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Published: Nov 10, 2022 14 min read
Person putting a Sale sign in the window-shield of a used car
Money; Shutterstock

These days, you can do practically everything online. Why should buying or selling a car be any different?

The internet allows you to sell a car quickly and conveniently. Online dealerships and digital marketplaces make it easy to find the right buyer, display your offering and get the best value for your vehicle, which is essential considering that used car prices have been falling in the last couple of months.

Not sure where to start? Here’s your guide on how to sell your car online, from finding prospective buyers to locating the best place to sell your car online.

What to do before selling your car

So, you’re ready to sell your used car online. Getting started is easy — there are just a few things you may want to consider to get the maximum value for your ride.

Before listing your car and naming a fair price, you may want to explore the market offer and your specific prospects. The best way to sell your car online will depend on your priorities, time constraints, the car's manufacturing year, condition and more.

Here are a few basic steps to follow before you sell a car online:

1. Decide if you want to sell it to a business or an individual

First and foremost, consider whether you want to sell your car to an online dealership or an individual. Both options have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages. Whether the former or the latter would be better suited for you depends on the car's value and your preferred sale experience.

Here are a few factors to consider to make a better-informed decision:

  • The car’s condition. If your vehicle is in poor condition and requires a lot of work (or maybe even a full restoration), your best bet may be to sell it to a dealership. Contrary to individual buyers who may not be interested in a deal that requires excessive work immediately, some online car companies specifically seek rides in need of restorations.
  • Your availability. One benefit of selling your car to a business is that the buyer will do all the hard work for you. Marketing to individuals requires you to put in the time to monitor your listing and negotiate with buyers.
  • Your knowledge. Do you know all there is to know about your car? Are you familiar with the market and how to sell a car privately? If not, you might need to do some learning and research to handle all aspects of marketing and sales yourself.
  • Possible scams. Selling to an individual buyer means meeting up with a stranger and accepting an agreement. That can leave some space for scams, which is not the case when selling to businesses. Reputable online car dealerships can offer you the legal documents you seek to make a secure deal.

Generally, selling your car to a business may be faster and easier but less profitable. On the other hand, selling to an individual may get you a bigger payout, but you'll have to put more time and effort into the process.

Some online dealerships, such as CarMax and Carvana, offer trade-in options, meaning you can put the value of your old car into a down payment on a new car.

Trading in your old car makes it easier to upgrade without wasting time on selling and shopping. However, you may not get as much value for your vehicle in a trade-in as you would with an individual sale. If you have the time to market and sell the old car and look for a new one, it may be worthwhile to take the cash and shop around.

2. Prepare the vehicle documents

Before starting the car sale process, ensure you have all the necessary documents, including maintenance logs. Whether it’s to a business or an individual, your buyer will want a complete record of any mechanical issues, completed repairs, and regular maintenance (such as oil changes or tire rotations).

If you have no previous records at hand, you can get a VIN report online. All you need is the VIN (vehicle identification number) to find a history of any car accidents and repairs.

On top of that, you’ll need your vehicle title and a bill of sale. Here’s a quick overview of the difference between them:

Vehicle title

The vehicle’s title is the proof of ownership, essentially a document that certifies your right to sell the car. Whether you’re selling to an individual or a business, the buyer will want to see a vehicle title to ensure legal compliance and secure the purchase.

Once the sale is final, the new owner will get the vehicle title, which is the transfer that the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) usually handles. All you need to do is to provide your and the buyer's signature.

Bill of sale

You may also want to acquire a bill of sale from the DMV or a formal document that finalizes the sale of a vehicle, especially with individuals. It needs to be signed by both you and the buyer, and it serves as a record for future buyers, tax purposes and DMV records.

3. Find out your car’s market value

Before listing your car for online sale, you may want to determine its approximate value on the market, so you can put an appropriate price tag. That will ensure you get the right amount of money for your vehicle, whether you sell it to a business or an individual.

Fortunately, you don’t need to be a car expert to find the right price for your car. Just search “sell used car online,” and you’ll see tons of sites offering free cost estimates. Only ensure you put in the make, the mileage and the manufacturing year of your car to get the most accurate predictions.

