Car Buying

What Is the Best Way to Sell a Used Car?

Selling your used car privately, online or to a dealership has never been easier. But be cautious before finalizing the deal and follow these tips first.

Read time

8 minutes




It’s finally time to move on from that old car. The good news is you have plenty of options. Whether you’re ready to buy, lease or subscribe to a new car, you’ll likely want to secure a good price for the car you own first.

That’s easier said than done. While selling a car has never been easier — with options to sell to a dealership, online or privately — getting a deal that works for you is not without its challenges.

So, what’s the best way to sell a used car in 2023 and, after you do the deal, should you buy another new or used car — or choose another option?

If you want to sell your car quickly for a fair price without much hassle, here’s what you need to know before handing over the keys: 

  • What to consider before selling your used car
  • How do you prepare your used car for sale?
  • Who should you sell your used car to?
  • Other used car sales tips
  • What documents will you and the buyer need?
  • Before you decide to buy again…

What to consider before selling your used car

Probably the two most important things to do before you go about selling your used car are:

  1. Establish the vehicle’s value 
  2. Seriously consider your options of what you’re going to drive next

Knowing what your car is worth before you attempt to sell it is essential to controlling the negotiations and getting a good deal. The used vehicle average selling price in the US was around $29,533 in December 2022 but this varies greatly across the country depending on location.

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It’s easy to establish the vehicle's year, brand, model and mileage. Its overall condition is another factor that will help determine the value — and that can be more challenging. If you’re going to trade in your vehicle with a dealership and purchase a new one there, you’ll probably be offered a trade-in value that’s not too far from the true value, minus the dealer’s “margin” for retailing the user car.

With a private deal, no third-party profit margin applies but you’ll need to be on the ball with your valuation to avoid being undercut by a knowledgeable used car buyer. Plenty of online resources are available to help you value your car, such as Kelley Blue Book’s valuation tool. This makes it easy to get an approximate value for your car (whether selling to a dealer or privately) before you get it out there on the market. 

With Kelley Blue Book, you’re armed with different valuations depending on the method you use to sell it. You can add a little on top if you’re prepared to negotiate (the buyer will likely do that) but it's best to be honest with yourself about the condition of your car to avoid disappointment when it comes to selling.

Next, what are your options after you sell your used car?

Seeing a new car in a glossy magazine and saying to yourself “I’m getting me some of that” is all well and good but it’s an emotional way to decide about a car: that’s usually great for the dealer but not necessarily for the buyer. Get clear on your options so you know how to spend the proceeds from your used car sale when they’re in your hands. 

How to prepare your used car for sale

Used car sales are down across the US from their pandemic highs of 2021. That means you may have to work a little bit harder than previously to get the right price and a quick sale. Taking some time to prepare your car for sale can make the difference between getting the price you want quickly and having to settle for less.

1. Get your car looking great 

Looks definitely matter with used cars. You’ll need to do more than remove those candy wrappers from the floor and quickly spray it with a hose. When was the last time you treated it to a full detail? You may be surprised about how good your car can look after some love and attention — and so will buyers. 

Detailing the exterior and interior of your car is necessary. If you’ve never done this yourself, book an appointment with the professionals.  Spending a couple of hundred dollars on a full detail is an investment and can earn the best possible sale price faster for your used car.

2. Prove how you’ve looked after the car

If you’ve serviced your car regularly and can locate the maintenance record, it will help a potential buyer’s peace of mind that you’ve looked after your car.

Make sure you have this ready to show buyers — any smart buyer will ask for it.

3. Fix up defects or disclose them

Some car issues are obvious like dents and serious mechanical faults. Others less so. Depending on the age of your used car, a prospective buyer may expect some minor issues. It’s best to be upfront about any major issues — either fix them or disclose them so you don’t waste your (or the buyer’s) time.

Mechanical issues may not be a deal-breaker for a dealership as they usually have the in-house expertise to fix up issues without too much expense. Ultimately, you’ll want to get the car in the best possible condition for sale but it doesn’t need to be perfect. 

Who should you sell your used car to?

So, you’re ready to sell your used car. It’s looking the part and you can prove you’ve looked after it. What now? What’s the best way to sell your used car? How can you get the best price fast? It’s time to decide where to sell your car. There are three basic options here:

  1. Sell it privately 

  2. Trade in at a car dealership

  3. Sell it online with a third-party retailer

Let’s take a closer look at each option.

Selling it privately 

The best way to sell a used car privately is for a friend or family member to purchase it. That will save you the legwork of creating ads to promote it locally or to a wider audience through online services (e.g., Craigslist).

