How To Sell A Car Online – The Definitive Guide
It can be tricky to sell a car online – especially if you’re not an expert. For many of us, our car is the most valuable asset we have, so selling it can be an emotional process. This guide will help you sell quickly for a fair price.
What Is The Best Way To Sell A Car?
There are multiple ways to sell online and offline, and your choice is often a toss up between achieving the highest possible price, and getting your car sold as quickly as possible. There is simply no such thing as the best way to sell a car, it’s all based on your circumstances.
This guide is designed to clearly set out all the options to sell a car fast (whether online or not), along with helpful tips to make the process as seamless as possible.
(Quick check! Is your vehicle a van? Click here for our guide to selling a van).
In this online car selling guide, we’ve grouped your sale options into four major categories, and included all the tips you need to get the best deal whichever route you choose. You’ll find out the pros and cons for each option, and there’s even handy checklists to make the process as quick and pain-free as possible.
If you fancy a quick read regarding selling your motor, this guide may not be for you – try our Top 10 Car Selling Tips if you are short on time.
How to sell a car online
This is what we’re covering in this ultimate guide to selling a car online:
- Setting your valuation expectations
- Option 1 – Selling your car privately
- Option 2 – Selling your car to a dealership
- Option 3 – Using an online car buying service
- Option 4 – Scrapping a car
- Before you sell checklist
- After you sell checklist
- The verdict
Car Valuation Expectations When Selling A Car Online
As car owners, we naturally become very attached to our cars. We spend many hours cleaning, looking after and enjoying our vehicles. We often note down every expense and expect to recoup these back on a successful sale. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. And all this can lead to an unrealistic car valuation. You can read in-depth about car valuations in our dedicated guides:
While we think of each car as different, in reality they’re more of a commodity – makes and models have market prices, and its value is set by the second hand market. Condition will affect its value, but probably less than you think.
Ready to sell your car online? The easiest way to determine the market value for your car is to compare its condition and mileage with similar cars that are for sale right now – or even better, cars that have actually sold.
Start by searching for your vehicle (exact model and year) and compare with similar vehicles on Auto Trader, eBay and Gumtree – the leading private sale marketplaces. Don’t bother looking at dealer ads. Dealers have to put a premium on their stock, and they are rarely in a rush to sell. As they also tend to offer a warranty or other guarantees, it’s unlikely a private buyer is going to pay those prices from a private seller.
You can also compare prices exclusively from instant online car buyers in Motorway’s car valuation, and finally, Parkers does a great job of offering multiple valuations depending on a car’s current state.
That said, do be honest with yourself. If your car is a heap of junk, old and is barely roadworthy, then online car valuations will probably have revealed the truth already. If your vehicle is worth less than £200, it may be best for scrap! If you think that’s you, read our guide to scrapping your car.
Here are the big things that will affect your car’s second-hand value:
The condition of a car is directly related to its end value. A car in poor condition can fetch 20% less than one in almost perfect condition. Unfortunately, your emotional attachment, or “how reliable” you think the car is, really has little to do with the valuation. When assessing condition, consider specifically:
- How close the interior is to new
- Cleanliness of the engine bay
- Condition of tyres
- Condition of the brakes (check for scoring on the brake discs)
- Scuffs, scratches and dents on the bodywork
- Discolouration of the paint
So, you have a car in great condition, but what about the mileage? It’s no surprise that the lower the mileage, the higher the value.
Many classified websites like Auto Trader allow owners to sell their cars will have filters, so cars with higher mileage can be filtered from the search results. There’s a good chance if your car has over 100,000 miles, it might not even be found.
The idea behind this is of course, 100,000 miles isn’t just wear and tear on the engine. It’s wear and tear on the interior, suspension components and the chassis. And, all these things cost big money to maintain and replace.
Typically, well maintained diesel engines will last much longer than a petrol (as will a higher displacement engines), so mileage becomes less of an issue. However, the government is expected to introduce a ‘toxin tax’ in 2017/18 which is already impacting diesel valuations hugely, you can read all about this in our guide to the diesel toxin tax.
Although many engines these days will plod on for 200,000 miles or more, most buyers tend to disagree. And, that’s why mileage is important.
