well it’s presented will make a massive difference too. If something looks loved it’ll be more desirable – nobody wants to buy an apparently neglected car.

That’s why you must make your car sparkle as much as possible – inside and out. A few hours with the vaccum cleaner and some polish could transform it, or you could get it valeted for £30-£80 – but its value should go up by far more as a result.

With your car thoroughly cleaned, make sure that when any buyer turns up you’ve got all the paperwork to hand; the registratiion document (V5C), MoT and any service history.

Write the perfect advert

An advert creates an impression and answers questions. It’s got to sound desirable and you need to impart as much information as you can. Avoid meaningless statements such as ‘first to see will buy’ and focus instead on what a potential buyer might want to know:

  • The year/reg, make, model, engine size, fuel type, bodystyle and trim level. So something like ‘2012 (62-reg) Vauxhall Astra 1.7 CDTi SRi diesel estate’.
  • Include the exact mileage; no vague statements such as ‘low mileage for year’.
  • If you’re the only owner from new, say so. If the car has had lots of owners it’s worth glossing over this bit, but highlight the fact that it’s had few owners (say how many), if that’s the case.
  • Include the interior and exterior colours, avoiding official names such as Zircon Blue or Nightfire Red. Just say what the colour is and if it’s metallic.
  • Mention some of the equipment fitted, especially extra-cost options. So if the car has alloy wheels, air-con, leather trim or sat-nav, say so.
  • Include information about when the MoT expires and how much service history there is. Even if your car hasn’t been maintained by a franchised dealer, as long as it’s been properly serviced you need to prove it.
  • Finish off with an asking price, so the reader has some idea of your expectations. Don’t just say that you’re open to offers as you need to set out with a figure in mind – so include this in your advert.

Setting the price

It’s key that you’re realistic with the asking price, because if it’s set too low you’ll lose out financially but ask too much and the phone won’t ring. You also need to price it a bit above what you’re prepared to accept, so you can leave yourself some room to haggle.

Getting the price right is much easier than you might imagine though. Look at what other sellers are asking for their similar cars in online classifieds, and make use of the free car valuation service offered by used car pricing experts CAP.

Or you could disregard everything we’ve said here and spend more than your car is worth on commissioning a professionally made film to advertise your car. That’s what Sydney-based David Johns did when he wanted to sell his virtually worthless 1999 Holden Barina (sold in the UK as a Vauxhall Corsa). Which just goes to show that selling a car can be fun.


Richard Dredge

November 2015