The Complete Guide to Sell Your Car Yourself for Thousands More (Even If You’re Under Water)

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Instead of trading your car into the dealer for $5,000, how would you like to get $7,000 for it by selling it yourself? You might be shy, you might know nothing about cars or selling, and heck, you might even have a lien on your car still. That’s all okay – it’s still absolutely possible to sell your car yourself and earn thousands of dollars more by doing it.

How to Sell Your Car Yourself for WAY More Money

Do you know how dealers earn money? Of course you do… They buy cars for cheap and then sell them for a couple thousand dollars more to the next customer.

When you sell them your car, you can almost guarantee that they’re paying you far less than someone else would. So why is it that so many people just trade their car in to the dealership without thinking twice about it?

  1. They get overly excited about a new car on the lot and will do anything to get it (ie. trade in their car for practically nothing)
  2. They’re scared of putting an ad online and having crazy people show up to their house
  3. They’ve got a lien on their car and figure that no private party would buy the car without the title

You can probably relate to at least one of the reasons above.

In this post, you’ll learn how to sell your car yourself (for way more money) regardless of those reasons, and you’ll be able to stop handing your car over to the dealer for thousands less than you deserve.

Related: How I Flipped a Car in Just 2 Weeks!!

sell your car yourself1) Stay Away From the Car Dealer

Remember your mom saying, “Nothing good happens after dark”? I’ve transformed this saying into, “Nothing good happens at the dealer”.

This isn’t to say that car dealerships are evil or underhanded (heck, my Dad used to be a car dealer!), but the simple fact is that they pay you less than market value for your car and they’ll charge you more than market value to buy one. It’s just the nature of the beast – which is why I urge you to stay away from them altogether.

2) Get the Title

If you want to sell your car yourself, you’re going to need the title.

So what are the different situations you might be in with regards to the title?

  1. You have your car title in hand, which means you paid cash for it up front or you paid it off along the way. Congrats!
  2. You still owe money on your car, but it’s less than the car is worth. The title is with the finance company.
  3. You’ve still got a loan, and you’re underwater. You owe more than the car is worth. This is going to be tough, but it can still be done!

If you have the title and owe nothing on your car, then you’re done with step two. Nice work! Move on to step three.

What if you owe money on your car, but can sell it for more than the loan balance?

The good news is, you’re still in decent shape. When you write up the ad (Step #4 below), be sure to mention that the car has a lien. It’s a slight nuisance for the buyer, but it really isn’t that big of a deal. All you have to do is visit the bank with the buyer, pay off the balance with their money, and then the bank will sign the title over to you, and you can in turn, sign the title over to the buyer.

If your bank isn’t local (it may even be online), you’ll have to give the buyer a Bill of Sale instead of the title. Take the payment from the buyer, give them the vehicle, and then send the money into the bank. In a couple weeks, they’ll send you the title and you’ll have to get with the buyer one more time to sign it over to them and make the whole thing official.

It’s an extra step in the process, but it sure beats getting screwed out of $2,000 by trading it in to the dealer!

What if you owe more money than you can sell the car for?

This happens quite a lot actually, and do you know what people typically do? They head to the dealer and roll their negative equity into the next car, which puts them DEEPER IN DEBT. Don’t do this!! It’s only making your problem worse! You have at least two other options.

Instead of handcuffing yourself for life at the dealer, you could:

  • Take out a personal unsecured loan to cover the difference (probably from a different bank). I hate debt, but when it comes to trading a big debt for a smaller one, I’m okay with that.
  • Take on an extra job, save up the money, and get out from under water

By using one of the options above, you essentially put yourself in the scenario a few paragraphs up. You don’t have enough to pay off the lien on the car, but you can sell it for more than you owe, which means you can get the title to the buyer when they decide to pull the trigger.

If you’re still nervous about the process, call up your bank and ask them to walk you through the process. They’ll know exactly what’s going to happen when you come to them with the buyer, and they’ll tell you exactly how to prep for it.

3) Clean Up the Car Like Your CEO is Coming to Visit

Alright. Now that we know how to get the title to sell the car, it’s time to get it looking good!

If you want to get top dollar for your car, you should:

  • Give the outside a scrub down (if you’ve never done this, get a bucket, car wash soap, and a sponge) – Rinse, scrub, rinse, dry with towel. Orrrr, I guess you could go through the car wash if you’re totally lazy…
  • Wipe down the engine (do NOT spray it with water) – people like to pop the hood and look at the engine (even if they have no clue what they’re looking at). If it’s clean they’ll feel better about the purchase.
  • Clean the entire inside of the car – take out the floor mats, shake them out, vacuum the entire inside, and wipe the dust off the dash.
  • Put a “New Car Smell” air freshener in it – If the car looks clean, AND smells brand new, the buyer will be more prone to jump on it and give you cash on the spot (before the next buyer swoops in and takes it from them).
  • Shine up the wheels – Get some tire shine spray (it’s like $2) and give the tires a good scrub down. Shiny black tires and shiny rims will do wonders for getting top dollar for your car.
  • Touch up the paint – Every car has paint chips, and it makes it look extremely dull and old. Buy some touch-up-paint (typically $15 – ask the guys at Autozone for an exact match to your car), and dab the little paint chips away. You’ll be amazed how much better your car looks afterward!
  • Shine up the headlights – If your headlights look dull, get some toothpaste and a dry rag. Lather the toothpaste on the headlight and scrub it in. That film on your headlights will be gone in minutes!
  • Fix the dumb stuff – don’t try to sell your car with a missing cup-holder or a broken gas flapper. Find all the missing parts online and replace them and look-up the other fixes on YouTube (By the way, I fixed my gas flapper in less than half-an-hour for $1.22 😉 – it’s not that hard people, and it really does help with the sale).