Prices for used cars fluctuate; a lot. The biggest driver of these fluctuations is when new models are released. Let’s look at a specific example:
First, we have the instance where a manufacturer brings out a new and improved top of the line model. The Ford Focus ST was the hottest hatchback in the Focus range for many years, but how many people really want it now the Ford Focus RS is now available? It starts getting bad press like this, and that curbs the value.
Next, we have the “generation” of car. Wikipedia shows the generations of the Ford Focus.
And, if we take the older models as an example, you might see a 2004 1st generation cars at £500, and the 2nd generation – also a 2004 model – at £1100.
Selling your car just after a new generation has been released means you have to expect less for your vehicle; regardless of which generation you own.
Assuming you’ve now done some background research on your car’s value, it’s time to look at the options you have for selling it.
As we’ve mentioned, choosing the right route is a matter of weighing up your need for the best possible price, against the time it’ll take you to sell and how much effort is involved. Decide for yourself as we explore the three main routes to sell below.
We’ve given each of the options below a ‘value score’ and a ‘speed score’ to help you find the right route for you.
Option 1: Sell a car privately online & offline
Value score – 10/10
Speed score – 1/10
A quick glance on any leading car classified ad websites will show you the pure supply of cars for sale. This isn’t a good thing. Although there is good demand for used cars, the sheer volume of cars for sale can mean it’s unlikely you’ll sell your car quickly, and the price achieved might not be what you hoped.
Auction sites like eBay often lead to faster sales. But, be warned, the nature of an auction sale means that buyers don’t usually have time to view the vehicle. This means they’ll normally only bid low-ball prices. On many occasions, this can be 20-30% less than what the car is worth.
You’ll need to set time aside for selling a car, because it’s likely that you’ll be showing 5-10 people your vehicle before you make a sale as well as allowing the viewer to test drive the car. Unlike selling cars using an car buying service, it’s unfortunate that selling your car privately can be hard work, and can swallow up lots of time.
Setting up adverts
First, you’ll need to write a solid description. All the obvious details should be listed here, such as:
- Full specifications
- Condition (with photographic proof)
- Service history
- MOT expiry date
- Insurance group (or category status e.g. Cat D)
On the subject of photos, go crazy! ‘More is more’ when it comes to images of your car – 5 is better than one, and 10 is better than 5 and so on.
Honesty is good policy for online sales. Take pictures of every positive (or imperfection), and explain each in detail in your advert. Gaining a user’s trust (even by down-selling the car) will help to achieve a higher value.
Imagine this is your online store, and you are trying to persuade customers to buy. Well, this study found that over 60% of consumers were persuaded to buy due to detailed product descriptions, whereas nearly 40% needed multiple product images. Make sure you have both.
Risks involved with selling cars online
There are always risks involved when selling cars online. Never accept a banker’s draft or cheque. In fact, never release your car to the new owner without payment in full. This means cash in your hand (and checking it’s real) or a BACS payment (bank transfer) direct to your bank. Never hand over the car without checking you have received 100% of the payment first!
Scams setup specifically for private cars sales are much more common than many people think. Here’s a useful article from the DMV that explains some of the most common scams.
In essence, don’t agree a deal with anyone mentioning: payment systems, escrow services, offers to over-pay as long as the car is shipped, cheques, banker’s draft or the need to access your personal details (passport, cards or driving license).
Always make sure you understand the process of transferring ownership of your car onto the buyer. You can get into trouble with the DVLA if you don’t inform them that your car is sold and follow the proper procedures on your V5C form. For step by step instructions on what you need to do when selling your car, have a read of our ultimate guide to the DVLA and selling your car, and our guide to your V5C form and ownership transfer.
Where to list your car online (and what it costs)
What many people selling their cars fail to consider, is the costs that it will incur. Whilst some websites are free, some can cost up to £60 per advert.
In fact, many will have a display or “insertion” fee which means even if the car doesn’t sell, they’ll still be a charge. So, you could actually be out of pocket, and still stuck with your old car.
Here are four popular places to sell a car online, and the associated costs.
There’s no doubt Auto Trader is one of the biggest and most well-known places to sell a car. The fees are not extortionate, but are certainly not the cheapest.
