Sell a car privately: the definitive guide

For many, selling a car privately might be the best way to get the highest price for a car. However, the process can sometimes be long and frustrating, and unlike other instant routes to sell your car, has absolutely no guarantee of success.

So if you’re not convinced by online car buyers or simply want to avoid ‘untrustworthy’ dealers, you may be asking yourself ‘how do I sell my car privately’?

Read on for our top tips to help you sell your wheels privately (fast and for the most cash)…

sell a car privately
This lady looks relaxed in her BMW. There’s a chance she’s not selling her car privately. It can get stressful!

Selling a car privately explained:

  1. Why should I sell a car privately vs other options? 
  2. Can I legally sell my car?
  3. How much should I sell my car for? 
  4. Preparing your car for sale
  5. Where should I advertise my car?
  6. How to create the perfect advert for your car
  7. Finding the right buyer for your car 
  8. How to negotiate with a potential buyer 
  9. What documents will I need to sell my car? 
  10. Other ways to sell a car

Why should I sell my car privately?

There are a lot of steps to take when you’re ready to sell a car to a private buyer and you’ll receive very little help along the way.

You’ll have to advertise your car yourself, meet and show potential buyers your vehicle and deal with all negotiations on your own. Without a company taking you through the steps, it can be tricky.

Selling a car privately can be very stressful, so if you’re looking for a quick, easy sell, this definitely isn’t the route you want to take. Online car buying services are typically faster and offer to take all the hassle out of the selling your used car.

But don’t let all of that put you off. For many sellers, private sales can be worth it and you really can get a premium price for your vehicle. In this guide, we outline all the key things to consider when selling your car privately…

Is your car actually special?

It’s important to remember that no matter how nice your used car is, you have no guarantee of finding a buyer. With so many used cars advertised on the private market, buyers are actually spoilt for choice.

When selling privately, you need to make sure your car stands out from the crowd in order to attract interested buyers.

No seller is guaranteed to find a buyer, and every buyer will have multiple options they’re considering.

Sadly, your car will likely just be one of many similar cars being considered by any potential private buyer. Very few cars are actually unique, so it’s worth doing all you can to maximise your chances, including taking steps to understand what it’s worth.

Now, this may sound like a very obvious point, but that doesn’t stop it from being important. You need to make sure you are actually legally allowed to sell a car before you do anything.

car finance
Make sure your car finance is cleared before you sell it privately

This means any outstanding finance must be cleared and you need to make sure all the paperwork is in order. If you want to settle the finance on the car when the sale transaction is complete, you may want to have a settlement figure agreed in advance with your finance provider.

Make sure you have all your important documents at the ready, especially your V5C registration certificate  (in your name), manual, service book and MOT certificate.

If you have lost, or can’t find, any of them, you may need to order new copies. We discuss the documents you’ll require in more detail here.

How much is my car worth? How much should I sell it for?

Before you create your advert, you need to have a basic understanding of what your car is worth. Luckily there are many free, and easy to use, car valuation tools out there. Some advertising sites, like Auto Trader, also require you to use their online valuation tool before you put your ad up on their site.

There are plenty of free to use valuation tools and websites online, so it’s a good idea to use a few different ones in order to get a better understanding of your used car’s value.

Car valuation calculators like Parkers and What Car? are both free to use. If you want to know more about these online valuation tools, check out our guide to valuing your car.

Of course it’s important to remember that these guides won’t give you a definitive answer on price, but they will help you get a good idea of your car’s value, and give you a good target price to aim for.

Wax on, wax off: preparing your car for sale

Now, this is a really important step. Once you have an understanding of your vehicle’s value, you may be tempted to create an advert straight away. However, you’ll need to make sure your car is actually looking presentable.

Make sure your vehicle has had a good wash before you sell it privately!

Nobody wants to buy a dirty car, so you’ll need to give it a good clean, inside and out using our tips. Cars that look new and well-cared for have a much better chance of getting a higher price than cars that have been neglected.

Sure, washing your car can be a bit of a chore, however it’s definitely worth it. Make sure you find out more about how to keep your car looking brand new here. You could even get the car professionally valeted by doing a quick search for ‘car valet near me’ on Google.

Where should I advertise my car for sale?

When you’re ready to sell a car privately, you’ll have to advertise it yourself. This can seem like a lot of hassle, as you’ll need to select where to place your ad. With so many people looking to sell their cars, you’ll need to make sure your ad stands out from the crowd.

Firstly, you need to decide where you want to place your advert. The obvious place to start is Auto Trader. Ever since the launch of their classified ads magazine in 1975 they’ve become the dominant force in the UK’s used car market.

They’ve now moved to an online only service, yet that hasn’t stopped them from being the go-to place for people looking to sell their car privately. With 7 million web visits a month according to recent figures, it’s by far the most popular specialised online car market in the UK.

However, Auto Trader is far from your only option when you’re selling your car privately. In fact, there are plenty of alternatives out there…

Sites like eBay, Gumtree and Motors.co.uk provide private sellers and buyers to connect without having to go through a dealer or an online car buying company. Facebook Marketplace also allows you to find buyers in your local area. This could be great, unless you really hate your neighbours.

Local advertising is also an option if you don’t want to go online, so for technophobes out there, fear not. Placing adverts in local papers, pubs, and shops, or simply offering it to friends and family, are perfectly viable options for selling your car privately.

You can also park any car on a public road and simply put a ‘for sale’ sign in the window although this can be illegal.

Gumtree and eBay do see a lot of monthly traffic, so they are definitely worth considering when you’re thinking of advertising your car. But these aren’t sites dedicated to the selling of cars, so there’s a chance your ad may get lost in the sheer amount of stuff on there.

Motors.co.uk and Exchange & Mart meanwhile are much more specialised online car marketplaces and they have the added bonus of being free.

In theory, they should be the perfect place to advertise your car. However, though they might be a useful place to list your car and gain significant traffic, they are nowhere near the size of AutoTrader in terms of web visitors.

Generally, selling a car for free is possible, but choosing the wrong option can mean your car doesn’t get seen by enough buyers to get it sold.

Once you’ve chosen where to advertise your car, you better make sure you create a decent advert. With so many cars being advertised on Auto Trader, eBay and elsewhere, you need to make sure yours is eyecatching.

It’s important to write decent description, giving all the important information about your car. You’ll need to include stuff like your mileage and MOT expiry date. Make sure you also list any additional features your car has as well.

You don’t have to list all the vehicles faults, but you mustn’t misinform buyers. Honesty is very much the best policy when selling your used car privately – cars get damaged, suffer from wear and tear, that’s normal – so always be truthful about any problems.

You don’t want to find yourself in a situation with an angry, disappointed or shocked buyer post-sale.

Taking a photo with a camera phone
Great photos of your car are key to getting the highest price.

You’ll also need to upload pictures of your clean car. This is probably the most important stage of your advert.

Make sure photos are bright, in focus, and with the whole car in the photo. Wiki-How has created an extensive guide on how to take professional looking photos of your car. It’s well worth your time to read it.

Don’t forget you’ll need photos of the outside of the car from all sides, as well as of the interior including the passenger seat, images of the wheels and tires and any damage your car may have.

Now, once your classified ad is live, you’ll hopefully have potential buyers get in touch. You’ll need to meet the buyer, show them your car yourself and allow them to take it for a test-drive.

However, you have to be wary. When selling a car privately you may also have to put up with potential time-wasters and scammers, so you need to take care and certain precautions.

Always meet potential buyers in a place familiar to you. This could be at your home or work, as long as it’s a place you know well and feel comfortable in.

Never leave your car alone with the potential buyer. You should always accompany the buyer on a test drive, and don’t allow them to take any pictures or photos of the important documents.

How to negotiate with a potential buyer

Now, neither the buyer or the seller wants to feel like they’re getting a bad deal. The buyer might well be tempted to haggle and try to drive the price down.

As a result, it may be a good idea to set your asking price a bit higher than you’re hoping to get. This in turn will give you more room for negotiations, and ease the process of agreeing a price.

Beware though, setting a price that is too high may deter buyers altogether – it’s worth being reasonable.

What documents do I need to sell a car?

When you sell your car privately, you need to make sure to you have all the required documentation in order.

This must include your V5 document (proof of ownership). Having your service history will be useful (this will add value to your car) and having any MOT certificates will help to avoid using a ‘lack of history’ as an excuse for trying to chip down your price.

sell a car privately
Make sure you have the correct documents when selling a car

It’s important not to hand over any documentation, or to allow any pictures or photocopies to be taken by a potential buyer until you have agreed the sale. Once you’ve sold the car, you’ll need to send the buyer the top bit of V5C form and any additional paperwork.

Once you’ve received payment for the car and the sale is complete, you’ll need to provide some additional paperwork.

There’s a quite a lot to get together – make sure you hand over a receipt (two copies, one for each party). Include the sale date, registration number, car make and the model. And be sure to include both parties’ full names and addresses.

How to get paid securely

We’re sure you don’t want to get scammed when selling your car, so it’s really important to make sure you receive payment securely. Ask for the buyer’s phone number and vet them a little before you organise a viewing. Make sure they are actually serious about offering to buy your car.

Most classified ads sites recommend online bank transfers as the best method of payment, but there are other options out there.

Third-party companies (an ESCROW) that can hold the money until the transaction has been completed. This could work, but make sure you use a legitimate company.

Always check with the Financial Conduct Authority to avoid using a fraudulent company. You could also use other payment methods like banker’s draft.

Wait until you have had confirmation of payment from your bank or payment provider before you hand over the keys.

Importantly, no matter how you end up getting paid, when you have completed the sale, make sure you provide the buyer with a receipt and keep a copy for yourself.

Ready for selling your car privately?

We hope we’ve covered all areas for anyone asking the question ‘how can I sell my car privately’?

One final point, when you sell, it’s very important to notify the DVLA and any insurance or finance companies you have used for the car.

When you have handed over the car to your buyer, you’ll have to make sure you send the DVLA the bottom section of the V5C form.

You’ll also have to remove all your adverts, to make sure you’re not contacted by anyone else looking to buy your used car.

Is selling privately too time-consuming?

Motorway allows you to compare many instant car buyers and car dealers, helping you find the best price to sell your car quickly.

Other ways to sell a car:

Still looking for the best way to sell a car? There are plenty of other routes to explore and we cover everything in our extensive guides. Make sure you scratch up below: