Sell A Car To A Dealer: The Definitive Guide

Looking to sell your car to a dealer? This guide is for you. While being only one of many ways to sell a car, selling direct to a dealer has long been the traditional, go-to method for many owners of newer cars, especially as a part exchange.

This guide will provide you with all the relevant knowledge required to sell any used car to a dealer, dealership or to trade, fast and hassle free. 

If you’re ready to sell today, you can compare car dealer offers and sell at Motorway or carry on for an in-depth look at things to consider…

sell a car to a dealer
Car dealers love buying shiny, expensive cars like this which they can sell on for a profit

Selling to a dealer explained:

  1. Can you sell your used car to a dealer?
  2. Why should I sell to a dealer?
  3. Car dealer negotiations explained
  4. How to know your cars value
  5. How to find the right car dealer for you
  6. How to get the best offer
  7. How to trade-in/part-exchange with a dealer
  8. Getting your used car ready for sale
  9. What documents do I need to sell my car to a dealer?
  10. Selling a car to a dealer when it’s on finance

Can you sell your used car to a dealer?

So, the answer to this question is simple. Yes, you can. If it so took your fancy, you could get up, get in the car, drive round to a few local dealerships and more than likely sell your car the same day.

Most dealers will at least make you an offer, whether it’s a good one is another matter. There are many factors that affect the offer you’ll receive. We’ve created this guide to selling your car to a dealer so that you can navigate the complex world of car dealerships. Read on…

Why sell my car to a dealer?

Dealers are often considered to be a compromise between value and convenience. Selling direct to a dealer (also known as ‘selling to trade’) won’t be as quick and easy as selling to an online car buyer.

And often it won’t be quite as profitable as selling it privately on Auto Trader or eBay, as dealerships need to be able to sell the car on again to a buyer to make a profit. Whether part exchange or selling direct to a dealer, you’ll always be dealing with a middleman, and middlemen need to have a profit margin.

But it’s not always that black and white, dealers often pay high prices if they want a particular used car for their forecourt. You just need to know where to look.

But before we help you find your perfect dealer, lets explore a bit of background…

Sadly for the car industry, dealers (and especially used car dealers) struggle with trust. Mainly thanks to so many transactions UK-wide over many years, where customers walked away feeling out of pocket, dealers have generally gained a poor reputation.

In fact, a study by Auto Trader in 2016 suggested that just 7% of customers actually trust car dealers. Wrongly or rightly, they are hardly considered trustworthy.

But that reputation is not entirely justified, used car dealers can often get you the best possible price for your car.

When selling to a dealer, you need to be wary in order to make sure you get a fair deal, but you can often come out on top, and beat quotes from online car buyers and private selling. This guide covers all bases for selling to a dealer.

How to negotiate with a used car dealer

Car dealers can be very difficult to negotiate with. They have all the info they need at their disposal (for example retail prices, margins they need, what buyers and sellers they have for your car) and not only that, they can sometimes deploy numerous clever ploys to drive prices down.

All in all, trying to get a fair price can be a bit of a struggle. In this section of the guide we cover all of the key areas you’ll need to be up to speed on in order to avoid a potential selling disaster.

Know your car’s value

The first step to take when you’re about to enter negotiations with a dealer, is to gain an understanding of the value of your car. This will put you in a much stronger position when you enter negotiations.

There are several free online car valuation tools. So you might want to use a few of them to get a more accurate idea of what a realistic price is going to look like.

These include the Motorway valuation tool, which will allow you to compare offers from many online car buyers.

Sites like Parkers and Auto Trader also have useful valuation tools. 

Know how much your car is worth
Know roughly how much your car is worth before approaching a dealer. This will allow you to negotiate a price with a target in mind

But be careful – though useful, these used car valuation tools won’t give you a 100% accurate valuation. They’ll give you a useful ‘target price’, but you’ll need to be aware of your car’s good and bad points that haven’t been factored in when using the online car valuation tools.

Scratches, dents, scuffs and MOT status aren’t usually taken into account during online car valuations but they will be by dealers on their final offer.

Also, the popularity of cars can ebb and flow from week to week and ‘price shocks’ also occur if new standards are introduced by the government or other body.

Regulations around Euro 6 compliance and ULEZ in London have affected valuations dramatically over the last few years.

Keep an eye out on what is happening in the car press. Knowledge of potential price drops will help give you an upper hand if a dealer starts negotiating.

Potential negotiation ‘mind games’  

Once you have a basic understanding of your used car’s value, you can enter negotiations with more confidence. But beware – dealers are experienced negotiators, and will likely try to chip you down on price.

Nobody understands the psychology of negotiation quite like a dealer, so there’s plenty to watch out for.

