How to sell a car: step by step guide

    how to sell a car

    Selling your car can seem like a stressful undertaking. After all, your car is probably one of your most valuable possessions, so not only do you want to make sure you’re selling for the best price, you also want to know you’re finding 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 no one else knows that. Don’t rely on anyone taking your word for your car being a great deal — after all, as wary as you are of untrustworthy buyers, buyers are just as concerned about dodgy sellers. That leaves a lot of room for doubt and if a buyer suspects your car is less ‘broom’ and more bluster, they’ll just move on. So, make sure you’re showing your car in its absolute best light.

    Give your car a good inspection, as if you were a buyer. Don’t brush off any scratches or bumps as “acceptable” because maybe your future buyer doesn’t agree. That’s why it’s a good idea to get those minor scrapes fixed up, there’s a good chance you’ll make back the fee on the final sales price of your cosmetically improved car.

    It’s also time to give your car a good 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.

    Prep your paperwork

    Another thing that will really help buyers understand that you are a legit seller is by having all your paperwork in place. 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. If you are trying to sell a car with outstanding finance then it’s the finance company you need permission from.

    You will need to settle your outstanding debt before you sell the car as you are not legally the owner. Some dealers can help you settle this difference through the sale of your car, but buyers from private sales won’t be settling your debts for you.  You will need to receive 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. Unlike an advert, though, you shouldn’t be making it flashy and super creative. People know what to expect of a car profile, and if you start rewriting the rules it may come across as you just not really knowing what you’re doing, which is never a good thing.

    Car profiles don’t have to be endless essays about how much you love driving your car and how the next owner will, too. It should just 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 all the way 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 price may have to be flexible. Potential buyers may also be looking at your car expecting a bit of room for negotiation, annoyingly, it’s part and parcel of selling cars the traditional way. So, when you decide on a price for your car, consider adjusting it so that it remains competitive with other sales 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 will want to see your car from all angles, including the interior and exterior, front and back. Choose a place that’s well lit and with enough space to photograph your whole car without getting others into frame. If possible, try to aim for a slightly overcast day so you get less camera glare, and avoid dimly lit times like evening. You may also want to consider photographing your car in a public car park or somewhere that doesn’t require you share photos of your house and potentially those of 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, both online and offline, some a little more old-school than others, but it’s worth covering all bases!

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

    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 take out some of 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.

    Prepare to host sellers

    The more interested buyers you have, the more likely it may seem that you’ll find the best deal. Unfortunately, you’re also going to have to deal with every last one of them. Be prepared for the emails, calls, and instant messages. The dumb questions, the time-wasters, the totally 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 the 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. A few points of caution before you invite anyone to see 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.

    Provided you have made allowances for negotiating, you and your buyer should be able to come to an agreement on price, hopefully without too much drama. You need to consider how you want to get paid, and you should 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. You could also use a buyer’s/seller’s contract that are easily found online. Both should be dated and signed by the 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 far as you’re concerned. So make sure DLVA knows this too.  You can 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

    And there you have it, everything you need to do to sell your car. If you think it sounds complicated, then there is an easier way, the Motorway way.

    Motorway have looked at how people sell their cars and decided to make something better. Motorway helps you find a buyer for 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 and dealers compete with each other. If they want your car, they need to make an offer, one they think is better than what any other dealer might make. 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 totally free! So, pick the easier way, the way that gets you the best deal, the completely free way — the Motorway way! 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. 

    How to sell a car for parts
    Car scrappage schemes
    WeBuyAnyCar alternatives
    Auto Trader alternatives
    Selling a modified car
    How to become a car dealer
    How to sell a car at auction
    What are the best selling used cars?