How to Sell Your Car

How to sell your car - Motors.co.uk expert guide

Selling your vehicle needn’t be daunting if you’re well prepared. That’s why we’ve put together this definitive guide on how to sell your car. Here, you’ll find every aspect of the selling process, from what paperwork you need to tips on getting a better price. This one-stop guide will provide you with all the details you need to sell your motor successfully.

What are the best ways to sell your car?

You have four conventional ways to sell a car, and each has different pros and cons.

Choosing the best way to sell your car

Deciding the best way to sell your vehicle ultimately depends on how much time you have, or how quickly you need either money or a new vehicle.

Selling a car privately

Private sales tend to see the best returns, but also require the most effort. If you are looking for a quick sale with little to no legwork then selling your car privately is not the way to go. Vehicles with more than 60,000 miles can be considered less reliable to private buyers.

Selling to a car buying service

Online car sales make selling a vehicle quick and easy, but you may get less money for your vehicle than you would in a part exchange.

Selling a car at auction

Selling a vehicle at an auction is a safe way to present your car to a large audience of prospective buyers. It is a simple, hassle-free process, but you might get less than you want.

Part exchanging a car

Part exchange is often considered the easiest option, especially if you are looking to walk away from a dealership forecourt with a new vehicle. However, negotiation with car dealers mean variable prices. If they are willing to negotiate, it will only be on either the value of your old car or the price of your desired exchange vehicle – it is highly unlikely that you will be able to negotiate a deal for both.

How to prepare your car for sale

Consider your car's condition before a sale

In a private sale, signs of wear and tear could become major negotiating points. But car buying sites, auctions and part exchanges tend to be more forgiving of minor dents and scratches.

The most important thing to do first, before you decide how to sell your car, is to get an up-to-date market valuation of your vehicle. There are a couple of ways to do this:

Be sure to check prices with private sellers over dealerships. Dealerships add supplements to prices in line with the other services provided by the company.

Best time to sell your car

Certain cars sell better during certain seasons. Consider the time of year you are selling, as well as the age and mileage of your car. Remember:

  • Online auctions: pay days and weekends often produce better results
  • Spring and summer: convertibles and cabriolets tend to sell better when the weather is nice
  • Autumn and winter: 4x4s are more desirable when the weather and road conditions are poor
  • Major festivities: avoid trying to sell a car directly after a major spending event like Christmas or the summer holidays
  • Part exchanges: visit dealerships during traditionally quieter months - December, January, March and August.

How to prepare your car for sale

  • Give your car a thorough clean, inside and out
  • Add a new sheen of wax to make it more attractive to buyers
  • Remove all your belongings
  • Add a new air freshener
  • Maybe get a new set of car mats to freshen the interior
  • Gather your car’s paperwork into one file and keep it safe

If your car requires some basic bodywork or paint repairs, you could add value to its sale and also minimise negotiating factors by getting them fixed. Always check first to see whether it is cost effective. For example, an older car with over 100,000 miles on the clock might not benefit from such actions.

More points include:

  • Gather receipts from your car’s service history to prove your car has been well maintained
  • Consider: vehicles with a new 12-month MOT certificate can reassure buyers and be used as a negotiation point
  • Perhaps get a new set of car mats to freshen the interior
  • Check the windscreen for chips - you could get them repaired at no cost with your insurance coverage
  • Check for scratches and dents - getting them repaired could add value
  • Check the oil, coolant and brake fluid levels
  • Ensure the tyres are correctly inflated and within the minimum legal tread depth of 1.6mm. This check can be done with a 20p coin
  • Make sure there is a spare tyre with the minimum legal tread depth, too
  • Check basic electrics and head lamps

How to sell your car

How to negotiate selling your car

“The best advice I could give anybody would just be to do plenty of research. The internet’s a fabulous place to find out things like models, variants, pricing structures, values for part exchanges. So, research, research, research!” – Jason Pritchard

  • Always start with an amount that is higher than the figure you are willing to accept but keep your lowest acceptable price in mind, too. Feel free to decline a sale, especially if you are not offered a price within your range.
  • Never show that you need to make a quick sale even if it is the case. Point out the car's best-selling points, such as its make and model, its mileage, or its condition.
  • If possible, let the buyer provide you with a figure first and negotiate from there. They may bid higher than the price you had in mind.
  • Consider offering, to take a non-refundable deposit if a private buyer can't pay immediately. £100 is the average deposit amount.

