Need to get rid of that old clunker? Looking to cash in on your pristine car? Here are the 5 best ways to sell your car (and one you should probably avoid).

Thanks to the Internet, there are more ways to sell your car than ever before. But you have to be aware of the different methods in order to choose the one that is right for you.

It’s often a matter of trading price for convenience. That means that if you’re in a hurry to sell your car, or you are looking for the easiest way to sell, you should expect to get less money. But if time and convenience are not overriding concerns, you can get the best price for the car.

First, get the value of your car

Whether you sell or trade your vehicle, you should first get a reliable estimate of its value. Since most of us are not car experts, that’s the only way to know if an offer is reasonable. You can easily do that from home.

You can get the value of your vehicle online using either Kelly Blue Book’s Get Your Blue Book Value page, or the Appraise Your Car page at

In either case, you will have to answer a series of questions about your car, including the make, model, options, and mileage. They will also ask you about the condition of the car, and you have to be as honest as possible here. They will give definitions of various conditions, and you should be careful to select the one that most realistically describes the vehicle. It can make a big difference either way.

Once you have completed the questionnaire, they will provide the estimate. You should print that page, and have it ready to bring to a dealer or to show to a private party.

They will typically provide both the retail and the wholesale value of your car. The retail value will be what you can expect sell the car to a private party for, while the wholesale value is what you can expect a dealer to pay for the car on a trade or outright purchase.

Option #1: Trade it in for your new car

This is generally the quickest, easiest way to sell your car because you’re accomplishing the sale of your current car at the same time you’re buying a new one. This makes the sale of your current car a relatively minor effort on your part, if there is any effort at all.

But you should be aware that you do give up something in exchange for the convenience. The trade-in value that you’ll be offered by a car dealer is probably not the best price you can get for the car. The reality is that the more value the dealer assigns your current car, the less they make on the resale of that car. In some ways, you and the car dealer are natural enemies when it comes to the value of your car.

And this is just my gut feeling based on personal experience, but I believe that the trade-in value of a car at a dealership is a moving target. What the dealer gives you on the trade-in might show up as an extra charge, or a higher charge, on the purchase of your new car.

It’s a process that just seems to give too much power to the dealer. After all, you’re not just working with the dealer to purchase your new car, but you’re now adding in the sale of your current car to the mix as well. But if ease and convenience are your primary goals in the sale of your car, trading it in to the dealer is the best option.

Option #2: Sell it to an outside dealer

Many car dealers will purchase your current car even if you don’t buy a new car from them. After all, they are all in the car selling business, and the purchase of your car represents an opportunity to sell it as a used car on their lot.

It’s not at all unlike a trade-in, since the dealer is likely to give you the lowest value possible for your car. But it is a way of separating the selling of your car from the buying of a new one, the way it works if you simply trade your car in as a down payment on a new one. That will at least give you the option to walk, and go to another dealer if you aren’t happy with what they will pay for your car.

Check around for car dealers in your area who will purchase your car even if you don’t buy a new one from them. Shop around, and work with the dealer who will give you the best offer.

One way to do this is through Autotrader’s Instant Cash Offer feature (Kelly Blue Book has a similar arrangement on their site above) . You can get an evaluation on the site, then take it to a participating dealer who will verify your car’s features and condition. If the car fits the description you’ve given, the dealer will buy it for cash, or accept it as a trade-in on a new purchase.

Option #3: Sell it to CarMax

If you have a CarMax in your area, this is definitely an option. CarMax advertises that they will purchase any car in any condition – a fact that I can verify personally.

You can schedule an appraisal online, then bring the car into the store. They will complete the appraisal in about 30 minutes, then make you a written offer. The offer will be good for seven days, which gives you a full week to shop around for another car, confident that you will have an exact amount of money from the sale of your current car.

You can sell your car to CarMax even if you don’t buy a car from them. If and when you decide to go ahead with the sale, they will pay you by bank draft. This is one of the quickest, easiest and cleanest ways to sell a car, no matter what your circumstances might be. They won’t give you top dollar for your car, but it will be an easy sale.

We recently had a 17 year old van with more than 150,000 miles on it—and in bad shape. We were moving out of state, and the van wouldn’t make the 1,000+ mile trip. In fact, the ride to CarMax to get a written estimate was probably the last run the vehicle would ever make. Translation: we were desperate to unload the van.

The process played out exactly as the CarMax website said. The car was evaluated in a about 30 minutes, and shortly afterwards we received an offer. It was only $200, but the alternative was to pay a wrecker to haul it out to an auto graveyard, where it would be pirated for parts. We would have liked a little bit more, but it was better than nothing.

Option #4: Sell to a private party

This is the best way to get the highest price for your car. Remember that at the beginning we said that Kelly Blue Book and will give you a retail (higher) and wholesale (lower) value on your car? If you plan to sell the car to a private party, your target price should be the retail value that you are given. This will be the highest price possible for the vehicle.

The one drawback to this method is that it will almost certainly take longer than any of the other sales methods available. You will have to advertise the vehicle for sale, then wait for a buyer. You may have to show the car several times before you actually get someone interested, and who actually has the money.

Advertise the car anywhere that you can, and preferably in places where you can do it for free. Look for online sites where you can advertise the car, post flyers at work and in businesses, like laundromats, and send out emails to everyone you know.

Once you do get a buyer, make sure that you accept a cashier’s check in payment, and close the transaction at the same bank that the check is issued by. Only then should you turn over the title of the car, as well as the car itself, to the buyer. Never accept a personal check, because they can bounce. That would force you to take legal action in order to recover the vehicle. But if the personal check issued is fraudulent, you could be completely out of luck.

Option #5: Take a shot on the “We Buy Cars For Cash” offerings

Have you ever seen those signs along the road that say “We Buy Cars For Cash”? In the normal course of your life, you probably ignore them. But when you are actually in the market to sell your car, you may be tempted. But you should think of these only as an absolute last resort.

The problem with these offers is that they are usually extremely low. After all, their whole reason for making such an offer is the hope of buying a good car on the cheap. If your car is in below average condition, they may not make an offer at all. And any offer they do make is likely to border on insulting.

You are better off selling the car to CarMax, or to a local dealer. Failing that, you’ll probably be better off trading it in as a down payment on a new car.


Each of these methods have different advantages and drawbacks. If you have time, and you want top dollar, sell the car to a private party. If time is short, look into CarMax, or sell it to a private dealer. Worst case, trade in for a new car. And only if you’re truly desperate, go the We Buy Cars For Cash route.

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About the author

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Since 2009, Kevin Mercadante has been sharing his journey from a washed-up mortgage loan officer emerging from the Financial Meltdown as a contract/self-employed “slash worker” – accountant/blogger/freelance web content writer – on Out of Your He offers career strategies, from dealing with under-employment to transitioning into self-employment, and provides “Alt-retirement strategies” for the vast majority who won’t retire to the beach as millionaires. He also frequently discusses the big-picture trends that are putting the squeeze on the bottom 90%, offering work-arounds and expense cutting tips to help readers carve out more money to save in their budgets – a.k.a., breaking the “savings barrier” and transitioning from debtor to saver. He’s a regular contributor/staff writer for as many as a dozen financial blogs and websites, including Money Under 30, Investor Junkie and The Dough Roller.