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How to sell your car without being ripped off

How to sell your car without being ripped off

Dan is an experienced motoring journalist who has more than 20 years of experience. He has been the editor of titles such as Fast Ford and Redline, and his latest project was converting an old Renault Trafic into a family campervan.

So the time has come to part with your car, but how do you get the best possible price without being stitched up? We take a look at your choices, and how to maximise the amount of cash in your pocket!

There are four main options when it comes to selling your car, here are the pros and cons of each…

Trading in your car

Possibly the simplest option is the good old trade in. You simply take your current car to a dealer, 'swap' it for a new car, and the value of your old car is deducted from the cost of the new purchase.

The benefit is that there is no messing about - it's simple, easy and painless. The downside is that you'll get substantially less for your car than if you were to sell it privately.

On paper the figure the dealer offers may well appear to be quite strong - but this will undoubtedly be at the expense of any discount they may have offered on the new car.

The dealer/trader will move the money (and their profit) around so it appears that you're getting a good deal but when their aim is to maximise their profit, it will always be in their favour.

It may also sting when you see your old car on their forecourt for a chunk more than you sold it for. But for many, the pain-free process of trading-in is the most sensible option.

Selling on car buying websites

In recent years several companies have appeared who promise to buy any car, and indeed they do! However it's not always such a great deal.

Initially you put your car details into their website - they then make you an offer (which is usually low, but fair), and they invite you along to one of their centres for an inspection. It's worth noting that many of the 'inspectors' work on a commission basis, so it's in their interest to knock down the valuation by highlighting any flaw they can find on the car.

The more they can knock off the price, the more they get paid! You can end up being offered substantially less than the initial internet valuation.

You stand the best chance of getting a fair price if you have a fairly new, common car in great condition. If you have an old, rare, or modified car it's not for you… not unless you want to be offered peanuts. 

Selling a car at auction

For many, this is a last ditch attempt to sell a car and it shouldn't be your first option unless you know what you're doing. The majority of the people buying are traders, so will only want to bid for cars they can make a profit on.

There are an increasing number of private buyers however, so you may get lucky - but it's always a gamble. Dealers (and savvy private buyers) generally want to buy ex-fleet cars at auction as they come with full service history and are 'safer' buys than private cars which could be hiding all manner of horrors.

You'll also have to pay the auction house, and you'll still have to pay this even if the car doesn't sell. Auctions can make sense if you have a mainstream car in good condition, particularly cars with low mileage, diesels, and estates - all of which do well.

Seling your car in a private sale

Your best chance of getting the best price is if you sell your car privately – It does mean fielding calls from potential purchasers, some of who may be time wasters, but if your aim is to maximise profit it's your best bet.

Make sure you value your car fairly by checking other similar cars online in your area and price yours in the same ballpark. If you want to sell the car quickly don’t pitch it at the top of the price range, and be reasonable.

Always add a couple of hundred pounds or so, so the buyer can knock you down which makes them feel like they've got a deal!

Where to advertise your car?

For a 'normal' mainstream car the usual suspects are best, eBay, Gumtree, and Autotrader. Be prepared for daft questions, people wanting to swap their lawn mower, and ridiculously low offers - they come with the territory.

Take GOOD photos showing all areas of the car (if you can’t take a good picture, get a mate who can to do it) write a detailled advert, and don’t miss anything out. The better your advert, the better your chance of a quick sale.

Preparing your car for sale

There's no shortcut to preparing a car for sale. You want to set aside a weekend to prep the car, and get stuck in with all your cleaning gear.

If you can make the car as near to mint as possible inside it will make selling it much easier. Really go to town, clean the areas you probably neglect like door shuts, air vents and the gaps down the side of the seats where loose change and sticky sweets live!

Wash and wax the car, you want it to be gleaming when the potential purchaser arrives.

Attend to any small jobs that you've been putting off too - new numberplates if yours are marked or damaged, new wiper blades if yours are worn, etc. The less things they can use to haggle you down the better.

If you've 'personalised' the car consider removing any additions, as not everyone will share your taste!

Prepare all the documentation you have with the car. Hopefully you'll have the service history and any handbooks. Keep them in the car so the buyer can have a look through them.

Be honest and fair. If they've got proof of insurance let them go on a test drive, if not offer to drive the car while they're in the passenger seat.

Doing the deal

If the prospective buyer likes the car and it's time for that awkward conversation about money have a minimum price in mind and stick to it.

Be firm but polite, and if the offer isn’t what you want, say that you'll happily consider it, but couldn’t accept the offer now.

Be mindful that they've travelled to come and see the car and almost certainly either have the asking price in their pocket, or the funds in their bank. If they like it enough to make you an offer, chances are they'll pay the asking price if pushed.

Cash or cheque?

When it comes to paying for the car be wary. Cash is good (as long as you don’t mind handling that sum of money) and a bank transfer is generally safe too. But be wary of bankers drafts as they can be forged. It goes without saying that the money needs to be in your account and cleared before you hand the car over. 

What if the car doesn't sell?

If your car doesn’t sell there can only be two reasons, either no one's seeing it, or it's overpriced. The solutions are either to advertise more widely, to accept that you're going to have to lower the price, or both. Do this, and at some point it will sell.