Private Sales

Firstly, decide the best way to advertise your car. You will want to reach as many prospective buyers as possible, so choose a variety of advertising methods. Try placing adverts in:

How to advertise your car

Whatever you decide, by law you must advertise your car accurately. For best coverage, include the following details:

  • Make and model of car
  • Colour
  • Condition
  • Mileage
  • Your contact details
  • Year of manufacture & registration identifier (e.g. '09' or '59' for 2009)
  • Service history
  • MOT status
  • Fuel efficiency and type
  • Engine size
  • CO2 emission rating (for tax purposes)
  • Transmission
  • Detail any modifications

You should also include any details of recent repairs and the number of previous owners, as it can boost the sale and value of your car. Finally, clarify the forms of payment you are willing to accept.

How to photograph your car for a private sale

Take a lot of high-resolution photos of your car for the advert. The more pictures, the more likely you are to sell. Get shots of the front, back, sides and interior, and the boot and engine if you consider them sale points.

Test drives for private sales

Some potential buyers may ask for a test drive. Make sure they are legally allowed to do so.

  1. Check your potential buyer has a valid driving license and insurance coverage to drive your car. The buyer may have Driving Other Cars (DOC) cover, but this type of insurance often provides third-party-only insurance protection. In other words, should the worst happen, any damage to your car would not be covered.
  2. Ask your insurer about the best ways to insure your car for test drives. Some insurance companies now offer temporary policies that cover test drives.
  3. Always accompany the potential buyer and always be the one in control of the car keys. Take the prospective buyer's name, address and contact number, before you let them test drive your vehicle.

Safety tips for private car sales

Be cautious of fraudulent buyers and scams:

  • Be wary of offers to buy your car without a single viewing
  • Be cautious of potential buyers who claim someone else will pay in their stead
  • Do not let any prospective buyers into your home
  • Consider having someone with you during viewings
  • Never hand the car keys or documents over until payment is cleared and in your account
  • Remember: a cheque will show up in your account after a couple of days, but it won't clear for at least five working days and could still bounce
  • Beware of cold callers asking you for money to help sell your car (aka possible vehicle-matching scams)
  • Beware of 'phishing' email scams - these may pose as buyers or even classifieds websites
  • Take caution with supposed overseas buyers who ask you to cover transportation costs (aka potential shipping scams)

Also, remember, it is also illegal to sell a car in an unroadworthy condition to an unaware buyer. If the vehicle is not fit to be driven, by law you must make this clear in the advert and sell it 'for repairs or spare parts'.

How to negotiate selling your car

Most online car buying sites provide a free valuation service, but charge an administration fee after a sale. Some companies may even charge a cancellation fee if you decide not to sell.

Also, the valuation of your car is usually subject to a physical inspection, which could affect the initial online quote. Make sure you provide accurate, detailed information from the start and be sure to check the relevant company website for more details.

Auctions

Auctioning your car can be an enjoyable process, especially watching the bids roll in. However, if your car doesn’t sell, you will still have to pay the auction’s entry fee. Furthermore, many auction buyers work in the motor trade, so their knowledge may mean your vehicle might not fetch your preferred price.

Increasingly, there are more private buyers attending auctions who might be prepared to pay more than a trade professional. Cars that tend to attract attention from private buyers and those in the motor industry are usually popular makes or models, with low mileage and a great service history. Vehicles that are difficult for buyers to source can also make a good profit.

If you decide to sell your car at auction, you will need to:

  • Prepare the car for auction
  • Pay an entry fee
  • Set a reserve price
  • Take your car to auction
  • Take all car keys and documents

If you sell your car, the winning bidder will purchase it immediately and you will need to hand over all keys and documents there and then. Also, the auction company will take a commission from the final sale price. The percentage of commission varies so check the charged rate beforehand.

There are many auction companies to choose from, such as Manheim, as well as local independent ones. Do research into the company to find the right one for you. For example, some auction houses will inspect and prepare your vehicle to maximise its sale.

Online auctions

Online, or digital, auction sites make selling your car easy. Simply advertise your vehicle on the website, add a full description and photographs and then watch the online auction go live.

Most companies charge any of an initial insertion fee, a percentage fee based on your car’s final selling price, or both fees together. Check the costs involved beforehand.

Remember, you must always describe your car accurately. Unroadworthy cars must be declared so by law.

Part exchanging your car

Part exchanging your vehicle, or selling your car outright to a car dealer, is often considered the easiest option. Yet the price you receive could be less than if you sold your vehicle privately, as the car’s value (after depreciation) will be taken into consideration. That said, the convenience of a part exchange can be a persuading factor, especially if your car has any issues, dents or scratches that could be problematic for private buyers.

