How to sell your car
By James Mosley
Thinking of selling your car privately but don’t know where to start? Our helpful guide gives plenty of pointers to both keep you safe and ensure that you can get a fair price for your car.
How to prepare your car for sale
Presentation is everything when it comes to selling a car privately. There’s a good chance that your potential buyer will be shopping around and looking at more than one car so you need to make yours stand out. Not only that, but a clean and tidy car gives your potential buyer less reason to haggle the price down.
First things first then make sure you give your car a good clean. Personally I always like to do this myself and you can go round the car to make sure you haven’t missed anything – plus you’ll also pick up on any minor damage/scratches that you haven’t noticed before. If you don’t want to do it yourself make sure you at least get a decent valet done from a hand car wash. It may cost you around £20 but if it adds £100 in value to your car and makes it sell more quickly then you’re still winning right?
Make sure everything works around the car that should including all functions and electrics in the car, so you can be upfront and honest with your potential buyer. If you spotted any minor damage or anything that looks untidy when you were going round the car, it’s usually worth getting these bits sorted before selling the car so it really looks like you keep your car in good shape. It may sound silly but even little things like replacing number plates that look old and tatty due to water ingress or replacing a wiper blade with a split rubber that’s falling off can make all the difference in turning a tatty car into a well cared for example.
It’s worth thinking about your MOT expiry too. You may have a couple of months left on it thinking that as you’re selling it that it’s not your problem any more but a car with a fresh MOT is always far more attractive to buyers. If it’s got less than 6 months remaining it’s definitely worth considering putting a new MOT on it. It’s a great way of showing your car has a clean bill of health and you’re happy to prove it. If possible make sure you have no outstanding advisories too – even less reason for the buyer to haggle.
The last thing to prepare is of course all the paperwork that you have for the car. Find all the documentation you have including receipts for parts, servicing invoices, old MOT certificates – the more you have the better. If possible place them neatly into a plastic folder or similar in date order. Something like this helps prove you go the extra mile to look after your car and a well documented service history can only help add to a car’s value. Now is also a good time to check you have all the manuals, spare keys (do they work?) and the locking wheel nut key if applicable.
What should I do if my car is modified?
If it’s just a couple of small modifications that won’t really offend anyone or perhaps they even add something to the car then don’t worry about it. It’s unlikely to make you any more money when selling the car but if they’re tasteful it may help your car stand out a little bit.
If your car is heavily modified then you’re really limiting your market quite a bit. You have two options really. Your best bet is to remove all the modifications where possible and put the car back to standard, assuming you kept all the original parts. You then have a better chance of selling the standard car and you can often make quite a bit of your money back by selling the modified parts on to other enthusiasts. If this is not an option for you then your best bet would be to try and sell your car via an owners club or similar to another like minded enthusiast. Modifications tend to be very personal though and don’t suit all tastes so don’t be surprised if it takes longer for your car to sell this way.
Take great photos
Once you’ve got your car looking all lovely and clean, it’s a good idea to try and make it stand out from the masses with some high quality photos.
Time, setting and location is everything when photographing a car for sale. For starters, make sure it’s daylight and dry outside where possible – this will give potential buyers the best look at your car. You also want to have plenty of space around the vehicle to ensure you can photograph it from all angles, and to make sure that your car is the centre of attention in all the photos – you don’t want anything in the background that will draw people’s eyes away from your car.
Take the photos from a normal height and don’t try to do anything too dramatic or out of the ordinary – just make sure you take plenty of photos and that they are of a high quality. Use a good camera or if you use a modern smartphone make sure you at least take the images the correct way round (landscape) so that they display properly without any black bars.
Buyers like to have plenty of photos so be sure to take a good selection that covers all aspects of the car. We recommend the following where possible:
- Front head on
- Rear head on
- Front corner
- Rear corner
- Close up of a wheel (especially if alloys and in good condition)
- Side profile of vehicle
- Front and rear seats side on
- Boot space
- Engine bay
- Any damage/problems with the vehicle
- If it’s a convertible take a photo with the roof down too
- If you have plenty of paperwork take a photo of it
It goes without saying the photos need to be high quality and in focus with the whole car in each photo unless you’re photographing something specific. If you’re not confident about taking great photos – ask a friend or family member to help you.
Valuing my car
Valuing a car can be difficult. Ultimately as a seller you always want to get the best price for your car, but it’s important to be realistic as otherwise you’re unlikely to sell if you set the price to high.
Use the internet and browse classifieds to get an idea of what similar cars are being listed at, but make sure you take into account, mileage, age, condition, service history and any optional extras fitted to your car that could make it more desirable. Many online tools such as Auto Trader offer free valuation estimates based on your number plate look up and mileage. It’s important to remember that these prices are only estimates though and I’d still recommend taking a look at other listings.
You could also try calling a few local dealers to see what price they’d be prepared to offer for your vehicle. Typically this will be a trade price and lower than what you could expect to get privately but it’s still a good benchmark. It’s also important to remember that you will not usually get the same amount as what a dealer is able to ask for on a forecourt. This is because people are often willing to pay a premium to buy through a dealer as they are able to get warranties and finance etc. Usually expect to get somewhere between a “trade” price offered by a dealer and a forecourt price when selling privately.
When you’ve come to a figure you’re happy to advertise the car for make sure you allow a little “wiggle room” for your buyer to haggle you down, even if it’s only a couple of hundred quid. Everyone likes to get a deal and if you leave a bit of room (not too much though) you may still end up getting the price you originally wanted. Make sure you also have an absolute minimum price you want for the car in the back of your mind too, but keep this to yourself.
Where should I advertise my vehicle?
Clearly, if you want to get your car noticed by more than a few people then it needs to go online these days. Currently the biggest UK car sales site is Auto Trader, and that’s where many people go to view cars for sale. It is quite pricey though, with prices currently starting from around £37 for cars priced over £1000, although it is significantly less for cars under that figure.
eBay motors and Pistonheads are both worth considering too – they still attract a fair few views and although they still charge their prices are quite a bit cheaper than Auto Trader. Motors.co.uk is also a relatively new player to the market but they’ve already got quite a large selection of cars after running quite a few TV advertising campaigns recently. It’s also free to list for private buyers so it’s got to be worth a go. Other places such as Gum Tree are free for basic listings and are also worth a go.
If you’re a member of an Owners Club, we’d also recommend advertising your vehicle with your club, especially if your car is modified in any way or it’s a slight more “sporty” variant of your model. Being a part of an owners club is a great way to show of your enthusiasm for the can/brand and the fact that it’s well cared for, and potential buyers will often know this.
Writing your advert
Most of the above sites are very easy to list a car on as it’s pretty much just a case of following the step by step instructions (uploading pictures and inputting price and mileage etc). However, most sites will also leave you some room to write a description about your vehicle and it’s important to get this right.
If the website you are advertising on automatically fills our all of the basic details about your car (make, model, colour, engine size etc) then there’s no need to repeat this in the description but if not make sure to include all the details.
When writing your description you need to include everything you think the buyer would want to know such as:
- When does the MOT run out?
- Does the car have a full service history?
- Does the car have any warranty left?
- Is the car fitted with any attractive options such as sat nav, climate control or heated seats?
Make sure you describe the car as clearly and honestly as you can, and you need to be as accurate as possible about the car’s condition and any defects present at the time of sale. It’s actually against the law to mis-describe a car so it’s important to get this right.
You need to include everything in your ad that may be of interest to a potential buyer but don’t go too over the top. Keep it clear and concise and also make sure it’s written in good English with proper sentences and spacing to make it easy to read. Don’t be tempted to use the old clichés either such as “first to see will buy”. There’s no need to do this and if you’ve done your job properly with the advert the car will sell itself. Get someone to read through and check your advert if you’re unsure.
Avoid fraudulent buyers and scammers
Sadly in this day and age you’ve got to be careful of scammers when selling a car privately. The good news though is that if you’re switched on and and use caution it’s easy to keep one step ahead of these nasty people.
The key thing to remember is that if it seems suspicious then walk away – don’t be tempted, and if it sounds too good to be true it usually is.
Don’t fall for the common scams:
- Text messages trying to get you to call back on a premium rate number
- Buyers pretending to be exporters who start asking about shipping fees for overseas buyers
- People who try to buy a car using a false PayPal account
- People who try to buy a car using a PayPal account and then claim they’ve overpaid only to ask for refund through a different method before cancelling the original PayPal transaction.
- Buyers who pay by cheque and want to take the car before the cheque clears
Above all just be cautious, and if you’re unsure get a second opinion.
Dealing with potential buyers and test drives
It can be daunting dealing with potential buyers if you’ve never done it before, but remember the following and you shouldn’t go too far wrong:
- Always meet the potential buyer at your home – let them come to you. Get a friend or family member to stay home with you if it makes you feel more comfortable.
