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The 3 Most Popular Ways to Sell Your Car

The most popular ways to sell a car each offer their own unique strengths.

When selling a car, it’s important to know that you’re getting the best possible deal in the shortest possible time – and that you’re not being scammed in the process. But beyond the basics, the buyer needs to be able to trust you and know that the car you’re selling is in the condition you describe it to be.

This article will show you proactive ways to build trust and confidence with buyers. By the end, you’ll be able to communicate the value of your car to serious buyers while deflecting scammers and tire kickers like a seasoned professional. And since buyers are on the lookout too, we’ve compiled some common mistakes that make sellers look less trustworthy. Those are at the end – for now, let’s start from the top.

The three main ways to sell a used car are:

  • Car dealerships
  • Private parties
  • On consignment

Each method offers its own strengths and weaknesses based on your situation, but many factors are the same in every scenario. Here are five ways to prepare for selling your car:

  • Clean the car inside and out. First impressions are hard to change. Start with a clean car to set things off on the right foot.
  • Research your car. Take a deep dive into its specs and options. If your car is 1 of 50 ever made in green with red seatbelts, that information might help build the case for a higher sale price.
  • Learn its value. Find similar cars listed on Craigslist, eBay, and other sites both nationally and locally. Bookmark them or print them out to support your asking price to potential buyers.
  • Gather the paperwork. The buyer will need your car’s title and any maintenance and repair records you have. Those items tend to go missing when you need them most, so find them ahead of time.
  • Get an independent inspection. While the buyer might offer to inspect the car upon arrival, it’s best to get an unbiased inspection from a reputable mechanic who doesn’t want to buy your car.

Now that we know the basics, let’s take a look at the three most popular methods of selling a car to learn which one is right for your situation.

Credit: Maria Geller

Car Dealerships: When Time is Money

The modern car dealership is seen by many as the easiest and most convenient way to rid yourself of a used vehicle.

Of course, dealers have to make money somehow, and they do it by buying low and selling high. Forget for a moment that many car enthusiasts refer to these places as “stealerships” – as a seller, a dealership offers you a good chance of getting a fair price for your car without wasting too much time on the matter. And if time is money to you, that’s a fair deal all around.

How it Works

When selling your car to a dealership, you will most likely get less money than you would with the other selling methods. The trade-off is that a dealer will usually buy your car quickly. Just give them a title and whatever records you have, and they rarely ask for much more. No tire kickers or time wasters to weed through, just a quick sale at a reasonable price.

A car dealership might opt to perform an inspection or a test drive to make sure your car wasn’t zip-tied together for the sake of getting it sold. They might contact the DMV to ensure you’re giving them a valid title and run a VIN check to confirm you’re not selling them a stolen car. But when you sell a car to a dealership, that’s usually all the waiting you’ll ever have to do.

While car dealerships would love to send you home in another car from their lot, many dealers will buy your car without asking for a sale in return. Dealers offer a safe space to perform business and are unlikely to hand you a bad check. What’s more, state laws exist to protect you in the event of a car dealership trying to scam you.

Online Dealerships

Online car-buying services like Carvana are largely the same from a seller’s perspective. They will send an agent to perform a safety inspection and take pictures, and if your car checks out, you’ll get an offer and shipping will be arranged. It still won’t be as much money as you’ll get through other means, but when it comes to ease and convenience, it’s hard to beat a car dealership – physical or digital.

Credit: Maria Geller

Private Parties: Cut Out the Middleman

Selling your car directly to an individual involves exchanging cash with a stranger in a parking lot. That sounds shady because it is – while many people worry about getting scammed while buying cars from apps and classifieds sites, selling those cars can often be just as risky.

In exchange for the time spent writing ads, taking photos, and dealing with a sometimes endless sea of tire kickers and 3:00 AM messages asking if you still have your car, selling to a private party will often get you the most money of any method on this list while also taking the most time.

How it Works

Selling a car to a private party removes the middleman from the equation. Unlike selling to a dealership, where your memories and stories will rarely reach the car’s next owner, those details make all the difference in a person-to-person sale.

We all tend to get rose-colored glasses about our cars. You’ve seen that scratch on the hood so many times that soon you’ve forgotten it’s even there. To err is human, but glossing over important facts on purpose makes you a scammer.

Instead, share the best and worst details about your car in an honest and transparent way. The buyer probably doesn’t need to know about that onion ring you lost under the seat, but if the clutch started feeling different a few thousand miles ago that’s another story. Tell them things that no one else can.

