This content is provided courtesy of USAA.

Saying goodbye to your old ride can be easy, if you know how to get the price you want.

At one time, your old car was your new car and perhaps your pride and joy. Now it’s time to sell. Maybe another set of wheels has caught your eye, you need a lower monthly payment, or you’re just ready for a change.

Whatever the reason, you’re probably researching the car you want to buy with more enthusiasm than you’re investigating how to sell your old one. But taking time to sell your car the smart way can help bring you the best deal. Here are six ways to get the most money for your old set of wheels.

1. Showcase the Car

It’s a given that you should spiff up a car you’re trying to sell.

Automotive expert Lauren Fix, known as The Car Coach®, compares the process to staging a home for the real estate market. People often clear countertops, clean closets and rearrange furniture to showcase their homes. “Stage your car, as well,” Fix says. “Clean the floor mats, the stains on the cushions and the engine. Fix the crack in the windshield.”

2. Fix What’s Worth Fixing

As you evaluate the car’s condition, think about:

  • Easy cosmetic changes, such as touching up paint or repairing dents.
  • Mechanical tuneups. A trusted mechanic can inspect the vehicle for must-do fixes. It may be worth replacing an aging brake system to attract a buyer, but don’t sink so much into repairs that it eats into the profit you’re seeking.


3. Establish What It’s Really Worth

To price the car correctly, know its current value and be realistic about its condition.

Whether you’re considering trading in your vehicle or selling it yourself, sites such as Kelly Blue Book,, and the National Automobile Dealer Association can help you understand your car’s market value.

When using these sites, be sure to factor in the mileage, condition of the interior and minor dings to get a better understanding of your vehicle’s worth.

4. Decide Whether to Trade It In or Sell It

Research trade-in value versus the private-sale value online. Knowing the difference can help you weigh your options. Generally, you have these choices:

  • Dealer trade-in.While dealers generally offer wholesale price for a trade-in that is typically lower than if you sell your vehicle on your own, you might find the convenience of a same-day transaction worthwhile. You can leave the old car on the lot and drive away in the new one.Fix notes that the sales tax credit for the trade-in, offered in many states, can sweeten the deal. In that scenario, you pay sales tax on the new car price minus the trade-in amount. explains: On a $20,000 new car with a $12,000 trade-in, you’d only owe sales tax on $8,000 instead of $20,000. In a state with 6 percent sales tax, that’s a savings of $720.
  • Direct sale to a dealer. Sell to a dealer without buying another car. It’s an easy way out and helps you separate the sale of your owned vehicle from the purchase of the new one, but you’ll still often times get less than retail.
  • Direct sale to an individual. While this can be the best way to get the highest price for your car, this option requires more time and effort. Online sites have made vehicles available to the masses.


There are also the traditional sales methods: Tape a “For Sale” sign to the window, or buy an advertisement in your local or community newspaper’s classifieds. However you advertise, be prepared to negotiate with buyers who have done their research. Keep safety in mind: Meet strangers in a public place, and never give out your home address and other personal information.

5. Get Papers in Order

Like a good soldier shining brass buttons on a dress uniform, your spiffed-up ride may be ready for inspection. But presenting the right paperwork can seal the deal. Here’s what you need:

  • Service records. “If I see records, I know you cared for your car,” Fix says. A car aficionado, she maintains detailed files on every vehicle she owns, with notes and receipts. Also, a simple notebook in which you’ve jotted down the service and their dates can impress a buyer. If you don’t have long-term records, keep the most recent receipts for an oil change or tire purchase.
  • Carfax® Vehicle History Report. This report, attached to a car’s VIN or license tag number, can create good rapport with buyers and offer peace of mind by assuring them the car hasn’t been flooded or totaled in a wreck and repaired.


6. Be Smart About the Actual Transaction

Fix suggests paying close attention when writing the bill of sale. Include your name, the buyer’s name and your signature, and date and keep a copy. Make sure to include these two key phrases:

  • Car sold in as-is condition.
  • No warranties expressed or implied.


Otherwise, if something goes wrong with the car, an unhappy buyer could come back and demand some money back, Fix explains. Next, transfer the title.

  • Since the title-transfer process varies by state, check with your department of motor vehicles and/or county clerk’s office.
  • Only turn over the keys and title once the buyer’s check has cleared.
  • When you transfer the title, cancel your car insurance on the vehicle.