Why You Should Sell Your Car Instead of Doing a Trade-in

When it comes time to buy a new car most of us default to trading in our old car rather than trying to sell it ourselves. It’s not that we can’t sell it, but just that we get kind of…lazy! Let’s face it, walking into a dealership and turning in the keys to our car in exchange for a trade-in on a new one is just too convenient. Not only that, it does take a certain amount confidence in order to sell your own car. Most of us don’t think of ourselves as salesman, and don’t think we have what it takes even to sell our own vehicle.

But even if you don’t think that you can sell your own car, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. There are real advantages if you can.

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Advantages of Selling Your Own Car

You’ll Get More Money Selling it Yourself

Car dealers are in the business of selling cars at a profit. In order to do that, they need to buy them on the cheap. Whatever price a dealership will give you on your car, you can be 100% certain that the car is worth more.

If you sell the car yourself, you’ll get more money and that will mean that you will have a larger down payment on the new car. A larger down payment means a smaller loan, and that means smaller monthly payments.

That’s why you owe it to yourself to try to sell it yourself before going to a dealer.

A Cash Down Payment will Put You in Charge

There’s another aspect of selling your own car that we don’t think too much about. When you bring your car into a dealer to trade it in for a new one, you’re putting the dealer in charge of both sides of the transaction — buying the new car, and the selling of your old one. That’s just too much power to turn over to people who make their living on commission!

When you do this, the dealer holds all the cards in the trade. That will put you on the victim side of the sales table. The way to get around that is to take the trade-in option away from the dealer by selling your car yourself.

If you can sell your car, you’re walking in with a cash down payment that the dealer is not a part of. Not only will that give you a stronger bargaining position, but it will also give you more confidence. You have sold your car yourself, and that is not a small accomplishment. The dealer will be forced to respect you, and that will matter in a negotiation.

Creating Firm Numbers

It’s not often fully understood that a trade-in is really an allowance more than anything else. It’s not really what your old car is truly worth, but the amount the dealer is willing to give you for it. The allowance may change from the beginning of the negotiations to the end — it’s never a firm number.

As an example, the dealer may “agree” to give you a higher trade-in value on your car, but add the difference to the price of the new one. You may come away thinking that you drove a better bargain because the dealer gave you more money for your old car, when in reality nothing of the sort ever happened. It was only on paper!

How to Sell Your Own Car

Selling your own car is the better course, but how do you do it if you’ve never done it before?

  1. Get the fair value. Start by checking out respected online car valuation services such as Kelly Blue Book. It can give you a good idea what your car is truly worth. Armed with that knowledge you can set a fair price for your vehicle and sell it quickly.
  2. Clean it up a bit. Condition matters when it comes to cars — make sure that yours is cleaned up and ready for sale. Give it a good wash and wax, inside and out, and do whatever repair work is necessary to fix significant dings and dents or obvious mechanical issues. The cleaner your car looks and the quieter it runs, the quicker you will sell it and the more money you’ll get for it.
  3. Advertising. There are plenty of places where you could advertise your car for little or no money. Craigslist is a given; hundreds of automobiles are advertised there every day and it has become one of the biggest places to advertise and sell a car. You can advertise a car online at various websites or your local newspaper. There will generally be a fee to do either and you’ll have to evaluate how effective that type of advertising will be. Place signs in grocery stores and laundromats, and also on the billboard it work, complete with photos of the car. And don’t forget have clearly written “for sale signs” in your car windows.
  4. Be prepared to negotiate. If you’ve done your homework to find the value of your car, and cleaned it up to get ready for sale, you can have confidence when selling the vehicle. If the car is fairly priced, you want to do what you can to get that price while still being flexible enough to make a sale happen. Some people are just looking for a steal but those are not people you want to deal with. You will sell your car when you find someone who knows its value and develops an emotional attachment. In the meantime, be firm and flexible — it will happen sooner or later.

It will of course take you longer to sell your car yourself than if you do a trade-in, but that delay could mean thousands of dollars extra in your pocket. It’s worth the effort.

Have you ever sold your own car rather than trading it in?

About the Author

By , on Dec 27, 2012
Kevin Mercadante
Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.

Leave Your Comment (3 Comments)

  1. Mark says:

    Any suggestions for selling a vehicle where the bank still holds the title? I think the reason most people trade-in is they don’t want/know how to deal with selling a car privately in this situation.

  2. Hi Karyn–Some of the questions are subjective, and that includes condition. I think this is mainly cosmetic since mechanical issues are addressed elsewhere.

  3. Karyn S says:

    The question I have is when it comes to condition of the car, what do you label it based on? Like is it mainly cosmetic or how it runs or what?

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