In addition to the hints from earlier, there are more steps you can take to ensure a smooth experience and avoid being scammed. Remember these tips when selling a car to a private buyer:

  • Be honest and receptive even before the meet-up, sharing the pros and cons of your car objectively.
  • Meet the buyer in a safe public place like a police station or bank parking lot.
  • Let the buyer drive the car to test the acceleration, braking, and cornering in a safe way.
  • Bring a friend for added security and to give you a ride home if the car sells.
Credit: Maria Geller

Car Consignment: The Hands-Off Approach

Car consignment is the act of selling a vehicle through a middleman. Consignment can happen online or through brick-and-mortar buildings, and many traditional car dealerships will sell cars on consignment online or locally on their lot. If you don’t look forward to dealing with tire-kickers and dead-end messages, why not let someone else do the work of selling your car for you?

How it Works

As the seller of a consigned car, you retain ownership of your car until payment is confirmed. The entire selling process is handled for you – from writing listings and taking photos to accepting payment, arranging delivery, and completing DMV paperwork, the consigner does it all on your behalf. In exchange for these services you pay a consignment fee, either at a fixed rate or as a percentage of the final sale price.

Most modern consignment companies will market your car nationwide – and even internationally – to connect you with the right buyer and net a high price for your car. But the best consignment shops don’t just sell anything with wheels. Instead, they tend to specialize in selling certain cars to certain buyers. And since consignment companies don’t own the cars they’re selling, they usually prefer well-maintained cars with clean titles and minimal damage.

The Circle of Trust

That thorough approach to selling sometimes takes longer than the other methods we’ve discussed. In exchange, you are entirely hands-off during the process. What’s more, the money you pocket after fees is almost always higher than what you’d get from a car dealership and closer to what you’d get from a private party sale. It’s safer, too – if someone tries to scam a consigner out of your car, chances are you’ll never even know about it.

The success of a car consignment sale depends on transparency between all parties. This creates a circle of trust:

The seller knows the facts -> The consigner learns the facts -> The buyer trusts the facts

Since each party has a financial incentive to be honest with the others, a situation arises where consigned cars are vetted twice: first by the consignment company and again by the buyer. As a result, selling a car on consignment often:

  • Gets you more money than selling to a dealership
  • Carries a higher success rate than selling to a private party
  • Takes less of your time than either of those methods

And because you retain ownership of your car until payment is verified, consignment is more secure than selling to a private party as well.

Learn what car consignment is, how trustworthy it is, and how to choose the best car consignment company the first time.

Credit: Andrea Piacquadio

How to Not Look Like a Scammer

Whether you’re selling your car on consignment, to a dealership, or to a private party in a parking lot, each approach offers its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Yet as we saw in the beginning of this article, much remains the same in each scenario.

The most important thing is being honest about the car you’re selling. You don’t want a business or private party tracking you down after the fact and accusing you of being a scammer – whether you meant to be one or not.

Speaking of accidentally looking like a scammer, there are proactive ways that you can build trust as a seller to help ensure a smooth experience for all involved. It helps to understand the seller’s role in the three main ways people get scammed when buying a car:

  • The seller misrepresents the car – it’s a lemon
  • The seller provides a bad title or a stolen car
  • The seller keeps the car and disappears with the money

Avoiding the first one involves being honest and objective when selling your car. You don’t need to mention every time you spilled coffee on the seat, but glossing over why a service was skipped or where a noise is coming from makes it seem like you’re trying to hide something. Providing the buyer with an inspection write-up from a local mechanic establishes a positive tone while confirming that your car is indeed not a lemon.

The second issue comes in several varieties. If your car’s title has ever been replaced or reissued, you might accidentally give the buyer an outdated version. If the car was totaled by an insurance company, that might not show on the title you have in your hand. Offer photos of the title and VIN upfront so the buyer can run a history report – or provide one of your own. This verifies the title status and confirms that the car is not stolen.

The last problem is the easiest to avoid: exchange the title and money simultaneously. You might not think anything of accepting the money in your driveway and then going inside your house to look for the title, but the buyer will probably have a heart attack thinking they may never see you or their money again.

One last thing: if you’re selling a car in person, let the buyer take a test drive with you. It shouldn’t be possible to hurt a car through hard acceleration or emergency braking maneuvers. Let the buyer drive the car as if they already bought it – within reason, of course – and bring a friend along for added security.

Credit: Exotic Car Trader

Feeling confident about selling your car?

By following this guide, you’ll be able to sell your car using the method that works best for you while avoiding scams and shady situations like a seasoned professional.

Exotic Car Trader offers a curated selection of high-end, exotic, and collectible vehicles on consignment. Our media-rich listings provide a transparent view of every car we sell. As a brick-and-mortar company with strong ties to South Florida car culture, we strive to set a high bar not only with the cars we offer, but with our entire consignment experience.

If your car would look right at home with our current inventory, have a look at how our car consignment program can be tailored specifically to your needs.

Additional reading:

What Is Car Consignment, Can It Be Trusted, and Is It Worth It?

How Car Consignment Works as a Seller

Car Consignment Saves Sellers Time, Hassle, and Headaches

Cover image credit: Exotic Car Trader

Words by Justin Dake

We are not attorneys. This article does not contain legal advice.