They might try to get the first offer in, and make it deliberately low in order to put you on the back foot. Always try to get your price in first, and make sure to make it a high one. Whatever it is, they will try to chip it down, so if you price low, you will likely lose out.

You also need to know the points the dealer will use to try and drive down the price, and how much it would cost to fix any faults, as this can help you to not get ripped-off.

Importantly, stay calm, and make sure you’re not in a rush to sell. Rather than only finding one dealer willing to make an offer, it may be worth trying to find several offers from different dealers.

This again can be a useful bargaining chip, as you can play them off against each other to achieve a higher price.

Where to find the best car dealer

When looking to sell to a dealer, location is key. Finding the best dealer can be a bit of a headache. There are lots of dealers out there and lots of them want to take your car and sell you a new one as a part exchange for a profit.

But making a profit is not a bad thing in itself, used car dealers ultimately have to make their margin somewhere or they will soon go out of business. Just make sure you consider the following before choosing a dealer….

Finding somewhere to sell a car to a dealer in my area

How close is the dealer to your location and car? Are they convenient for you? You may be driving back and forth quite a bit.

A quick search for ‘car dealer near me’ on Google will bring up a map populated with all the dealers in your local area. 

Are they trustworthy?

Whether a dealer is reliable and trustworthy usually aligns with whether they are going to give you a good deal. It’s a very important factor when deciding to sell your car to one.

We would highly recommend reading as many reviews as possible before choosing a used car dealer – whether Google Reviews, Trustpilot, Feefo, Yell, Yelp or elsewhere. Every review counts.

After you’ve searched ‘car dealer near me’ on Google. It will bring up all the car dealers in your local area. Once you’ve run the search, click on the ‘More places’ button at the bottom of the map area to see a full list:

find car dealer
Find a used car dealer near your location on Google

You’ll then be presented with a list of all the car dealers in your area with their exact location and reviews.

car dealers in Twickenham
All the car dealers in Twickenham

For example, in the area of Twickenham, there are more than 10 options. As you can see from the list, ‘Currie Motors’ looks like a great option, as it’s near my location and has 124 reviews with an average score of 4.3. It sounds both trustworthy and credible.

To be sure though, just click in and have a read. Once clicked, you’ll then get the page below, this gives the option to click through to read the reviews in detail…

Car dealer reviews
Click the reviews to see them in detail, every used car dealer review counts – read lots!

Once you have clicked here, you’ll see something like the image below. Make sure to organise by ‘Most Recent’ to get an accurate view of how the dealership has been performing in recent months.

You can also organise reviews by best to worst or vice versa. Make sure to check out any horror stories by organising from worst to best.

These reviews below look great. If they are conscientious, the used car dealers themselves will often reply to reviews and in this case, the dealer is replying to every single review. This is a good sign they offer great customer service and really care about their customers.

Sort car dealer reviews
Reviews for Currie Motors in Twickenham

It’s also a good idea to have a look at the dealer’s official website. In this case, Currie Motors in Twickenham is actually an official Toyota branch and comes with all the trust associated with a big brand like Toyota.

Official branches are usually a safe bet when looking for a dealer, especially if you own the model they specialise in – we cover why in more detail here.

Now, let’s look an example of an independent dealership that’s not an official branch of a large car make. For example ‘Alexanders of Twickenham’. They have a 4 star review score but only have 20 reviews. Let’s take a look at their website to see if we can learn more.

alexanders of twickenham
Always check a dealer’s website to see if they’re trustworthy

By visiting their site you can see that they emphasise their ‘renowned’ customer service (which is great) and right off the bat they tell you about their business and trustworthiness.

The fact their phone number is prominent inspires confidence and they also list their services which includes used car sales – perfect. Look out for dodgy, broken websites or dealers that don’t even have one.

If they haven’t got a decent website in this day and age, it’s likely their service isn’t going to be great…

Making sure you’re getting a good offer

So the example above (Alexanders of Twickenham), looks like a great option, especially as an owner of a Peugeot, Renault or Citroen (as these are the brands they list as being specialists in).

It’s important to note that dealers that specialise in Renault for example, will be more likely to offer a higher cash price or trade in value for a Renault.

This is because it will be easier for them to sell it on themselves with little hassle. Most dealerships will part-exchange or buy most cars if they know you’re in market for a new one, but they will often give you a low price for a used model they’re not specialised in.

For example, if you were trading in a Volkswagen, it’s likely that this dealership wouldn’t give you the best price, because they probably won’t be able to sell it themselves and there will be work involved trying to sell it elsewhere (e.g. to another dealer for a bargain price). It’s simply more of a hassle for them.