Check out their advertising page. Charges are based on whether a car is priced under £1000, or over £1000.
A car worth under £1000 will cost £9.95 for 2 weeks to advertise your car. This rises to £19.95 for a 6 week advert.
A car worth over £1000 will inflict advertising costs from a much more painful £36.95. This rises to an eye-watering £58.95 for a 6-week slot.
Next up, eBay. eBay’s fees are a little more reasonable. Adverts start at £10 for the auction style format, and fixed price listings. The longer period “classified” ads are priced at £14.99.
But wait, fees don’t stop there. Assume you have a successful sale on eBay. The site then charges a 1% ending fee. This is a minimum of £20, but capped at a maximum of £35.
You can see a full breakdown of their fees here.
If you are not a car dealer and you are looking to sell on Gumtree, good news! It’s free…
Gumtree allows a private seller to have one car for sale. Whereby the user wants to post a 2nd car, they’d be a fee applied of £15. More info on fees can be seen here.
So, a free listing? Great! Not so fast. There’s a big problem with Gumtree. It’s not a website to sell cars. It’s a website to selling everything.
This means the site is messy, can lack serious buyers, and it’s hard for users to find exactly what they want. There’s a good chance that your target audience will not even be able to find your car, unless they put in a specific area, and check the “recent listings” 5+ times a day.
But when all is said and done, Gumtree is free to sell on, so that’s why people opt for it. Selling for zero fees is very tempting! If selling your car for free is appealing, we explore fee-free options in this guide.
Also free is Motors.co.uk (though they may pass your details on to car buying services). The site tends to have upwards of 300,000+ cars for sale at ay one time, so attracts a large volume of buyers.
That said, it’s nowhere near the size of Auto Trader or eBay, but is one to consider to get additional reach for your private sale.
Piston Heads is a site with a focus around motorcycles, but there’s still plenty of cars for sale. For a site that focuses on other niche vehicles, the listing fee is slightly expensive at £11.99 for 30 days.
Other ways to sell a car privately
It’s surprising how many people sell their cars locally, with little effort. That’s not to say they get the best price for their car, but still. Examples of ways to sell locally include:
- Putting a for sale ad in your car window, and parking it somewhere that has a lot of passing traffic
- Offering the car to friends, and asking them to pass the message on
- Posting ads in shop windows, and on pub counters (these can cost as little as 20p per week)
Facebook used to be a standard social networking site. Nowadays, it’s more of a transactional marketplace. And it’s crazy how many car sales take place on there.
A great place to start is to look for groups in your local area that are dedicated to buying and selling (car specific groups are much better). Here are a couple of examples:
And, these groups are really easy to find using the following process:
- Using FaceBook search, search “cars for sale”+”insert your area here”
- Click “see all posts”
- Filter by “groups”
- Pick from the list of groups.
- List your car for sale (in more than one group).
A few final tips if you’re selling a car privately
Understanding “Sold as seen”
When completing a private sale, make sure you create a small document that explains the car is sold as seen with no warranty. Each party will need to add their name, address, date and signature.
This will relinquish any responsibility of breakdown from this point onwards.
If you don’t do this, there’s a chance a buyer could open a Small Claims Court suit against you if the car was to breakdown.
Driving license confirmation
Not 100% necessary, but getting confirmation of name and address from the buyer will give you some piece of mind. If the new owner was to rack up any driving offences in between the time of sale and the time of the V5 transfer, and their details were wrong, you could be liable.
It’s human nature to want a discount, so it’s incredibly unlikely anyone is going to offer the asking price. For that reason, try and price your car 5-10% above what you are willing to accept. This will give you some room for negotiation.
Option 2 – Sell a car to a dealer (Direct Sale or Trade In)
Value score – 5/10
Speed score – 5/10
Selling your car to a dealer can be a good middle ground between online car buying services and classified websites. Many dealers will offer to directly purchase your car (a direct sale), or part-exchange against a new vehicle on their forecourt (also known as a ‘trade-in’).
Unfortunately for the car owner, they have some clever tricks up their sleeve to haggle on purchase prices, or, to make it look like you’re getting a great deal on a part-exchange.
So, here is what you need to know.
