Selling your old car yourself? Here's the step-by-step for how to do it.

By Jennie Dorris
Updated January 22, 2013

Trading in your car at the dealership may be the quickest way to get rid of it, but it isn’t the most cost-effective. Why? “You’re more likely to get the estimated value of your vehicle by handling the sale yourself, because dealers hope to make a profit,” says Philip Reed, a senior editor at, an automotive website. Follow this guide to hand off the keys with ease.

1. Calculate the sale price. Use the appraisal tool at the car site to determine the vehicle’s worth. Then add $1,000 to $1,500 to allow for negotiation.

2. Write a compelling ad. Bring your wheels to life: Pen a detailed description that includes price, make, model, and mileage. When cataloging the car’s condition, stick with clear words, such as “reliable” and “clean interior.” If you kept the car parked in a garage, mention that, along with recent repairs or servicing, such as “replaced timing belt last year.” Promote your car for free on

3. Prep the car. There’s no need to shell out for a costly full detailing. Just remove personal items, wash the exterior, and vacuum the inside. And to give prospective buyers a picture of what’s happened under the hood, compile service records in the glove compartment.

4. Show the vehicle, and negotiate the price. If someone wants a test-drive, meet her during the day in a public place, like a grocery-store parking lot, and bring a friend. (Ask the buyer to bring a valid driver’s license.) If you’re not comfortable riding along, request to hang on to her credit card while she goes for a spin. If your car is in its promised condition, you should be able to keep negotiations to a minimum (within $1,000 to $1,500 of the asking price).

5. Finalize the sale. Before you hand over the keys, write a bill of sale (find a form at You will also need to visit your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website to check the rules (such as smog testing) for selling a car. Ask for payment in the form of a cashier’s check, and verify with the issuing bank that it’s legit. All OK? Wave good-bye to your old ride.