How to trade-in or part exchange with a dealer

Often when selling to a dealer, they’ll offer you a trade-in (also called a part-exchange). This is when you trade in your old car in return for a new one. To pay any of the remaining difference, you can either transfer cash, or take out finance.

In theory, trade-ins sound like an ideal solution. It takes care both of selling your old car, and saves you the hassle of having to find a new one.

However, though they may sound great, you might not always be getting the best deal when you’re looking for a newer car. Used car dealers will often look to make a larger profit through the part-exchange than if they just bought your car outright.

It’s therefore important to understand the trade-in, in order to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal for your car.

Firstly, unless you really have to, and your old car isn’t in great condition, it probably isn’t worth part-exchanging your car. Even though it’s convenient, you’ll probably be losing out financially.

When you part-exchange your car, you are essentially negotiating two deals. Firstly, you are establishing the value of your old car. Secondly, you are also working out a deal for the new car.

This may sound easy enough, but if you’re buying or selling it on finance, deposit and monthly pay-back figures will need to be factored  in. This all means your head could very quickly be swimming with complexed figures, quickly leading to confusion.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to research all the options available for you, like selling it privately or to an online car buyer when buying a new car. This will help establish whether getting rid of your car via a trade-in is a good idea.

Preparations before selling your car to a dealer

Before you jump in your car for the last time and speed on down to the dealer for a quick sale, STOP.

Remove all those old coffee cups, empty water bottles and crisp packets and make sure your car is clean and looking great. Dealers will look for any excuse to knock you down a few quid. Don’t give them an easy one.

Get out the hoover and get deep cleaning. It’s also definitely worth getting out a shammy or putting the car through a local car wash if you can.

If you’re on a budget we’ve created this guide for how to keep your car looking new, which explores washing and waxing amongst other factors – it’s well worth a read to maximise your car’s value.

wash your car
Make sure your car is clean, buffed and shiny (and generally in top shape) before heading to a dealer

Remember, you want to give the impression that you’ve really looked after your car, and you’re not the type of person that has used and abused your poor old motor..

They will of course check under the bonnet, but looks do count. You want the dealer to know you treated your car as if it were your baby.

Documents needed to sell to a dealer

It’s essential to bring the correct documentation with you when selling to a dealer. They simply won’t buy it if you don’t have your V5 and you’ll give them an excuse to chip you down if you don’t bring correct documentation on your car’s history. Every bit of accurate info counts, especially if it suggests a good service schedule.

V5C or Logbook
The V5C or Logbook holds all the ownership info for your vehicle.

It’s a good idea to bring the following:

  • V5 (this is essential as it proves you are the owner of the vehicle)
  • MOT stamps or certificates
  • Maintenance bills
  • Service history

If you have all of the documentation above you’ll be in the best position to get the best deal for your car at a used car dealership. If you’d like to read more about the documentation required when selling a car, we cover these in detail in our guide to the documents required to sell a car.

Service history can be particularly important in ensuring you receive the highest possible price for your car. If you’d like to learn more about service history, we cover the topic in detail in our ultimate guide to service history.

Selling a car to a dealer when it’s on finance

At Motorway, we get a lot of people asking if they can sell their vehicle with outstanding finance payments remaining. The answer is quite simply yes.

With a PCP agreement (the most common form of car finance) you can actually hand the car back using a voluntary termination agreement once you have paid 50% of the total finance amount back. e.g. £3,000 on a £6,000 car. 

However, If you are in a situation where your original finance figure was £6,000 and you have only paid £2,000 off in total (£4,000 remaining) then fear not, you can still sell your car.

You’ll just need to settle the £4,000 owed with the car finance company. You can pay this amount back with the money you get from selling your car.

That said, if a dealer only offers you £3,000 for your car, you will still have to pay your finance company back the owed £4,000. So you’ll need to find £1,000 from somewhere other than your car.

Most dealers will understand this process and will be able to help with arranging paying back the finance and settling the agreement.

In certain cases 50% of a £6,000 finance figure will have been paid off, meaning you can either pay £3,000 or return the car to settle the agreement. Both result in the finance agreement being settled.

Sometimes though, the car is actually worth more than £3,000 and in this case, it is definitely worth selling the car and paying off the £3,000 in cash. Then any remaining amount is yours.

You can learn more about selling a car on finance in our guide dedicated to this topic.

Ready to sell your car to a dealer?

If it’s a high value car, we may be able to help.  Motorway now works with hundreds of used car dealers up and down the UK. And most importantly, we automatically connect you with the most-relevant specialist buyer to get you the highest possible dealer price.

If your used car is relevant for our premium dealer service, we will tell you immediately when you value your car. Get started.

Selling to a dealer not for you? Need inspiration for a new car?

Consider all your options in the following guides: