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How to Sell Your Car: 10 Tips for First Timers

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Updated January 03, 2023

There are few things in life more stressful than selling a car for the first time.

Where do you start? Who can you trust? How much should you ask?

Here's how to sell your car for the first time without giving yourself a panic attack.

Getting the most cash for your used car

By taking a proactive approach, you can avoid lots of common mistakes first timers make when selling a car.

Now, take a few deep breaths and get ready to sell that car.

1. Get your documents in order

Let's say the first buyer who shows up wants to buy the car. Are you prepared to hand it over?

Make sure you have the insurance, registration, and title ready to go before the first potential buyer picks up the phone. It doesn't hurt to have a Carfax report handy.

2. Clean your car (like, really clean your car)

If you can't afford to have the car professionally detailed, start scrubbing. Clean the floor mats, side panels, seats, dash knobs, and literally everything else. Don't forget to give the exterior a good wash.

You want the car to be as spotless as possible. It should smell nice too – no one wants to buy a stinky car.

3. Take stunning photos

Don't just snap a few shots through your living room window. Think of yourself as a photographer and your car as the subject.

You want it to look as good as possible, right? If you were buying the car, what would you want to see? Get down to the car's level when you take photos of the exterior. Get inside the car and take up-close pictures of the dashboard and other features.

4. Create an effective listing

Whatever you do, don't use all caps and exclamation points. That just screams spam.

Instead, use creative language with lots of adjectives to describe the car. Explain how you've taken great care of it and why it's a great car.

It should take you a lot more than five minutes to write an effective listing. Slow down, and write a great advertisement for your vehicle.

5. Decide your price

Do some research. What are others paying for similar cars? 

What price are others asking?

It's tempting list a high price when you expect buyers to haggle, but keep in mind that an outrageous price could simply turn off many potential buyers, too.

6. Be flexible

You probably aren't going to get as much cash for your used car as you'd like. Make sure you stay flexible. Remember that buying cars from strangers is just as stressful as selling a car to strangers.

It's a lot easier to sell a car with a buyer in front of you than seek out an entirely new buyer. Work with what you've got.

7. Don't blow off buyers

Respond to every email and phone call. If you can't meet someone at a particular time then say so and explain yourself. Remember that no one likes to be ignored. Take every buyer seriously.

8. Broaden your options

You probably already plan to post your listing on Craigslist or Facebook, but do you have any other ideas in mind?

Cross post your ad in as many places as possible: auto groups, local shops, etc. Reach out to local repair shops. They may be willing to sell the car for you. They'll take a cut, but they'll detail the car and deal with all the buyers for you. Easy peasy.

9. Stay safe

If something seems off about a buyer, don't meet them. Don't ever meet buyers at your home – go to public places like parking lots. Take all necessary precautions when dealing with cash and strangers.

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10. Look for places that offer cash for junk cars

Look for local companies that offer cash for junk cars. You may not get exactly what you're looking for, but you get instant cash. This is an ideal option if your car isn't in great shape.

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