How to get the best price for your car

Here’s how to get the most for your used vehicle.

First, shine it up. “Take your car to the car wash and wash it outside, underneath, under the hood, and any other place you can use the high-pressure hose,” says Texas auto-maintenance consultant Tommy Sessions of If you see any signs of leaks from the engine or transmission, he says, “repair them and clean the oily places as best you can.”

Consider having your car inspected by a licensed mechanic. “If the car runs well and looks good, you have a much better chance of getting a good price for it,” says Session. “That’s what they do at the car lots.”

Find out what your car is worth. Scan the newspaper or online listings to see what others are asking for cars like yours. Then compare those prices to the listings on sites such as,, or

All of these sites suggest more than one price. NADA supplies an average trade-in value – what a dealer would pay for your car – and an average retail (dealer) price. Edmunds also offers a middle level: the amount private sellers are getting for cars like yours. You’ll usually find a difference of $1,000 or more between each of these prices.

Take your car to three local car dealers and ask what they would pay for it in a straight sale. Remar Sutton, author of Don’t Get Taken Every Time: The Ultimate Guide to Buying or Leasing a Car in the Showroom or on the Internet, considers the highest of these offers the wholesale value. He suggests setting your asking price at $2,000 above wholesale value.

Run ads in your local paper, regional magazines and online classifieds. Play up any special features, such as new tires or sun roof. And don’t forget to put a “For Sale” sign in your car window.

Perfect your sales pitch. Stress the vehicle’s reliability and performance. Gather all your documents, including title and registration. A car with a meticulous maintenance record will often fetch a premium.

Prepare for negotiations. Know the lowest price you are prepared to accept. Remar Sutton advises that you come down off your asking price slowly – in increments of $50 or $75, for instance, if you’ve marked up your car $2,000.

When buyers want to test-drive your car, use common sense. Confirm the identity on their driver’s license. Go along on the test drive so you can answer questions. For safety reasons, drive with only one buyer at a time.

Let buyers arrange their own financing. Make sure you are paid in cash or with a cashier’s check.

Once you’ve been paid, write up a bill of sale and transfer the title according to local laws. You’ll probably need to turn in your old tags and registration to your local Department of Motor Vehicles. Don’t forget to notify your insurance company.


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