Here’s everything you need to know about part exchanging your car.

What is part exchange?

"At some point in your motoring life, you'll need to change cars. One of the most popular options is to part exchange, or trade in. This involves going to a dealership and agreeing the value of your old vehicle and using this equity to help finance another car." – Gareth Herincx

How to does part exchange work?

Simply take your vehicle to a trusted, local dealer who provides a part exchange service. The dealership will provide you with a valuation of your car, which can then be taken off the price of the new car you buy. You can often get an online valuation beforehand too. Remember, you will still need to prepare your car and be ready to negotiate. And don't forget to take all relevant paperwork.

Pros and cons of part exchanging a car

"If you've got the time and you want to get the most money for your car, the best bet is to sell it privately. You may not get as much for your car by part exchanging, but it's still popular because it's much less hassle - there's no need to place an advert or arrange viewings and test drives. Ultimately there's often a feel-good factor with a part exchange because you know you're getting a fair chunk of cash off the asking price of your next car." – Gareth Herincx

How to get the best part exchange deal

"Part-exchanging a car is all about maximising its value, so no matter how eager you are to change it, don't be tempted to drive onto a forecourt until your car looks its best. Spend a few hours cleaning it thoroughly inside and out. If there are dents, scratches or something needs repairing, it might even be worth getting them fixed first. Also consider getting a new MOT and gather together as much service history as possible.

Anything you can do to make your car more attractive to a dealer, the better. However, the dealer will know almost instantly what they are prepared to offer you, so it's important that you know the value of your car. Search online for similar cars for sale, or it's possible to look up the value of your car - just remember to look at the 'part exchange' option - not 'private sale'." – Gareth Herincx.

The golden rule of part exchanging

"Never forget that you are juggling two sets of negotiation – one for the part exchange of your old car and another for the new vehicle. Ultimately, you want to pay less overall for your next car. In other words, a dealer offering you £3,000 for your car against a £9,500 new car - overall spend £6,500 - is not as good as an offer of £2,500 at another dealer against a similar new car priced at £8,500 - overall spend £6,000. - If you have the time, go to more than one dealer. You can always walk away from a negotiation if you have a plan B." – Gareth Herincx

Top tip for part exchange

"If you desire a car from a franchised main dealer, unless you're part exchanging the same make of car and it's in good condition, you're unlikely to get a good deal. The dealership probably won't want to sell it on their forecourt and it will have to go to auction.

In this case, you're probably better off selling your car privately first or finding a similar new car at an independent dealer where your car can be sold from their forecourt." – Gareth Herincx

Paperwork for selling your car

You will need to collate and produce several documents to sell your car. Additionally, once you've sold your vehicle, you will need to complete some essential, legal paperwork. Also, don't forget to update your car insurance, whether it needs cancelled or transferred to your new vehicle.

What documents do I need to sell my car?

"An annual MOT is required on cars more than three years old. A seller should be able to produce these certificates." – Jason Pritchard

"Organise your documents into a file. The V5C log book, complete with the V5C/2 slip with 'new keeper’s details', which is sent to the DVLA. The MOT is registered online, however, the paper version should be given to the buyer as it costs £10 to replace.

If there are any warranties relating to the vehicle, or parts fitted to it, these should be passed on and the companies informed that there is a new keeper." – James Ruppert

You will need the following items:

  • Vehicle registration certificate (aka the V5C or vehicle log book)
  • MOT certificate(s), if your car is over 3 years old. You can check your car's MOT history with this GOV.UK search tool
  • Full service history and past receipts
  • Warranty documents
  • The car's handbook
  • Car keys and duplicate sets.

While some of these documents are inessential, they can add value to the sale of your car. If you cannot find any of these documents, try to get them replaced. For example, you can collect a replacement MOT certificate from any MOT testing station – just take your V5C with you as ID. You can also get a replacement V5C certificate from the DVLA (Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency) by phone, or fill in an application for a log book (V62) form and send by post.

Selling car privately – extra paperwork needs

Private car sales require you to provide the buyer with a 'sold as seen, tried and approved without guarantee' bill of sale. Treat this receipt as a formal contract between you and the buyer.

Create two copies – one for yourself and one for the buyer – and complete both in the buyer's presence. Include as many details about the car as you can. Remember, your car must match any descriptions you give verbally and in writing throughout the course of the sale.

Do I need a log book to sell my car?

While it is possible to sell a vehicle without the V5C (log book), the DVLA advises motorists not to purchase a car without one. Buyers will be suspicious of any car that doesn't come with this essential document.

