How to sell a car: step by step guide

    Selling your car can seem stressful. You want to make sure you’re selling for the best price, but selling to a trustworthy buyer. Annoyingly, that’s not always as straightforward as it should be, but hopefully, our guide on how to sell a car can help.


    Prep your car

    You may love your car and think it runs like a dream, but the buyer won’t take your word for it. They’re just as concerned about your honesty as you are about theirs. If they have any doubts about your car, they’ll just move on. So, make sure you’re showing in the absolute best light.

    Start with a thorough clean, inside and out. Don’t just run the hose over it, make a real effort to make your car fresh and clean for impressing buyers. You could also choose a professional valet for a real deep clean.

    Then give your car a good inspection, looking at it like a very picky prospective buyer. Don’t brush off any scratches or bumps as “acceptable” because your future buyer might not agree. It’s a good idea to get minor scrapes fixed up as you’ll often make back the fee on the final sales price of your cosmetically improved car.

    Prep your paperwork

    Having all your paperwork in place puts buyers at ease and builds trust. Missing V5Cs can read as slightly suspicious so make sure you have all the following to hand:

    It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that you need to be authorised to sell the car, either because you are the owner or because you have the owner’s permission. This includes getting permission from the finance company if you want to sell a car with outstanding finance.

    If your car has outstanding debt, you will need to settle the debt to become the legal owner before you can sell it. Some dealers can help you settle this difference through the sale of your car. Motorway can help you sell cars on PCP and HP finance as well as through personal loan.

    But buyers from private sales won’t be settling your debts. So you will need a finance settlement letter to show any buyers – it is illegal to sell a car on finance without letting the buyer know – and you will need to pay off your remaining balance.

    how to sell your car
    Make your car look its best for potential buyers.

    Make a car profile

    Your car profile is your car’s advert to any interested car buyers. But you don’t need to make it flashy and super creative. People know what to expect of a car profile, and it’s more important to meet the buyers expectations and demonstrate you know what you’re doing.

    Car profiles should contain all the key information, clearly displayed. This should include:

    • Make
    • Model
    • Age
    • Colour (as in black or dark blue, not ‘midnight steel’)
    • Mileage
    • Number of previous owners
    • Key features (electric windows, power steering, AC etc.)
    • Condition (recently serviced, never smoked in etc.)
    • Price

    You should also be totally honest and mention any issues your car has, whether that’s a bump in the bonnet or brake pads that need replacing. You don’t want a buyer to travel to you only to discover you were withholding information, or things could get very tense, very fast, right on your doorstep.

    When you advertise your car to private sellers, you should also keep in mind that the price may have to be flexible. Potential buyers may also be looking at your car expecting a bit of room for negotiation. You might be annoyed but it’s just part and parcel of selling cars the traditional way. The price you set for your car needs to be competitive with other vehicles while still accommodating the negotiating you will almost certainly face.

    selling your car
    Avoid dark photos, they should be well lit and show the details of your car.

    Take photos

    Potential buyers want to see your car from all angles – interior and exterior, front and back. Choose a well-lit place with enough space to photograph your whole car without getting others into the frame. For great photos, snap pics on a slightly overcast day to reduce camera glare, and avoid dimly lit times like the evening. To protect your privacy, consider photographing your car in a public car park or somewhere that doesn’t identify your house or your neighbours’. 

    Get the word out

    Time to let the world know you have a quality car for sale. There are plenty of ways you can do this, online and offline. Make sure to cover all bases

    • Online listing sites
    • Online forums
    • Social media marketplaces
    • Local message boards
    • Local press
    •  A ‘for sale’ sign in your car’s back window
    • Word of mouth
    • Motorway

    Word of mouth may seem obvious, but you never know if a colleague or friend’s friend is looking for a car. A private sale to someone you know can help reduce the stress, and it can also save you from the time-consuming effort of listing your car on multiple sites (and paying any required fees). You could also consider selling the car at auction, as well as on Motorway.  

    Prepare to host sellers

    Be prepared for the emails, calls, and instant messages. The dumb questions, the time-wasters, the unrealistic offers, and the non-stop negotiators. It might take a lot of time and a lot of patience to narrow down your potential buyer pool to genuine buyers.

    When you have decided to move ahead with an offer, the buyer will want to see your car in person and take it for a test drive. Before you let them take it out, remember these important tips to protect you and your car:

    • Make sure they are fully insured on your car
    • Never let anyone test drive the car alone
    • If you swap driver/passenger positions, take the keys with you when you step out of the car
    • Never leave them alone with your car
    • Never let them borrow your documents
    selling your car online
    Avoid disputes by making sure your car advert is accurate and honest.

    If your price took negotiation into consideration, you and your buyer should be able to agree on a final price without too much drama. Consider how you want to get paid, and try to have this discussion before the buyer comes to test-drive the car. Your options are:

    • Cash: Quick and simple, but open to error and fraud. If you choose this method, consider doing so at the bank, where you can see the money is being legitimately withdrawn and counted.
    • Cheque: Slower and essentially leaves you with nothing but a bit of paper saying you are due money. Avoid this unless you are sure the buyer is trustworthy.
    • Bank transfer: The most secure way. In many cases, a bank transfer will appear in your account on the same day, so you could have the buyer pay you, have a cup of tea, and then release the keys when you see the amount in your account.

    You’ll also want to give the buyer a receipt or a “sold as seen, tried and approved without guarantee” receipt that proves the sale. Online you can easily find a buyer’s/seller’s contract. Both should be dated and signed by both of you. This document will serve as proof of sale, but it doesn’t protect you from any repercussions due to selling a car that wasn’t as described.

    Tell DVLA

    Once your car is sold, it’s no longer yours, so make sure DLVA knows this too. Inform DVLA of a transfer of ownership either online or by post. Your buyer will also need the V5C until they receive a new one listing them as the owner.

    how to sell your car
    Be precise on the details of your car, like mileage.

    Selling your car made easier

    If all this sounds complicated, Motorway offers a free, easy and fast way to get more money when you sell your car. Motorway is a marketplace that connects you with our network of over 5,000 dealers who will buy your car in as little as 24 hours. 

    Making a car profile takes a matter of minutes. We’ll add your car to our daily sale where dealers compete with each other. They’ll make an offer on the cars they want, for a price they think is better than what any other offers. That means you always get the highest deal.

    Plus, the winning dealer will collect your car from your home and pay you via secure bank transfer, usually appearing in your account within one working day. The best bit about all of this? It’s free! Get started with an instant valuation.

    Is it time to sell your car?

    Want to learn more about owning, maintaining, and selling your car? Check out more of our guides here, covering everything from finding buyers, to negotiating a good price, and completing payment safely.