Understand what your car is worth
Car dealers need to make a profit. They do this on the “buy”. So, if you don’t know what your car is worth before taking it in, you risk getting ripped off. We’ve already uncovered a few useful sites to gauge the value of your car, including Auto Trader, eBay and Gumtree. But, there are others. We mentioned Parkers, and this is a great sales tool for you. A dealer can’t argue with one of the longest standing members of the car valuation community.
Find the right car dealer
Let’s assume you’ve got a nice clean, three-year-old Ford Focus, and you’re looking for a Land Rover Discovery. Whether you are looking to sell, or looking to part-exchange, a local dealer will probably suggest they can offer a competitive price.
Why? Because they want to make a sale, and they don’t want to risk you going elsewhere.
The reality? They are going to sell the car the very next day to another dealer. They don’t want a Ford Focus sitting on their Land Rover forecourt.
Guess what that means? You’re going to get bottom dollar for your car. As much as 30% less than you’d get privately, and frequently less than car buying services offer for an even faster process.
Think carefully about the dealer’s speciality. Is it new cars? Older cars? 4x4s? A particular brand? If your car doesn’t fit in with their stock, you need to think about taking it elsewhere.
If your car does fit with vehicles the dealer is selling on their forecourt, you stand a much better chance of getting a good deal, so do your research and choose the best dealer carefully.
Know your car’s unique selling points
Online valuation tools don’t always tell the full story.
For instance, a Mazda RX8 is a car that is known for being particularly unreliable after around 60,000 miles. Why? Because it’s getting over 200bhp out of a 1.3L engine, and that means its engine won’t last as long as most cars.
For this car then, mileage really matters. If you have an RX8 with 15,000 miles, a Mazda dealer will really want your car. If you have 58,000 miles on the clock, they’re not going to offer you much.
Similarly, don’t underestimate the power of a good service history. Many dealers choose to offer a warranty, and a good service history helps them have the confidence to do that.
You might find a dealer digs through your service history only to disregard it as being valuable (like a lawyer would in court). Don’t let them. They’re having you on!
Know weak points, and what they might cost to fix
Before you enter a dealership, you need retaliating fire ready and waiting. Get your car under a microscope (because, that’s what a dealer is about to do) and list everything you see as a potential negative.
Two examples might include:
- No recent cam belt change
- Rust on the wheels
Once you’ve listed these negatives, do some research to see what they cost to fix. Assuming you have a fairly standard (non-high performance) car such as a Ford Focus, you can then deal with the dealer’s claims on how these affect your car’s value:
- No, a cam belt doesn’t cost £600 to change. Expect to pay £300
- And no, wheels don’t cost £300 each to recondition. Expect to pay less than £60 per wheel
Don’t underestimate this step. Low-balling due to “there’s just too many issues that need to be fixed” is pretty bog standard in the car dealer game.
Be the negotiator
Often car dealers will put in a low-ball price before a customer has a chance to act. There’s good reason for this; psychology. If you’re not experienced (like most people selling cars) in negotiating hard, it puts you in an awkward position.
A much better option is to put in your expected price first. And, then boot is on the other foot. Your dealer then must work hard to bring you down. Much better than you working hard to bring them up on their offer!
Remember, they will still negotiate. So, if you put in your lowest acceptable price first, you’ll lose. Put in a price that’s at least 10% above the realistic valuation.
Don’t get desperate
Circumstance has a lot to do with how much you’ll sell your car for. If the dealer in front of you is the only person that’s made an offer, and you need to sell today, you’re in trouble.
Try and plan in advance. If you have 3-4 offers on the table from other dealers, you can use them to your advantage. Play each dealer off the next, and you might even find a couple of them increase their offer!
Dealers love to say: “we can offer more for your car on a part-exchange”.
What they have compromised on increasing a part-exchange price for your car, they might short change you on the new car deal. A lot of free extras you might have got otherwise, are suddenly thrown out the window. The fact they’ve paid more for your car, will be their reason for doing so.
A popular car dealer tactic is suggesting you will only have access to the best car finance rates on your new car if you part exchange. e.g. lines such as, “we can only offer 5% APR on your new car if you trade in your old car, otherwise it’s 8%”. Take this sort of wheeler-dealering with a pinch of salt as it is unlikely to be true.
It’s also not true that a dealer needs to pay less or take on more admin for a car thats on finance. Dealers can buy cars on finance easily enough with just a small amount of paperwork.
Fundamentally, it’s important to segregate the two deals – the selling of your existing car, and the purchase of the new one. Once you have both deals down on paper, you can negotiate on each, and this is likely to yield a much better deal overall.
Remember that car dealerships are professional negotiators – it’s very possible to get a great deal if you choose the right buyer, but be sure to shop around before you do.
Option 3 – Sell a car to online car buyers
Value score – 5/10
Speed score – 10/10
If you’re looking for your car sale to be a hassle free process, car buying websites are the best way to go. They are super-simple to use, quick, and many people are surprised at how much money they are offered for their cars.
It’s worth understanding how these companies work, and what to look out for to get the best deal on your car.
Who are they?
There are now lots of online car buying firms, all offering slighly different services, and often very different prices. WeBuyAnyCar.com* are one of the largest and best-known of the online car buyers.
Whilst the proposition is similar across these brands – in all cases you’ll get an instant valuation and the ability to sell your car within hours – there are subtle differences between each offering that it pays to get your head around.
We’ve built a car buyer comparison tool to help you compare the several online car buyers that we work with, so you can find the highest price offered by them with a single search.
*WeBuyAnyCar is not a commercial partner of Motorway. We do not compare prices from WeBuyAnyCar.com
Delivery, collection and fees
There are two main ways that online car buyers complete the purchase:
The first is companies that have drop-off points throughout the country. You’ll value your car online with them, and if you accept the price offered, you book an appointment and then drive your car to one of these locations. There, they’ll perform a check of your car, and ensure all the information you gave online is correct, and then complete your purchase there and then.
The second model is those that come and collect the car from your home or work. In these cases, you’ll often have a call with the company to run through a few details after your online valuation, and then book a time that’s suitable to you for collection.
Some buyers charge ‘admin fees’, which range from £50-100, which is deducted from your final sale price – others don’t. Some also charge ‘transfer fees’ for wiring the money into your account. For that reason, make sure to take the fees into account along with what you’re offered for the car to get a complete picture.
What to expect on price
You are unlikely to get as a high a price from an online car buyer as you might selling privately. That isn’t because these companies are out to fleece customers – it’s because of the way their model works:
Most online car buyers will acquire cars from customers looking to sell their car (people like you). They will then mostly sell this stock of cars through car auction networks. Car dealers attend these auctions to get stock for their forecourts, and ultimately the end driver of your car buys from them weeks or months down the line. Along the way, each step in the chain needs to make a profit – so for the online car buyers to have a viable business, they’ll need to price your car in order to leave room for them, the auction and the car dealer to make a margin.
All this does inevitably put pressure on how much they can offer, but what makes them such a good option for many is how quickly and painlessly the transaction happens. Because of the vast amounts of data they have about the market, they’re able to offer a (generally pretty accurate) valuation instantly, and you can have cash in your account and your car sold within 24 hours – that is a very powerful proposition, and the big reason this model has become so popular in recent years.
How realistic is the price?
Online car buyers have a huge amount of data that enables them to value your car based on a few simple details. They’ll know lots about your car from just the registration number (the DVLA provides lots of detail on make, model, year, etc), mileage and condition.
The prices they offer are based on this information, so provided what you tell them in the online forms are correct, there should not be a big difference between the value quoted and the price you end up with in your bank account.
In some cases, customers end up getting less (or more) than the online valuation provided by an online car buyer. This is generally because some information was missing – for example, the car’s gearbox is broken, a key is missing, or the mileage is different to the amount stated. To make sure you’re not disappointed, be as accurate as possible when you do your valuation.
Compare deals to find the best offer
Each car buyer tends to be able to offer different amounts for each type, brand and age of car. That means it pays to check out various online car buyers before selecting your best deal.
At Motorway, we wanted to make this process easy for customers, so we’ve built the first true price comparison service for car buyers, which outlines not just the price offered from various buyers, but also the fees, customer reviews and collection options.
Option 4 – Scrapping a car
If you love your car, there’s no fun in scrapping it. The reality is, sometimes this is the best option – especially if car valuation websites suggest your car is worth less than £200. And, there’s plenty of companies out there that are ready to give you money for your car. A quick Google search for “scrap car”+”your area here” will bring up a long list of companies ready to buy scrap cars and many offer free collection.
A word of warning: in 2005, rules were put in place so that not just any old yard can scrap a car. Cars can only be scrapped in an Authorised Treatment Facility. The reason behind this is so that fluids that might damage the environment, are disposed of correctly. These fluids include oil, power steering and brake fluid, and battery acid.
An authorised scrappage company is likely to offer around £125-140 for a scrap car (regardless of the brand, or how well its been kept). But, that is on the assumption that the car is delivered to site. If they have to come and collect the car, this suddenly drops. In many cases, cars are scrapped for less than £100. Not good!
Once the car has been scrapped, you’ll need to follow the instructions on your V5(C) registration document. This informs the DVLA that the car has been scrapped, and confirms it’s been scrapped by the appropriate people. There are more details regarding scrapping a car on the Government website here, plus you can read a lot more in our ‘scrap my car’ guide.
Before You Sell A Car Online – The Checklist
Whether your selling a car to a dealer, use our online car buying comparison service, or sell your car privately, preparation is key. Get all the following ready before you start the process:
The V5 (also known as a log book), is proof that you own the car. It provides proof of who is the registered keeper. This is also the document used to transfer the car to the new owner
Service history documents will help to add value to your car. These can come in the form of receipts from an authorised garage of work completed (with your car registration noted), or dealer stamps with mileage indicators.
Previous MOT certificates will back up receipts for work completed on the car (especially when there has been advisory notes). Make sure you have the current MOT certificate to hand.
Make sure you find any spare keys before the buyer arrives. There’s nothing worse than fumbling around whilst trying to negotiate a price. Most cars get sold new with at least two sets of car keys, so the value of your car will be lower (with any of your selling options), if you’ve lost one or more of your keys.
A clean car is a sign to a buyer that it’s been well looked after. It’s worth investing in a mini-valet to get your car looking like new. Do this before you take photographs that will be used on your advert.
Are there any small faults that could be fixed quickly and easily?
A car’s value isn’t reduced just based on each individual repair, but the total volume of repairs needed. A car needing multiple repairs shows the owner hasn’t looked after the car, and it’s likely there’s more issues lying beneath the service.
Quick and easy fixes that should be done before selling your car include replacing any broken bulbs, and rubbing small surface scratches out with car polish.
It’s also worth considering what a potential buyer will check (mechanically) before purchasing. Mainly, this relates to fluids. Make sure they are topped up! This includes: radiator fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, and engine oil.
After You Sell Your Car – The Checklist
So, your car’s finally sold? Here’s what to do next:
Cancel your insurance cover
The minute funds have been received, get straight onto your insurance company. Depending on how long you have left on your policy and its terms and conditions, you could be entitled to a nice refund when you sell your car.
Get a refund on road tax
Transfer parking permits
Many residential areas now require residents to have parking permits. If this is the case for your area, make sure you inform the local council of the sale, and your new registration (if applicable).
Send off the V5
Follow the steps on your V5 form. You should have only given the new owner, the “new owner” section of the V5. This leaves you with the bulk of the document to send off to the DVLA. Alternatively, this can all now be done online here.
The verdict: where should you sell your car?
We’ve covered a wide range of ways to sell your car, and there’s lots to consider. Whist Motorway is focused on finding the best prices from online car buyers, we recognise that that route may not be best for everyone.
If you have a lot of time on your hands, are in no rush to sell and don’t mind having multiple people coming round to view your car, then it’s worth you pushing for the best price possible by selling your car privately using Auto Trader or eBay.
If you’re well-versed in ‘car-speak’, know how to negotiate on a vehicle and are in the market for a new car, then part-exchange or selling directly to a local car dealer may be the best route.
If those don’t apply, and you’re looking for a quick, hassle-free way to sell your car immediately, then using a leading car buying website will be the best way to get it done quickly. You can get started by using our sell my car comparison tool at Motorway.