Let’s start off with some good news: it’s never been easier to sell a car.
The most convenient method on this list takes literally five minutes. You get an offer from Vroom or Carvana, accept it, and they come pick it up.
On the flip side, if you want to get maximum value, a private sale isn’t so hard, either. As long as you follow the steps, selling a car to someone off Facebook Marketplace is quick, safe, and lucrative.
Plus, there are three methods in between Vroom and private sale that offer a nice mix of cash and convenience.
Let’s explore all five, and find the method that’s right for you.
Overview: The best way to sell your car
- Best overall: Sell to someone in your network
- For buying and selling in one place: Trade-in at the dealership
- For a balance of convenience and value: KBB Instant Cash Offer
- For maximum convenience: Sell to Carmax, Carvana, or Vroom
- For maximum value: Conduct a private sale
1. Sell to someone in your network
- Pros: Quick and easy, get closer to the number you want, know your car is in good hands
- Cons: Selling to someone especially close to you could get complicated if they want a special deal/financing favors
Selling your car to someone within your network may be the fastest, easiest, and overall best way to do it.
For starters, it’s convenient. All you have to do is craft a few social media posts and tag your friends who may know someone interested in buying.
It can also be lucrative. You’re much more likely to get the number you ask for from a family friend than from a total stranger who will haggle you down as low as possible.
Plus, like dating on Hinge, selling to someone inside or tangential to your network can be safer. Compared to a total stranger, your high school teacher’s friend’s daughter is much less likely to try to scam you or bounce a check.
Finally, there’s something warm and fuzzy about selling a car to someone you know. If you’re the kind of person who forms an emotional bond with your car, you’ll probably feel more comfortable seeing it go to “a loving home,” as the old chestnut goes. I’ll be selling my old Lexus sedan next year, and personally, I’d love to see it keep making memories with someone I care about.
How to sell your car to someone in your network
- Craft a detailed Facebook Marketplace listing — Before you start telling everyone you’re selling your car, you’ll want to generate a detailed Facebook Marketplace listing so that everyone can see it. This will serve as the URL that you’ll share, and Facebook is great since the upper generations may not have Insta. Facebook will help you gather and publish all of the essential details.
- Share your listing with your network — From your own listing you can click “Share” in the top right and post it to your Facebook and Instagram pages. You can also post it in your group chats.
- Spread the word of mouth — Instead of asking “who wants to buy this car,” ask “please tag someone who might be interested.” Let your network help you find your buyer.
If someone in your network wants you to come down 10% in price, I’d say take the deal. Chances are a private buyer off Autotrader will ask for even more of a discount, and the fees for listing there start at $49.
Now, if you’re looking to just get your car off your hands ASAP, consider step 2.
2. Trade it in at the dealership
- Pros: Save time, save on taxes, drop your old car and pick up your new one all in one visit
- Cons: May only get 60% to 80% of what you’d get from a private sale, trade-in valuations may take ~30 minutes per dealership.
Before walking into a dealership — even for a simple trade-in offer — be sure to educate yourself on all the tricks dealers like to use to manipulate and overcharge you:
- Ex-car salesman tells all: how to beat the auto dealerships at their own game
- The 5 biggest mistakes people make when buying a car
- Get the best deal on a new car with one simple email
Once you’re a Black Belt in Dealership Self-Defense, let’s talk trade-ins. Dealers accept most cars because (a) they want your business and (b) they’ll typically just flip it to another dealer via wholesale auction.
Heck, my buddy’s ‘98 minivan leaked oil all over the dealer’s parking lot and they still bought it for $400.
The other hidden benefit to trade-ins is that most states will only charge sales tax on the difference between the price of your new car and your trade-in. So, if you buy a new car for $30,000 and trade in your old car for $5,000, you’ll only pay ~7% on $25,000, not $30,000. That’s a $350 savings.
Still, you typically won’t get as much from a trade-in as you would from a private sale. Heck, some dealers won’t even meet the KBB trade-In value.
But trade-ins are darn convenient if you’re buying a car in the same location. If that’s you, check out these steps to maximize your trade-in offer.
How to maximize your trade-in offer
- Print out your KBB trade-in value — Bring this to the dealer for some negotiating power.
- Detail, wash, and vacuum your car — First impressions matter. If you’re on a budget, you can do all of this for <$20 at your local drive through car wash place.
- Expect to wait ~30 minutes — Dealers often take 30ish minutes to properly evaluate a trade-in. It’s not a dealer trick.
- Get the trade-in price separate from your new car price — Don’t let the dealer mix in your trade-in with your final out-the-door price for your new car. Get it separate and signed by the general sales manager so you can shop around.
Speaking of shopping around trade-in offers…
3. Get a KBB Instant Cash Offer
- Pros: Get sale/trade-in quotes from multiple dealerships at once, save time and stress
- Cons: Not all vehicles will qualify, dealers may still give you a hard time upon arrival, up to three dealers may contact you about your car
If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to spend a whole weekend driving around to different dealerships getting trade-in offers. It’s a waste of time, gas, and in my experience, the fewer car dealerships you visit in a lifetime, the higher your overall quality of life.
Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book feel the same way, which is why they joined forces to conceive the Instant Cash Offer.
The Instant Cash Offer is a bona fide offer that’s valid for seven days at nearby participating dealers. You’ll enter your car’s details and dirty little secrets (dent here, scratch there) and submit tons of photos. Then, you’ll get an offer you can take straight to the dealer.
The drawbacks to an Instant Cash Offer are that it does send your information to up to three local dealerships who may call, text, and otherwise bother you. That’s why I recommend not telling Kelley Blue Book that you’re also in the market for a new car. It won’t lower your trade-in value and may just give local dealers even more reason to harass you.
Plus, dealers will likely still want to inspect the car upon arrival. Instant Cash Offers are based on self-reported data, after all, and anyone monitoring the car market will know that dealers are in no position to take risks and lose money going into 2023. So even if you bring them an “Instant” Cash Offer, they may still spend 30 minutes with the car.
But even still, the Instant Cash Offer can save you time and multiple trips to multiple dealers.
How to maximize your Instant Cash Offer
- Go slow and submit plenty of photos — The more photos you submit, the more accurate your offer will be. It’ll also give the dealer less room to haggle with you upon arrival.
- Don’t mention that you’re shopping for a new car, too — This could open you up to way more texts, calls, and emails that you don’t want.
- Call the dealer in advance — It never hurts to call the dealer just to let them know you’re coming in with an Instant Cash Offer. They can help you set up an appointment, avoid busy times, and in some cases, tell you they just won’t honor it — saving you a trip.
- Plan to still budget 30 minutes for a final trade-in assessment – Instant Cash Offers are based on self-reported data that the dealer may want to verify themselves. So don’t expect to receive a check for the full amount right on the spot.
4. Sell to Carmax, Carvana, or Vroom
- Pros: Mega fast and convenient, Vroom and Carvana will literally pick up your old car, no haggling, you may get away with a slim inspection
- Cons: Offers may be lower than you’d get from a dealership (and definitely a private party)
Carmax, Carvana, and Vroom are all used car dealers that — for better or worse — don’t negotiate.
For most people, that’s a relief. Sure, you may end up paying ~$700 or $1,000 more than you would if you’d negotiated the rock bottom price with a dealership, but to people with enough stress on their plate, that’s a price they’ll gladly pay to avoid the dealership experience altogether.
On the selling side of things, Carmax, Carvana, and Vroom will buy pretty much any car that’s not currently on fire. Carmax will even buy your non-running car if you tow it to a local Carmax.
Plus, all three vendors make it super easy to get your car appraised online. Carmax will require you to visit a local location to redeem your offer, but Carvana and Vroom will actually pick up your car at your house.
For convenience, this method gets a 10/10.
The drawbacks to selling to Carmax, Carvana, or Vroom are that offers can be all over the place. Depending on a wide variety of invisible factors, they may offer you full KBB value — or just a few hundred bucks.
Case in point, while I was writing Money Under 30’s review of Carvana, they appraised my car for $432 — a full $7,000 below its KBB value. A few months later, they appraised it for $2,911.
The takeaway is this: definitely get quotes from all three. Chances are that one will lowball you, one will be just OK, and one will stand out.
How to maximize your Carmax, Carvana, or Vroom offer
- Submit plenty of photos — This might reduce your likelihood that you’ll have to come in for a full appraisal.
- Don’t bother haggling — These national used car retailers don’t negotiate on purchase prices or sale offers.
- Use your offer to negotiate with the dealer — If you’d still like the convenience of buying and selling in one place, ask your dealer to match Carmax et al’s offer.
- Remember that Vroom and Carvana will come pick up your car — How much is the convenience of a home pickup worth to you? Be sure to factor that dollar amount into Vroom or Carvana’s offer.
5. Private sale
- Pros: Get the most money, avoid the dealership experience, you’ll have the chance to meet the person who buys your car
- Cons: Requires the most work and patience, you may get hounded by lowballers, in-person sales always require safety precautions
If you’re looking to get the absolute maximum sale price and don’t mind putting in the work and effort to get there, a private sale is the way to go.
The term “private sale” is a bit misleading, since what you’re really doing is listing your car for sale to the general public on sites like:
- eBay Motors
- Cars and Bids
- Facebook Marketplace
And more. Once you find a buyer, the two of you meet up and complete the sale yourselves. That’s where the term “private” comes from.
If you’re concerned about doing all the proper paperwork, it’s not all that difficult. You just have to be sure you check a few boxes, transfer the title, and get 100% paid upfront. Edmunds has a full guide on how to close a private car sale.
The more tedious parts of a private sale are:
- Generating listings on some or all of the places listed above
- Paying listing fees (up to $49 per site)
- Staving off lowballers until a serious buyer comes along
But if you have the patience for all that, you’re much more likely to get at or near the full KBB value of your car.
Sure, selling a car the right way can take some work. But if you think about it, an extra four hours of work for another $1,000 is like being paid $250 an hour!
Even still, no judgment if you just want to sell your car ASAP and move on.
And if you’re looking to save big on the purchase price of your new car, too, check out this step-by-step guide: How to buy a used car (and get a good deal).