Selling a car with private plate

If you wish to keep your private plate, you will need to apply for 'retention', either online or by post, before you sell the car. A private plate sold with a car is considered part of the sale.

Selling a car with no MOT

It is possible to sell a car with no MOT:

“If your car’s MOT has expired, then it must be stored off the public highway by law. When advertising the car, you must make it clear your car does not have a valid MOT and cannot be test driven. Also, any potential buyer will need to bring a trailer if they expect to take it away. Alternatively, they would need to book a test at the nearest local MOT station to take it away.” – James Ruppert

Some online car buying sites may purchase such cars, but they’ll likely want a reduced price.

Taxes and finance when selling your car

Tax and selling your car

You can no longer transfer road tax when selling your car. Sellers must apply for a refund, and buyers must tax the car themselves at point of sale.

Take note – if you sell then buy a car early in the month, you could pay tax twice. DVLA vehicle tax is now backdated to the beginning of the month and refunds offered from the start of next. You can apply for a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) before the month's end to avoid paying tax on the car you wish to sell, but this will mean you cannot legally drive or test drive the vehicle.

How to cancel car tax

"Quite simply, you have to inform the DVLA that your car has been sold, scrapped, stolen, exported, taken off the road, written off by an insurance company, or become exempt from road tax. You can tell the DVLA via their site.

Even if you complete the relevant documents with a pen when disposing of a car, it is essential to register online. You will get a refund for any full months remaining." – James Ruppert

Selling your car – DVLA do's

  1. Immediately notify the DVLA when you have sold your car – you could face a hefty fine and be prosecuted, otherwise.
  2. Upon selling your car, fill out the V5C (log book) and V5C/2 subsection with the buyer and give the V5C/2 to the buyer as proof of purchase.
  3. Post the completed V5C to the DVLA to tell them about the car's change of ownership. Instead of posting the completed V5C, you can now submit details to the DVLA online. The government operates this vehicle registration service from 7am-7pm. To inform the DVLA of the change of ownership, the completed V5C must only be posted or detailed online – do not do both.

Finance and selling your car

There are four main types of car finance:

  • Personal bank loans
  • Hire Purchase (HP)
  • Personal Contract Purchase (PCP)
  • Personal Contract Hire (PCH)

For more information on each, look at the ‘Car Finance Explained’ section of our Car Finance Calculator tool.

How to sell a car when you have a loan

If you bought a car with a personal bank loan, you can sell the vehicle whenever you want, as you are the legal owner of the car. However, you will still be liable for the loan and will have to continue paying it back.

Is it illegal to sell a car on finance?

With the exception of personal bank loans, yes, it is illegal to sell a car with outstanding finance because the finance company is technically the vehicle’s legal owner. Doing so can result in you being charged with fraud. Also, if the buyer has their new car repossessed by the finance company, they may choose to sue you to recover costs.

How to sell a car with outstanding finance

To legally sell a car with outstanding finance, you must first:

  • Inform the finance company and ask for the ‘settlement figure’ needed to pay your loan off in full
  • You must then pay the entire settlement figure, plus any administration fees and any early repayment fees

Can I part exchange my car with outstanding finance?

"You can still trade in your car with outstanding finance, such as PCP (Personal Contract Purchase) or HP (Hire Purchase), but you'll need to ask the finance company for the "settlement figure" – the amount they need from you to pay off your loan in full. However, it may also be subject to early repayment and administration fees.

Until the finance is settled, the car is still owned by the finance company, so it's not yours to sell. It is illegal to knowingly sell someone a car with outstanding finance without informing them of the situation. Most buyers and many dealers carry out a car history or data check to make sure there's no finance outstanding on a car." – Gareth Herincx

Some dealerships are willing to take on the outstanding finance in a part exchange. In other words, the dealer would clear the existing settlement figure for you through the part exchange sale of your car. This point will depend on how much is left to repay in the settlement figure and the value of your vehicle.

If your car finance settlement figure costs more than your vehicle is worth, this is called negative equity. Some dealerships will not part exchange a vehicle if you are in negative equity. Others will, but the negative equity will be added on top of the car you wish to purchase. In the long run, you will pay a lot more back. You could end up with even greater negative equity if you want, or need, to sell the new car.

Companies that buy cars with outstanding finance

Some companies like WeWantAnyCar will offer to buy cars with outstanding finance. Typically, such companies will purchase your car and pay the outstanding finance costs. You will obviously not receive as much money for the sale, as some fees will go towards repayment of the settlement figure. Again, you should still notify the finance company prior to the vehicle’s sale and ask for the settlement figure.

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