A simple and revealing guide to selling a car privately.
Discover how to sell your car quickly using the same methods I’ve used to sell 6,200 used cars with Autotrader during the last 24 years. This guide will help you sell your vehicle in just a few days.
Start my Autotrader Advert
Selling cars online – Preparing a car for sale and advertising it on Autotrader works best when using the steps outlined in this article.
But there are some important do’s and don’ts to maximizing the opportunity to sell your car and get the best price for your old used vehicle.
Let’s sell your car quickly and for the best price possible…
If you’re looking for a quick sale at a dramatically undervalued price head over to your nearest car dealership or a car buying service like webuyanycar.co.uk – You’ll get paid today but for about 50% of the cars real value.
I am an advocate for Autotrader. They are the market leaders and I’ve been doing business with them since the early 1990’s, when magazine ads still worked! So if you want to sell your car and get the best exposure and price, advertise on Autotrader. Platforms such as Motors and EBay are OK but they pale in significance to the Global leaders.
Part One: The Car
Number 1 – What car are you selling and is it a sought after make and model?
This can determine how quickly and cheaply you sell your car, so you need to be honest with yourself.
Example: If you have a 2013 Kia Sorento 2.0 petrol 4 door saloon, that is white in colour, with beige interior, 93,000 miles and little service history, you’d have to realise that your car is reasonably undesirable. The number of people looking for a car like that is pretty small when you compare it to some other cars.
The 2.0 (or 1.8 or 2.3, you get the idea) litre petrol engine equals “expensive to run”. The 4 door saloon also limits the saleability of the car because the majority of mainstream car buyers prefer a hatchback or an estate. Beige interior and a lack of service history only compounds the difficulties you’re likely to face when selling a car like this…But all is not lost.
If you deem your car to be an undesirable make or model it’s very important to reflect this fact in the price…Else your motor simply won’t sell no matter how good your preparation and advert turns out to be.
In contrast: If you owned a 2013 VW Golf 2.0 TDI Sport, 5 doors, in metallic grey with 39,000 and a FSH, you are sitting pretty. Certain cars such as Golf diesels (and many other makes and models) are very popular. These types of cars are known for reliability, economy and holding their value. This type of motor has a natural appeal you just don’t get with certain makes and models.
So step one is to be upfront and honest with yourself about what you’ve got. Regardless of your car type you will still be able to sell it provided you position yourself correctly from the beginning.
Number 2 – Work out your asking price
If you get this part right you are far more likely to make a quick sale for near what you want. But if you choose to not spend a little time doing some research your phone may not ring. Over priced cars simply don’t sell unless they are very desirable and sought after models.
Working it out – How much can I sell my car for?
I thought about giving you eight different ways of finding a true valuation (the price you’ll actually achieve,) but really the best way is to use the platform where you’re gonna sell your motor, Autotrader.
Head over to Autotrader and use their options panel and you’ve got two choices to get a valuation.
a. (Preferred) Using their control panel enter the details of your car including make, model, age, mileage, number of doors, engine type (petrol or diesel) and transmission type. This will give you enough information to get an approximate valuation for your car. Enter a distance of up to 100 miles and take a look at the results.
You’ll most likely find scores of cars for sale just like yours. Some will appear very cheap and some will appear expensive.
Here’s what you need to do. Scroll through the first 5 pages from the very cheapest up to page 5 and stop.
Glance through each ad and you’ll find some of the cheaper motors are insurance wright offs, some have been around the world twice (high mileage) and others will have damage. As you get past the first few pages you’ll get to the more legitimate cars that don’t have any major faults (as far as we know).
Now when you put your car up for sale you’ll want it to be positioned somewhere in the next couple of pages; this gives you an indication of the real value of your car and what you’re actually going to fetch for it.
To sell your car quickly you’ll need it to be priced in the cheapest third of all the comparative cars for sale within a 100 mile radius.
Account for your mileage, quality of service history and the general condition of your car. Use common sense to find the price point and use the ads in front of you as a measuring stick. If you take a little time you’ll know how much your car is really worth, and what you’re likely to actually get for it.
When you get to advertising your car it needs to be competitively priced. There are thousands of the same make and model for sale and something about your vehicle has got to stand out for you to get your sale. It may be the low mileage, great service history, unusual colour, but in most cases it’s a competitive price that wins the day.
b. My second choice is to use the free tool that Autotrader provide. You simply enter your registration number , mileage and click go. You will need to hand over your email address and you can expect some follow up promotional emails in the coming days, but you can always unsubscribe if you want to. The price they give you is somewhere near retail.
