When the time comes to buy a new car, there are several steps you need to go through to complete the sale. Outside of the financing and purchasing of your new car, though, you also need to figure out what you’re going to do with the car you’ve been driving up to now. Selling your used car can be a bit complicated, but with a bit of planning and research, you can get a fair price for the vehicle you no longer need.

Here are some of the major considerations you should be keeping in mind when you need to sell a used car.

Trade In vs. Sell Privately

When it comes to selling your used car, there are two basic options. The first is to trade it in at a dealership in exchange for credit toward the purchase of your new car. This option is appealing to many car owners because of its relative simplicity. Rather than going through the hassle of conducting a private sale, you can drive your car to the dealership and get a fair amount of money credited toward your next purchase. In most states, the trade-in value of your car isn’t taxed, which means that the taxes you pay on your new car will be lower. The prime disadvantage of trading your car in, though, is that a dealership will almost always give you less credit than the amount you would receive from selling your vehicle on your own.

By selling your vehicle privately, you can get much more money for your car than you would at a dealership. The disparity between the price you can get yourself and the trade-in value is especially large if your car is old and has too many miles on it. Dealerships will take such vehicles, but they usually won’t offer very much for them, making it far more economical to sell your car yourself. The trade-off, though, is the time, effort, and uncertainty involved. If you put your car up for sale, it could sell the very same day or sit for weeks before someone decides to buy it. You’ll also need to go to the effort of taking pictures and listing the car on local online classified platforms in order to draw in prospective buyers.

Determining the Car’s Worth

Regardless of whether you plan to sell privately or trade your car in at a dealership, you need to start by figuring out what the vehicle is actually worth. Without this information, you won’t be able to determine how to price your car if you sell it privately or whether a dealership is making you a fair trade-in offer. There are many different factors that go into a vehicle’s value. Some of the more important elements in automotive values involve the car’s age, condition, mileage, and the features with which it is equipped.

The best place to start in determining your car’s value is to use the plethora of online tools and resources that have been created for that exact purpose. Websites like Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book have free tools that you can use to estimate your car’s value. These tools will prompt you for specific details about your car’s condition and features, then use historical selling data to give you an approximate value. Another tool you can use to get an even more specific value estimate is Carfax’s History-Based Value, which uses the individual history of your car to render a more accurate picture of what it is worth. Be aware that trade-in values and private sale values will differ as a result of the dealership’s requirement to sell trade-ins at a profit. Most used car valuation tools will give you estimates for both situations.

Preparing for Sale

Before you sell your car, there are a few things you need to do to make sure it’s ready. The first step, of course, is to remove all your belongings from it. After that, you need to give the car a thorough cleaning both inside and out. Vacuum the interior out thoroughly, wash and wax the car, and clean up the engine and other parts under the hood as much as you can to make your car look its best. If you don’t have time for this process or just don’t know exactly where to start, you can always hire a detailing service to do the work for you. If your car is still almost new, you may want to consider having small dents or scratches patched up before selling it. If it’s older, though, you can safely ignore these, as buyers will probably expect some minor amount of negligible body damage.

In addition to preparing the car physically, you’ll also need to make sure you are fully prepared to execute the sale. Be sure that you have the title handy, since you will need to transfer it to the new owner when the car is purchased. If you’re still paying off the car, you may need to settle the balance of the debt in order to obtain a clear title. If you have questions about what is involved in selling a car you haven’t fully paid off, you can contact your lender, who will usually be happy to review the terms of your loan agreement with you.

Sealing the Deal

When the time actually comes to sell your car, you need to set an asking price that reflects what it is worth, use online classified sites and a window sign to advertise its availability and wait to be contacted by buyers. Be prepared to negotiate, since most buyers will come wanting to offer you a bit less than what you are asking for. At the same time, though, don’t let yourself be pressured into taking an unreasonably low offer just to close the sale. You should have a clear idea of the lowest price you’re willing to accept before you begin negotiating.

Once you’ve found a buyer and agreed on the price, it’s time to transfer the vehicle. In most cases, this can be done by simply signing the title and giving it to the buyer, who is then responsible for registering the car under his or her name. Some states may have different rules for title transfers, though, so be sure to check on the specific process in your home jurisdiction. Always be sure to receive payment in full before handing over the title, since vehicle purchase scams are becoming increasingly common.

Of course, the process will be different for a trade-in deal. You’ll still need to bring your title in to sign over, but there will be less effort on your part in terms of advertising and negotiating. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to contact multiple dealers to see which one will give you the highest trade-in value for your used car. Just as with selling privately, be sure that you know what your car is worth as a trade-in and don’t accept a number that is well below your expectation just to finish the deal.

In the end, the decision of how to sell your used car will depend on what is best and most convenient for you. Do your own research, then decide whether you should trade your car in or sell it to a private buyer. Whatever you decide, remember not to be too hasty to sell at a low price. If you know that your car is worth more than you’re currently being offered, and you can afford to keep it for a while, there’s nothing wrong with holding out for a fair price.

Telnov Oleksii / Shutterstock

This article was worked on by a variety of people from the Autoversed team, including freelancers, editors, and/or other full-time employees.