Generally, private sales are to local buyers because that provides the opportunity for potential buyers to see the car before they buy, test drive it and assess the condition for themselves. 

If you can sell your car this way, it can yield the best price of the three options detailed here. But be careful that the paperwork and payment are all in order before handing the keys over.

Trading your car in 

If you’ve got your eye on another new or used car, simply approach the dealership for a trade-in (or even buy the car outright with no trade-in).

Many dealers are one-stop shops that are receptive to trade-ins if the price is right and they can make a markup. This is where your previous research on car value comes into play as you may need to negotiate with the dealer to get what you want. Your dealer is used to the process — you’re probably not. But your previous homework will help.

Selling it online

The third option for selling a used car is to use an online service. Most online dealerships, such as Carvana, CarMax and Vroom, are not attached to any particular automaker and will sell any used car (even very old ones) if there is the opportunity to make a good margin.

These dealerships offer instant appraisals and rapid payment and may even pick up the old car from your house. It’s one of the most convenient options but may not deliver the best possible price for your used car.

Other used car sales tips 

You’re almost ready to get out there and sell your car. Before you do, bear these other used car sales tips in mind:

1. Try a multi-channel approach

Don’t limit your selling options. You can explore each of the options described above concurrently: private sale, dealership, and online. 

Don’t accept the first offer either; shop around and make sure it’s the best you can get.

2. Great photos make great ads

If you’re selling privately or online, it’s worth spending time and effort on your photos and ad. Stunning visuals along with a well-thought-out description that includes the car’s best features will help you sell your car for the best price. For great photos, all you need is a good smartphone and a few basic skills. 

Park your car in the shade, with soft, natural light and a neutral background. Take shots of the front, side, back and interior of the car.

3. Qualify prospects and be careful with payment

If you’re selling privately and want to check if a prospective buyer is serious, ask if they have insurance and what they think about the advertised price. If they want to test-drive the car, meet at a neutral location (not your home) during the daytime. 

Check how they plan to pay for the car before you allow the test drive. To protect yourself, it’s best to accept only cash or a cashier's check in payment. Never accept a personal check AND for extra protection, close the deal at the bank that issued the cashier's check. 

What documents will you and the buyer need?

You’ll need your title, registration, and insurance information handy when you decide to sell your used car. Also, keep a copy of the car’s maintenance record at your side to show prospective buyers.

Before you sell to an interested buyer, make sure they have the following documentation:

  • Driver’s license
  • Proof of auto insurance
  • Proof of ability to pay

Only after you have both signed the purchase and sale agreement and confirmed that payment has hit your account should you sign over the title of the car and give the buyer the keys.

Sell your used car fast

With so many online options, there are more ways than ever to sell a used car. But things can still go wrong.

Get the best deal on your used car quickly by doing your homework and preparing your car for sale first, keeping your options open with sales channels, and spending time on taking great photos.

Before you decide to buy again…

…think about your car usage and whether it makes sense to buy another one right now. Many people are facing tough economic times so those monthly repayments plus the cost of maintaining a car will start to bite.

It could make sense to sell, downsize or change direction completely with your next car — and avoid all the hassle. You may know about the option of leasing a car rather than buying again but did you know that there’s an increasingly popular third option?

Car subscriptions save you many of the hassles of owning a car outright. There’s no registration, insurance, maintenance, wear and tear, repairs or selling the car in the future to worry about. Subscriptions also provide more flexibility than leasing, allowing you to drive a different car after months rather than years.

Check out the differences between subscriptions, leasing and buying if you want to understand more about your full range of options. Consider a FINN car subscription as a convenient option with no down payment or long-term commitment necessary. 

How a FINN Car Subscription Works

1. Meet your perfect car

Pick your next car and select the term and mileage package that’s right for you.

2. Get approved in a few clicks

Submit your information and get the green light in under five minutes.

3. Enjoy free delivery to your home

FINN delivers your new car right to your door so you can focus on the road ahead.

4. Just hit the road and swap when you’re done

All that’s left to do is drive. When your term is over, you can return the car and pick out something new, or simply walk away.

How a FINN Car Subscription Works
How a FINN Car Subscription Works

How a FINN Car Subscription Works

1. Meet your perfect car

Pick your next car and select the term and mileage package that’s right for you.

2. Get approved in a few clicks

Submit your information and get the green light in under five minutes.

3. Enjoy free delivery to your home

FINN delivers your new car right to your door so you can focus on the road ahead.

4. Just hit the road and swap when you’re done

All that’s left to do is drive. When your term is over, you can return the car and pick out something new, or simply walk away.