I’ve never found their free tool to be of much use, it usually comes back with prices that are too expensive and unrealistic. There’s no accounting for make and model of the car you own and it’s general condition. It’s always been this way.
My preferred option is to manually search out similar cars to yours, account for mileage, history and condition and price it from there.
Number 3 – Think Faults
You’re the one that’s driven the car and you know what’s wrong with it. Most used cars have one snag or another. A broken glove box, hole in the carpet, dent along the seal, doesn’t start well when warm, the list can go on and on. Whatever the issues are, you need to make a mental note of them or get them down on a piece of paper.
Do the faults affect the value of the car?
Example: A hole in the seat, curbed alloy wheel, stone chips on the bonnet or spare key that’s not working are all examples of faults that don’t really effect the value of your car. They come with the age and mileage of the car as wear and tear. These items shouldn’t impact on your asking price (unless they are significant and/or there’s lot s of these types of issues around the vehicle.)
However, I’d recommend listing them down on a piece of paper as we’re gonna use them later on.
Does the car have major faults?
Example: The car doesn’t start well, there’s a nasty dent in the roof, the screen is cracked, the engine sounds noisy, it leaks oil, or the engine management light stays on. These are classed as major faults that certainly effect a car valuation. If it were me I’d consider repairing a major fault. But you need to weight it up for yourself.
How much will it cost to get the car repaired?
Is it significantly more or less than the difference I am likely to get when I sell?
Example: An engine management light that remains on all of the time is enough to stop most people from buying a car. Those that are still interested will likely want at least £500 off of the asking price. But the engine light staying on may be just a sensor issue that’s gonna cost £125 to get repaired. In cases like these you’ll be better off making the repair.
If the clutch is completely worn out and slipping you’d be fortunate to sell the car for anything like its true value. The potential buyer will be looking for a ton of money off. But a clutch replacement can cost as little as £200. It would be better to fit a new clutch and use it as a selling point.
Now you know how much your car is worth you can add in any faults or repairs the vehicle has and reflect that in the price too. Remember that if you want your car to sell in the coming weeks you’ll need to account for this stuff.
Number 4 –
If your vehicle has less than 5 months MOT I advise you to get it retested before trying to sell your car. It makes the sales process much easier as it provides peace of mind for the buyer and a selling point for you.
Number 5 –
List down a fantastic reason why you are selling up. Buyers want to know and a good reason can clinch the deal. I prefer more than one reason. I need the money. I’m upgrading to a newer model. My husband hates it.
Make a mental note of your best reasons as you can use them on sale day.
If you have the car mechanically ready (or you’re confident that you can sell your car for the price you want, with its existing faults,) it’s time to make the car clean.
Number 6 – Get the car professionally valeted (if it really, really, needs it).
Let me tell you one insider tip from a lifetime of buying and selling used cars.
A car that is valeted perfectly can increase its valuation more than any other aspect, and make the car simple to sell.
The key to a clean car is to make it look like it’s never been cleaned!
What I mean is the car should look like it’s been kept in great condition all year round and never needed a clean. So super shiny tyres and dashboards, or suffocating amounts of air freshener gives the impression that the car is a little fake and “buffed up,” just for the sale.
In contrast, a car that is simply clean and tidy (but not super shiny and almost fake looking) sells the car all by itself. Seriously, I don’t really have to sell my cars; I let them sell themselves through the appearance of looking natural, original and reliable. It’s a recipe for success.
Note: If your car has been smoked in or had dogs in you certainly need to get this treated. It will inhibit your sale again and again if you don’t. Get dog hair completely removed and get the car smelling natural again.
Tip: Car valets and dirty cars.
Car cleaners hate really dirty cars because it means more work than it otherwise could be. So the cleaner will look for shortcuts. One such shortcut is to get the inside of your car seriously wet. I have seen car cleaners use a power wash on the inside of cars, power washing with an almost boiling hot steam cleaning gun right into the carpet and seats!
There are times when you can’t clean a car properly unless you get it wet, but inexperienced or careless car cleaners can soak your car because they are lazy, careless and inexperienced.
The problems arise when all of that dirty water can’t be completely removed.
Under your carpets is an inch think felt lining that absorbs water. Once this water gets inside the felt it’s virtually impossible to remove. Trapped and filthy water inside the foot wells of your car will begin to smell badly within 48 hours and you’ll never get rid of that smell…And you’ll begin to get water or condensation building up on the inside of the windows. It’s an absolute nightmare to deal with and you should avoid it at all costs.
So if your car is really dirty and needs shampooing, make sure you tell the valet center your concerns. They are NOT to soak your car.
So I hope we’re agreed that a clean car is one that is dry and looks original without any buffing up. It’s the secret sauce and I sell my car (s) repeatedly using this method).
Part Two: Sell My Car – The Autotrader Advert
Number 7 – The Rubber Meets the Road
Click here and create your own Autotrader ad.
Okay, so you have the true value of your car, you have the mechanical side as you want it and it’s prepared and ready for sale.
Now onto the actual advert. On average I’ve been selling around 300 a year for as long as I can remember. Most of those cars are sold via the adverts I’ve created on Autotrader. What I tell you below is a tried and tested method of success. I recommend you follow it to the letter.
A well-executed advert shows potential car buyers that you care about your car, and it sets a president in the mind of the buyer that the car is genuine and so are you.
There are three different Autotrader Packages currently available for cars under and over £1000: Autotrader Prices – Basic, Standard and Premium.
Cars under £1000
Basic: Costs £14.95 for two weeks and includes up to 20 photos.
Standard: Costs £19.95 for three weeks and includes up to 20 photos, mobile advantage and search standout.
Premium: Costs £24.95 for six weeks and includes up to 20 photos, desktop advantage, mobile advantage and search standout.
Cars over £1000
Basic: Costs £36.95 for two weeks and includes up to 20 photos.
Standard: Costs £45.95 for three weeks and includes up to 20 photos, mobile advantage and search stand out.
Premium: Costs £56.95 for six weeks and includes up to 20 photos, desktop advantage, mobile advantage and search stand out.
As a private seller you are certainly better off buying the Autotrader package Premium at £56.95.
The main reasons for this are
a) Six Week National Coverage
b) Mobile Advantage
60% of today’s online searches are carried out using mobile, so if people are searching for a car like yours you’d better make sure the ad can be found on a mobile device else you’re missing the lion’s share of potential car buyers.
Access your preferred Autotrader package here.
Once you’ve booked your advert I recommend taking photographs of the car before writing your ad.
Number 8 – Image Guidelines
Getting good images can mean the difference between getting genuine buyers that want to buy and never having the phone ring. Take some time with this important aspect and think about what you’d like to see on an online car advert.
— The only purpose to an Auto Trader car profile image is to get potential car buyers to click your advert for further information —
Here are some basics:
What to photograph?
- Front corner
- Rear corner
- Front straight-on
- Back straight-on
- Side profile
- Close-up of a wheel – especially if they are alloys
- The dashboard
- Front and rear seats
- Inside the boot
- The engine bay
- Any damage to your car
If your car’s a convertible, take a picture with the roof down and another with the roof up
Remember to take more than one picture of each area to give you choice later on. Try to keep the whole car in the image.
Park your car somewhere bright and spacious if possible – a clean driveway is ideal but areas with a good looking background also work well.
Images of the vehicles exterior will ideally be taken around 10 feet away. But when taking a photograph of wheels/tyres the distance should be around 3 feet. This will give each image details and show the viewer you are taking care of your advert. Always keep in your mind what you’d like to see in an image.
Make sure the car is well lit but not too bright
Try to avoid:
- Poor backgrounds with untidiness
- Taking photographs at night or in other dark settings
- Being above or too low down
- Artificial light and direct sunlight
- Cutting part of the car off, unless you’re photographing details
You’re allowed 20 images on all Autotrader packages and I take advantage of every opportunity given my way.
Take 16 images of the car itself using the guidelines listed above.
Here’s a perfect example of what you need to achieve:
Documents and Key’s
The remaining 4 images should be saved for the documentation and spare keys if you have them.
- Take 1 photograph of the service history nicely laid out on a table at home
- Take 1 photograph of the V5 logbook and MOT, ensuring you are NOT showing your personal details such as name and address
- Take 1 photograph of the handbook kit
- Take 1 photograph of the spare keys
Get the images uploaded to your computer and take a look through them and make sure they are clear, attractive and appealing.
Number 9 – Advertising on Autotrader | Writing an ad that will sell my car
When you begin your advert you’ll be prompted to add your cars registration number, and mileage to create a new account. Add your decided price and the exact mileage down to the nearest hundred miles (this gives buyer’s genuine information instead of a rough mileage to the nearest 1000 miles).
“About Your Car”
Once you’re done here you get to add any additional extras your particular car may have. Separate your advert from the tens of thousands on Autotrader and take full advantage of this section, adding things like metallic paint, 17 inch alloy wheels, velour trim, sports pack etc. etc. Added extras make your car more attractive when compared to similar cars that are a little more basic.
“History and Maintenance”
The next section is about your cars background including the number of owners, the kind of service history available and the MOT expiration date. Provide the correct information here and save yourself any embarrassment when a potential buyer comes to view.
Tip: If your car lacks a good service history head over the government MOT site Government/check-mot-history-vehicle enter your MOT number and registration and access your cars full MOT history. You can print this off and add it to your service pack. It will help you to sell your car.
This is a vital section and provides you an opportunity to hook the reader into clicking into your advert for more information and to view your images and contact details.
In this section I state one of the best features the car has. If the car is particularly low mileage I’d certainly shout that from the roof tops. Perhaps it has an unusually comprehensive service history, added extras or unusual features. Give something that readers want to get their teeth into, that makes your car stand out from all the rest.
If you can’t find anything significant I’d recommend adding “looking for a quick sale” or “new clutch” etc. etc.
I’ve even listed out individual services, when they were carried out, the mileages at that time and the names of the garages that carried out the work. It all serves to let buyers know you take good care of your car and your car should be included in their shortlist.
Even having a set of spare keys can be a selling point.
Remember, if you look closely enough you’ll find that every car has something special about it.
Counter Intuitive – Earlier I mentioned listing out any faults the car may have. I recommend you list any faults the car has, particularly small ones…
You see, buyers don’t expect you to tell them about anything that would apparently inhibit a sale.
So a “torn seat, “rear electric window that doesn’t work or “scuff on front bumper can actually work in your favour when used correctly and stated clearly in your car advert…It builds trust, shows you are open and honest, and it surprises the potential new owner.
This really is one of my trade secrets and I’ve been using it for years. I cannot count the number of times a customer has thanked me for being honest about these types of things. I highly recommend you do the same.
At the bottom of this section make sure you add the best times to contact you. Most serious buyers will read your advert through and call you at the appropriate times. Obviously, the more I can make myself available the better chance I have of selling my car quickly.
Here you upload your new images. Be sure to add your primary photograph first as this will be used as the thumbnail that people see BEFORE clicking into your ad for further information.
A primary photograph needs to be eye catching and crystal clear. Often it’s the side shot of the car or one of the front corner photos. The key is to separate your image from the thousands of others listed on Autotrader.
Once you’ve got your ad together and uploaded your images you’re asked to put in your contact details:
Here you can add two phone numbers. I add my landline and mobile phone numbers.
You get the choice to add a privacy phone number (a free service from Autotrader). You may wish to have that privacy added, but personally I never do. I have found that a mobile phone number displayed on the ad increases the likelihood of selling my car. A mobile phone number gives viewers the opportunity to text me first to check the car is still for sale and ask any opening questions.
This works well because it’s a low barrier to entry. People often prefer to text rather than call when they are first checking out the market…I’ve sold many cars to people who began the process via a text!
Next you can add your email address.
This is less appealing for a number of reasons.
First, I have only ever sold a handful of cars to people that began the process via email.
Second, an email address leaves you as a sitting duck for car scammers. You MUST BE AWARE of scammers because they are trolling Autotrader 24 hours a day, looking for email addresses just like yours.
Of course you can still be scammed by leaving your mobile phone number too. Scammers will text you saying they are interested in your car and then request your email address. So the message here is to beware and be ready because if you leave your mobile or email you will get approached.
If you are in any doubts whatsoever just drop me an email.
You’re then asked to add your postcode so buyers can see how many miles away from you they live. Don’t worry; you are not giving up your actual address or postcode to the public, just a “number of miles” from their home to yours.
Once you’re done here you’re asked to choose your package and make payment.
After payment is complete you ad is usually live within an hour or two, so it’s really important that your car is ready to sell before you try selling your car privately.
Part Three: Sale Day
Number 10 – The Sale
So your car is prepared and you’ve optimised your advert and given yourself the best opportunity of selling your car quickly and for the price you want.
Genuine buyers will give you a call (sometimes a text but almost always a phone call) to arrange a time to come see your car. During the call I like to repeat one of the faults I’ve listed in the ad itself…
And I quote:
“It’s a lovely car, the only real snag with it is the passenger seat has a small tear just below the head-rest…Apart from that it’s all good. We’ve serviced it every year and are a little reluctant to sell it really because its been so good to us.
It helps build trust and remind the potential buyer that the car is good but it’s not brand new.
Once he/she/they arrive I’d recommend inviting them into your house if you feel comfortable enough to do that. Some people won’t want to enter your property at all until they’ve seen the car.
Be sure to say “hi and shake hands.
Always leave the documentation in your house. Not only does it keep you and your car safe from any potential thieves, (if they have the car and the paperwork together they have more chance of selling it quickly) but it gives you the opportunity to show the documents when you try and close the deal.
When you first show your car to a potential buyer simply unlock the vehicle, give them the keys and let them do their thing. Car buyers can be a fickle lot. Some want you to “hold their hand” throughout the process, others want to be left alone to carry out their checks. Determine what they want and act accordingly, this will increase your chances of making the sale.
If you’ve disclosed a fault, highlight it as early as you can. Let them know you are being open and honest.
Show off any extras your car may have.
Talk about its reliability and/or great economy.
If the buyer is objecting about something it’s always best to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible. Don’t avoid objections, rather, I recommend facing them head-on and seeing if you can overcome them.
Number 11 – The Test Drive.
Are they insured to drive your car?
If you are selling a car privately try and guarantee that they are insured. Otherwise you should drive the car on their behalf.
Never, ever let them take your car out without you accompanying them. Be sure to take your mobile phone on the journey, just to be safe.
Also, if it seems as though the buyers have a lot of objections about your car you may want to ask if they are serious about buying it or not. After all, a test drive may not be necessary if they have already been put off by the vehicles defects.
I guess only you can decide if this is the case or not.
If you all decide on a test drive and it goes smoothly you’ll get to the best part of all, haggling.
Haggling to sell my car is a natural part of the sales process, so I like to embrace it. After all, we are haggling and negotiating every day of our lives. I know with my children its one continuous negotiation for bed times, food, homework etc. etc. So remember that you are probably better at negotiation than you give yourself credit for.
Tip: Know your bottom line and go £50 or £100 under, if you must. This is my personal rule and it’s worked very well.
If the car is up for sale at £5000 and my bottom line is £4800 I will still sell it for anything above £4700.
Selling a car can be a pain in the butt, and do you really want let a deal go all because of £50?
Perhaps you do? After all, £50 or £100 is a lot of money and it takes considerable effort to earn that kind of money. For me, I’m not going to miss on a sale all for the sake of a few quid.
Who knows, this may be the only caller you get for the next two weeks…And if you don’t sell your car in your first ad package you’re going to be forking out more money for more advertising on Autotrader.
But here is the deciding question: Is £4700 of more value to me than keeping possession of the car?
Answer this and you’ll know what to do.
Number 12 – Selling, Selling, SOLD.
Once you make your sale, arrange payment terms. Do NOT accept more than £500 in cash else you leave yourself open to fraudulent money.
Acceptable payment is bank transfer only.
I wouldn’t accept any other payment type when selling a car privately. It keeps you safe and leaves a clear paper trail. But the car must never be released to the new owner until the money actually appears in your bank account.
Number 13 – The Car’s Documentation.
Ensure the log book (V5) is filled out with the new owners details and the date when they bought the car. Be sure that you both sign the V5. The new owner gets the small green slip known as “the new keepers supplement” and YOU send off the rest of the log book to the DVLA.
Do NOT allow the new owner to drive away with the log book else you will most likely get a £100 fine from the DVLA because you didn’t personally notify them.
Remember to click here before buying your Autotrader package.
I hope this post helps you secure your sale for the price you really want.
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The Used Car Guy
What is Auto Trader?
Auto Trader is the worlds leading car selling platform.
How much is my car worth?
My separate guide to car valuations will teach you how to value any car at both trade and retail prices.
What are the Autotrader prices?
Prices are listed below and determined by your vehicles price and the advert type you wish to buy. Note that including your advert in mobile search results will significantly increase exposure.
Cars under £1,000
Basic £14.95 | 2 week ad
Standard £19.95 | 3 week ad includes mobile
Premium £24.95 | 6 week ad includes mobile
Cars over £1,000
Basic £36.95 | 2 week ad
Standard £45.95 | 3 week ad includes mobile
Premium £56.95 | 6 week ad includes mobile
If you have further comments or questions about your car advertisement please visit my contact page.