The list could go on and on, but these are the biggies if you want to sell your car yourself. Do everything above and you’ll have buyers begging you to buy your car because it’s obvious that you’ve taken care of it and it will be a good one for them!

Related: How to Clean Your Car

4) Post Your Car on Craigslist

I’ve tried to post my cars on AutoTrader and Cars.com (and pay for the ad spots), but I always end up selling it to someone that saw it on Craigslist. If you’re nervous about crazy people coming to your house, you can always arrange to meet them at a nearby parking lot instead. In all honesty though, people will more readily buy when they’re at your house. That shows them that you’re being honest with them – because if you weren’t, then you definitely wouldn’t want them to know where you live!!

How do you post to Craigslist?

Craigslist is pretty simple. Just head to the main page, click on your closest region, and then click on “post to classifieds” in the upper left-hand corner. Click on “For sale”, then “Cars and Trucks”, and “For sale by owner”. Then it’s time to write up the ad!

When you write the ad, include:

  • the year, make, and model of your car
  • if it’s automatic or manual
  • the mileage
  • the nature of the title (either in hand or with the lien holder)
  • any known issues, and
  • why you’re selling

Be honest. If the car has the check engine light on, tell them in the write-up and let them know why it’s on (if you don’t know, take it to Autozone, they’ll do a free diagnostic for you). If you don’t tell them, they’re going to ask about it when they get there, and then they’ll be more prone not to buy because you’re keeping secrets from them.

Oh, and be sure to include lots of well-lit pictures! If you only put up one, people are either going to think it’s a scam or that you’re trying to hide dents and scratches.

Price it Right

Want to sell your car yourself, but not sure how to price it. It’s actually pretty simple. First, just head to KBB.com and enter in all your car stats. Once you get through the questions, look at the “Private Party Value” for your condition (most cars are in “Good” condition). The KBB value is typically pretty close, but be sure to poke around Craigslist to see how others are pricing similar cars, just in case KBB is extremely high or low for your area.

Think about how much you’d like to get for your car, and then price it $500 above that. Some people gladly pay full price for a car, but most will want to haggle. It’s best to leave a little bit of room in your asking price for this very reason.

Want to see an example of a quality finished product? Check it out. This write-up is simple, to the point, and very effective. I suspect they won’t have to wait long for a buyer to show up on this one!

sell your car yourself

5) Sell, Sell, Sell!!!

After all this work, you’ll probably get quite a few people calling, texting, and emailing you about your car. Schedule them at times that are convenient for you, and be ready to put your salesman hat on!

And no, you don’t have to wheel and deal with them like an auctioneer.

Just like when you wrote the post, be honest and tell them:

  • why you really liked the car,
  • what minor things might be wrong with it (that they’re going to notice anyway),
  • and why it’ll likely be a great car for them.

And that’s it!

When they make you an offer that you like on the car, shake their hand, and pull out the title (if you don’t have it yet, you’ll do this at the bank).

How to Fill Out the Title

If you want to sell your car yourself, you’re going to have to know how to fill out the title. It seems nerve wrecking, but honestly, it’s super simple.

Here’s what our titles in Michigan look like. Most other state titles look very similar.


sell your car yourself

Half-way down on the left, you’ll see a sidebar that says, “Completed by Seller”. These are the only boxes you’ll have to fill in.

Basically, you just have to fill in:

  • the buyer’s name and address
  • the date of the sale and the agreed-upon amount
  • the mileage of the car
  • and your name, address, and signature

Once it’s all filled in, you just hand it over to the buyer, wish them luck with the car, and head inside so you can swim with your money before you deposit it the next day (I mean…I’ve never done this… :-/).

It’s Your Turn: Sell Your Car Yourself

That may have been more detail than you bargained for, but now you have absolutely every tool you need to sell your car yourself! No more excuses!

In this post, you learned how to:

  • stay away from bad deals at the dealer,
  • get your title if you don’t fully own your car,
  • clean up your car to get top dollar for it,
  • list your car online,
  • and how to close the deal on the sale (and fill out the title)

Will you use this guide to sell your car yourself?

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6 comments to The Complete Guide to Sell Your Car Yourself for Thousands More (Even If You’re Under Water)

  • All good pieces of advice. Make sure that if you have a price listed that you also know the price in your head that you will not sell below, and stick to it.

    I had one car where a guy kept pointing out every little thing wrong and lowballing me, and I finally said that I didn’t think it was going to work and thanks for coming out. He drove away, and then fifteen minutes later called and agreed to a price that was within my acceptable limits. Had I not had that in my head before, he might very well have talked me into a lower price.

    • Yup, good advice MB. There’s always going to be those low-ball offers, and unless you’ve got your lowest acceptable offer in your head, you might be prone to take something wayyyy lower than you should.

  • George Seay

    As always, good guidance. One comment on Craigslist… I’ve used Craigslist 3-4 times over the last 10 years and been very happy. My daughter and son-in-law recently used “Marketplace” on Facebook. After looking for the same vehicle on Marketplace and Craigslist, it appears there are more cars posted on Marketplace. Just an observation.

    • Great point, George! Marketplace is really ramping up when it comes to cars for sale. I’ve put some items out there and they have sold quickly, but I’ve never listed a car there. Has anyone else tried this? Can you attest to selling a car on Facebook Marketplace?

  • Cooper

    Funny that this article came up today. I’ve been looking at a 2008 Prius on Craigslist today that is for sale for $3,000. KBB has it in good condition for $4,300 and fair condition for $3,800. I’m debating whether or not to go look at it.

    Thanks for the great article, Derek.

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