A site like Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds will offer an instant cost estimate free of charge. However, if you’re looking for a more accurate appraisal, you can take your car to an auto dealer and get a precise cost estimate for a small fee. It’s also possible to sell your car online for free or pay a small fee for more advanced marketing.

4. Read up on common car buying scams

Finally, educate yourself on the common scams people have experienced on the used car sale market before posting a listing yourself. You want to make the process as secure as possible, especially for financial transactions.

To keep yourself safe from scams, consider these steps:

  • Only accept cash or bank transfers as forms of payment, as checks can be riskier.
  • Check the background of your customers to ensure reliability.
  • Choose a safe, public location to meet the buyer in person.

Another quick note on scams — be aware that your buyer is taking precautions, too. Honesty is crucial on both ends of the sale. Prepare to share details about your car and your seller history.

How to sell your car online

Online car sales are more popular than ever. They are quick, convenient and easy, and as long as you follow precautions, you can enjoy safe transactions.

This list will walk you through some of your options for online car sales, so you can know what to expect before you post your listing.

Choose an online marketplace or dealership

First, you’ll need to pick a platform. If you search “where to sell a car online,” you’ll get plenty of results. However, you may want to consider and compare available dealerships and marketplaces rather than choosing the first one that catches your eye. Choosing a trusted, well-reviewed platform is essential to performing a successful sale.

Depending on your priorities and time constraints, you could:

  • Sell a car online with a digital marketplace. Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay and Cars.com are a few of the most popular places to post an ad and find an individual buyer.
  • Sell a car to Carvana. With Carvana, you can get an offer for your car within two minutes. The company can also trade in your vehicle for a newer model.
  • Sell a car to CarMax. One of the oldest online car dealerships out there, CarMax will give you a quick offer and take care of all the hard work.
  • Sell your car to Vroom. The platform offers a quick free appraisal, provides a vehicle history report and picks up your car when you’re ready to sell.

The best place to sell your car online depends on your preferred transaction type and other mentioned factors. Whatever option you choose, however, ensure to pick a website or online platform you can trust.

Comparing online marketplaces is another option worth considering, especially if you’re looking for specific advantages. For example, platforms like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace allow you to reach local buyers, making it easy to meet up and show the car in person. Similarly, sites such as Autotrader and CarGurus are specific to vehicle sales and well-developed, so there’s less of a scam risk.

You can also post a listing across multiple platforms. A wider reach will lead to more offers in the long run. Just keep track of your listings and be sure to take them down once you sell your car.

Take clear photos of every angle and flaw

You can’t sell a car without 100% transparency. When you take photos for your online ad, make sure to include every last flaw, scrape and dent. Buyers should know what to expect when they come to see the car.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid showing your car’s best side. Clean it well inside and out before you take photos to boost the curb appeal, and consider adding new hubcaps, seat covers, or other accessories to attract more buyers.

Include all vehicle details in the description, including the VIN

Again, transparency is essential. Your ad should include every major and minor detail of your car, including history, previous mechanical issues and the VIN — that way, skeptical buyers can look up the vehicle history themselves and double-check your claims.

If you're selling to a dealership, bring it in for an appraisal

The nice thing about selling your car to a dealership is that its team will take care of all the hard work. You'll get an appraisal, an offer, appropriate legal documents and other necessary paperwork without lifting a finger.

Set your price and wait for offers from potential buyers

When selling your car to individual buyers, you set the price yourself. Except for the manual work, that can be beneficial. For instance, you can start at the higher end of your car's price range and potentially get more money.

As long as you make reasonable estimates, you can try to sell your car at a higher price and get the best value possible. If you see no offers within a week or two, you can always lower the cost and list a new ad.

Take precautionary measures when closing the transaction

Be cautious with offers that seem too good to be true. Always meet your buyer in person in a public place. If they insist on paying with a cash check, you could always meet at their bank and have them get a cashier’s check — that way, you know there’s enough money in their account to actually complete the deal.

Trading vehicles with an online buyer isn’t always a good idea. While trades can be a great way to exchange cars with a dealership, it may be harder to certify the car's value in an individual deal. We recommend selling your car for cash, then putting that cash into a new vehicle purchase in your own time.

Get your car listed online today

Selling your car online is a straightforward process. You can get an estimate, post a listing and talk to potential buyers without getting off your couch. It's essential, however, to do your research and take precautions to avoid potential scams.