- Make sure you take down the buyer’s contact details so you can check that they are genuine. When they arrive, check their proof of identity to clarify that they’re who they say they are.
- If the arrive by car, make a note of the car details just in case.
- Make sure you let them have as much time as they need to look over the car, and remember there is no need to stand over them whilst they do this.
- Answer any questions the buyer may have openly and honestly. If you’ve prepared your car well with an honest advert the buyer already knows what to expect and the car should sell itself.
- If the buyer wants a third party inspection go ahead and let them – you should have nothing to hide and if the buyer wants to invest money in an inspection they much be genuinely interested.
- If the buyer wants a test drive first check they can drive by checking their driving licence and taking down their details. Make sure it is a full licence not a provisional and that they do not have any restrictions.
- The buyer must provide you with proof that they are insured (this is a must) but be aware that most cover to drive other vehicles is third party, so while the buyer may be able to drive your car legally with your permission, any accident in their hands may mean that their insurance company will not pay out on repairs to your vehicle.
- Let the buyer choose their own route as it may look strange if you try to send them a particular way.
- Do not let the buyer test drive the car on their own. Make sure you (and a friend or family member if you wish) accompanies the buyer during their drive at all times.
Closing the deal
Haggling over the price of a car you are selling can be a stressful process if it’s not something you’re used to. If you’ve followed our advice in pricing your car then you should have priced the car fairly but left a little margin in it for haggling. With that in mind, you should have a minimum price that you’re prepared to accept – it’s crucial you don’t reveal this to the buyer though.
Let the buyer make the first move when it comes to putting an offer in. You have to expect them to come in below the asking price as this is generally the norm when buying a car, but this is what you’ve left the extra margin for.
Ideally you want to aim to meet somewhere in the middle of your asking price and the buyer’s first offer, providing that their offer wasn’t completely ridiculous. Of course, be prepared to turn a buyer down and walk away from a deal if their price is silly and below your minimum price. If you’re firm but fair and a little flexible, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to achieve a decent price for your car.
Once you’ve reached an agreement on price it’s time to get paid.
The best way to do this is these days is usually via online bank transfers. If you use “Faster Payments” or CHAPS then payments are usually very quick, secure and you can log in to check the money has arrived as cleared funds. Some people may not be keen on providing the buyer with their bank details though, so there are still alternatives.
Cash is of course the most obvious, although if you decide to go down this route (particularly for larger amounts of money) then it may be worth arranging the transaction to take place in a bank. That way the staff at the bank are able to count out the notes for you and guarantee that they are genuine.
You can still use the more traditional methods of cheque or banker’s draft, but you need to see proof of the buyer’s name and address as a little protection for yourself. Not only this but you will also need to wait for the money to clear before handing over the car. If the buyer is not prepared to wait for this then they are unlikely to be a genuine buyer.
Make sure you issue a receipt to the buyer with the time and date on it and keep a copy for yourself. That way, should the car’s new owner acquire a speeding ticket prior to the DVLA processing the transfer you should be covered.
The good news is that once you’ve done the deal then the hardest part of selling your car is now done. There is a little bit of paperwork to do but it’s really nothing to worry about.
Firstly, you need to make the DVLA aware that you no longer own the car. This is no longer a case of tearing off the relevant section of the V5C, as along with tax discs and driving licences – the DVLA has added an electronic element to processing a change of registered keeper.
You can now inform the DVLA online when you sell your car. You supply the DVLA with an email address for both the buyer and the seller, with both parties receiving an email notification instantly to confirm that the DVLA has received notification of the transfer. The buyer should then receive a new V5C document within 5 working days. The DVLA does still accept changes via post if you do not have internet access, though these will of course take longer to process than their online equivalent.
The only bit you still have to tear off is the new keeper supplement to give to the buyer so that they have something in the mean time to show that they have purchased the vehicle. This is simply filled in with the new buyer’s details.
After the sale is completed, the government will now also issue a refund for any full remaining months of tax that are left on it. Don’t forget to remind the new buyer that tax no longer transfers with the vehicle and they will need to tax it straight away which they can do online.
If you have completed the process online, the DVLA now advises to destroy the rest of the V5C document. Give the buyer all other paperwork and service history that you have with the car but you don’t need to give them any of your insurance documentation. Don’t forget to tell your insurers that you’ve sold the car and obtain either a refund on the partial policy or transfer it over to your new vehicle.