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How to sell a car

By Adrian Porter

Get the best price for your car with our guide to selling. We explain part exchange, classified ads, auctions and car-buying services.

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Whether you’re trading up to something newer, scaling down to something smaller, or you’ve had a change in lifestyle and transport needs, at some point you’re likely to need to sell a car car.

In most cases you’ll want to maximise your return on the car because you’ll be using the money to help buy its replacement, but you may simply want to get shot of it as quickly and conveniently as possible.

Either way, there are an increasing number of different ways to sell a car – and a number of steps you can take to ensure that you get the best price for it.

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Before you start drafting up an ad, or strike the deal on your next car, there are a few things to consider:

1. How much is your car worth?

Before you agree to any part-exchange deal or put your car up for sale, have a clear idea of its value. Search for similar models advertised for sale online (Autotrader is a useful barometer of prices), use an online valuation tool, and assess your car’s condition and mileage realistically.

2. Gather your car’s paperwork

Make sure you have all the relevant documentation to hand: that means V5C (logbook), current and MOT certificates, its service book, manual, and any significant invoices and receipts for work done or parts purchased. Also ensure you can prove any outstanding loans have been paid off and that the car is yours to sell.

3. Find all the keys and accessories

Collect together all the keys for your car, including (if you have locking wheel nuts) the special socket-style tool for unlocking alloy wheels. Also re-fit any parts or accessories you might have removed, such as a parcel shelf for the boot or a tool kit.

4. Tidy it up

If your car is relatively new and high-value, it may be worth investing in having minor bodywork damage and paintwork scrapes repaired, or renovating scuffed alloy wheels. At the very least, give it a good clean inside and out, paying special attention to the parts a driver is most likely to see, such as the dashboard, steering wheel, seats, carpets and windows.

5. Your responsibilities

If you are honest about your vehicle and answer all questions truthfully, your sale should be straightforward and a buyer will have little legal comeback should the car later develop faults.

Part exchanging

If your car is only a few years old, or if you’re buying another vehicle from the same manufacturer, then part exchanging it may be the best and simplest option. Franchised dealers are usually keen to take on good-quality second-hand cars for their forecourts, but may prefer models from the same brands it sells new. Independent dealers will usually take on almost any good condition car in part exchange.

If you choose to part exchange, you should focus on the ‘price to change’ – this is the difference between the part exchange offer on your old car and the price of the new one, rather than the individual price of either. A dealer may offset a discount on your new car against a poor valuation on your old one, for example – or offer a very good price on your old one to tempt you into buying the new car at close to list price (the price shown in the brochure).

Bear in mind that most dealers will be looking to make a margin on any second-hand car they take on, so the part ex price is unlikely to be as high as the price you’d get from selling privately – however, it’s undoubtedly much more convenient.

Online part exchanges

If you’re buying your new car through an online broker or agent, they may offer a part-exchange facility too: usually, you will be expected to complete a form detailing the car’s condition, mileage and service history, and an offer will be made. This is unlikely to be very generous as your old car will simply be sent to auction.  

Selling to a dealer

If your car is relatively new, low-mileage and a model in high demand second-hand, or if it has particular specialist or niche appeal, then a dealer (franchised or independent) specialising in that marque or type of vehicle may be interested in buying it outright. Well cared-for mainstream vehicles are also valued by small local traders, especially if it’s a car they know they can sell on again quickly. This may be a quick and easy way to sell, if not the most lucrative.

Private classified ads

Traditional classified ads – now online as well as in newspapers and magazines, of course – remain a popular way to sell used cars. For sports, performance or classic cars, for example, consider advertising in a specialist magazine or on a related website; for a low-value older car, one of the free-ad websites (such Gumtree) or local free papers may be a better bet.

Make sure your advert describes the car accurately and gives all the necessary information: specific model and specification, age, mileage, length of MOT, service history. Avoid unnecessary waffle, but put in any appealing information such as ‘only one owner’, ‘recent cam belt change’ or ‘new tyres’, if applicable. Also provide a good selection of decent quality photographs, including interior shots.  

Be prepared for people who fail to turn up, time-wasters, and aggressive hagglers. Make sure that buyers are insured for test-driving and have a valid driving licence. Most importantly, be wary of crooks: be careful giving out your personal information online, do not leave people in your car alone with the keys or paperwork, and be mindful of your own personal security and safety at all times.

Top tip: When taking payment in a private sale, write out two receipts for any deposit or payment made, signed by yourself and the buyer, including the car’s make, model and registration number, agreed price and how the money was received. Write down both your and the buyer’s full names and addresses, with date and time. Be on your guard for forged banknotes; a banker’s draft is more secure, but could take two weeks or more to clear and forgeries do occur. Do not hand over the keys until the funds are safely in your account.  

Selling at auction

Sending your car to an auction is a more impersonal way to dispose of it, although there are no guarantees of a sale and prices are not generally high. You will need to pay an entry fee and set a reserve price; if it does not reach this price, you will have to take it home or try again in another sale.  Although you should receive payment from the auction company promptly, commission will be deducted.

Online auctions

Auction websites such as eBay are a popular way to buy and sell second-hand cars of all types and ages. You’ll usually have to pay a small fee and can set a reserve price; eBay also allows a ‘Buy It Now’ function at a set price. Bidders can ask questions prior to the sale, but as long as the car is described accurately, bids are legally binding. Follow the same approach to writing an eBay ad as you would for a classified ad, as described above.

As the buyer may be purchasing unseen, don’t expect to achieve a top value. Be wary of bidders with no eBay history, or without positive feedback, and do not do business with anyone offering you a suspiciously high price to settle up outside of eBay’s payment system (i.e. handing over your bank account details).

Online car buying services

There are an increasing number of companies that offer to buy your car (eg. We Buy Any Car). You enter your car’s details on the company’s website, such as age and mileage, receive a valuation, and then take it to a local depot to have it assessed. If all is well the money is usually paid straight into your bank account, but admin fees may be payable.

This certainly sounds hassle-free, but such companies only offer a price giving margin for profit once they sell the car at auction. Online valuations are only provisional prior to the car’s inspection, and may be substantially reduced once the car has been seen.

You’re almost certain to get a better price selling the car, or even sending it straight to auction, yourself. In our undercover research, we found that five out of six of our mystery shoppers would have been better off selling to a dealer – in one case, by over £2000.

Charity donation

If you are stuck with a low-value car or you simply can’t face the tyre-kickers, you could donate it to a charity. Many charities, from big household names to small local fund-raisers, are signed up to schemes whereby a donated car can be collected and either auctioned (if it is roadworthy), or scrapped and recycled, the charity receiving the price paid. This is sometimes done in partnership with social enterprises, such as those providing work experience for disadvantaged people.

You will be able to declare the donation as Gift Aid, which will increase the money your chosen charity receives. Research the different schemes, however, because some deduct fees for administration and vehicle collection, reducing the money a charity gets.

Other things to consider

  • You are legally responsible for your car until the DVLA is notified of its sale, either via sending part of the V5C (logbook) or notifying the DVLA online.
  • Any future full months’ car tax (VED) you have paid will be refunded to the person named on the V5C. The new buyer will need to tax the car themselves.
  • Settle any outstanding finance with your lender.
  • The buyer should notify a warranty company, if applicable, of the change of ownership. Products such as servicing packages, if originally bought, may also be transferable.
  • Remember to notify your insurer that you no longer own the car.

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