Selling Our Cars Through The Years: 7 Steps To A Smooth Car Sale

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2007-09-2528

There are tons of articles out there that tell you virtually the same thing about how to sell your car. But a long time ago, when the internet was still incubating, we recall having had to sell our used cars the old-fashioned way — via the newspaper classifieds, for sale signs, word of mouth or stapled flyers on community boards. It worked though, because all in all, out of four cars we’ve owned through our lives, all sold without a hitch while only one was marketed via an online classifieds forum.

Here’s a closer look at how we bought and sold our cars through the years.

Our Car Sale History

1978 Datsun 280Z
My spouse bought this used for $5,800 as a high school student in 1985 and sold it for $3,000 in 1990. Not a bad return, especially since the car was on its serious last legs. With the problems it had been experiencing, it seemed to be slated for the junkyard or at least a major restoration. It was sold via a newspaper classified ad.

1991 Honda Civic DX Hatchback
Bought for $6,500 or so in 1991 and sold for $3,000 in 1995. Just a standard sale of a functional, reliable car. Sold it via word of mouth.

1990 Nissan 300ZX
Ah yes. The spouse was a major car fiend who bought his dream car using an inheritance (well, he was young and unencumbered then…). He splurged and bought this car for $33,000 in 1990 and sold it for $10,000 in 1999. Ugh, flashy car, not very good sale price. To be fair, we owned this car for almost 10 years and took in multiple offers. Sold via a newspaper classified ad.

1996 Honda Civic DX Sedan
Bought for $12,000 in 1995 and sold for $6,000 in 2000. Again, Hondas have great resale value so it sold pretty easily via Craigslist.

Today, there are many more resources at our fingertips to enable us to sell our cars if we had to, so it should now be even easier to make that sale. Our plan has always been to sell our cars when their mileage reached 100,000+ miles in order to get a good resale price. Both our cars would reach that point within the next year or so, but after some evaluation, we are thinking of conserving our money by holding on to what we have for a bit longer. Thanks to frugal blogs, articles on the subject, and compelling stories like this, we’re going to stretch out the use of our cars longer. But when the time comes for that sale, these steps should get us ready:

Car For Sale

Steps To A Hassle-Free Car Sale

#1 Do the research and check your car’s market.
Like anything else, preparation is key to a sale or any other transaction. You can get a feel for the used car market by checking out sites like Automotive. Honestly, it’s been a while since we’ve looked at the car market, and seeing what is available today is amazing. Seems like the auto industry space in the internet has grown immensely in the last several years.

#2 Appraise your car and determine your price.
You can lurk around the car sites to get a feel, but it should also be pretty easy to find out how your car will be valued in the open market. We sold our cars using the Kelley Blue Book values ( as a basis for pricing. These days, you can also use and other car appraisal sites to figure out your car’s value. Some other thoughts to consider at this stage: decide whether to trade it in at a dealership or sell it privately, which can garner you a higher payout.

#3 Organize your car records and prepare for the sale.
I keep our car maintenance records in a folder covering oil changes, major maintenance visits and receipts along these lines. Keep documents referencing major part replacements such as tires, wipers, fan belt, battery, as well as warranty and service receipts. Provide a CARFAX vehicle history report to potential buyers, which will boost your credibility. Good records can show any buyer that your car is well-maintained, a strong selling point.

#4 Make your car shine.
Clean the car very thoroughly by giving it the works. Detail it if you have to and replace small worn out parts if need be. Like anything else that goes on the block, show off your car in its best light.

#5 Market your car online and offline.
I’d first decide how to unload the car. Are you interested in trading it in through a dealership or selling it to a private party? Would you even consider donating it for a tax break? Let’s say you’re going for a sale: you’ll always get a better price by selling it directly to a buyer. At that point, you can determine if you’re going to do any of the following old-fashioned methods for selling stuff: hang a for sale sign on your car’s windows, word of mouth, neighborhood community boards and forums, taking out classified ads in local papers and periodicals. But these days, I’m betting that it will be most convenient and easiest to do this all online, where the biggest advances have occurred since the last time we’ve sold our car. There are literally dozens of places you can use to do the deed. There are companies like,,, Craigslist (there’s a craigslist per state) or Ebay Motors that can manage the sale of your car.

#6 Negotiate with a buyer for a win-win.
Avoid contingency issues that the buyer brings up such as additional repairs or a paint job as this would just complicate the deal. That is, if you can help it, don’t accept a deal that is contingent on you doing more work on your car than seems reasonable or than what you’re comfortable doing. Sad to say, as online buy-and-sell avenues have grown, so have online scams. Though many con jobs are done by sellers, there are also those initiated by false buyers. Be aware of scams that aim to victimize car sellers: this list of car buy/sell scams can provide you some information. And finally, always aim for a win-win even as you aim for the best price.

#7 Cover all the bases before the final sale.
Some points to consider once you’re ready to finalize your sale transaction: watch out for scams by ensuring that you are able to receive payment prior to transferring ownership of your car. Have the check clear first and only accept payment in full. If you still owe on your car loan upon your car sale, then use an escrow service such as to allow you to close your loan and transfer ownership. You can also make the sale at the lien-holding institution and take care of paying off your loan balance from proceeds from your sale.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Nerd Mom September 25, 2007 at 8:10 am

A thorough and sensible article as usual, SVB.

Still, a car is not an investment, and in most cases, it makes best financial sense to buy a reliable vehicle(Honda or Nissan are typically good examples) with little or no financing and drive it to near death at which point it can be donated for tax break (the efforts to market and stage the car for sale could better be spent elsewhere, like in investment activities :).

Todd September 25, 2007 at 8:35 am

A note regarding #3….
Don’t forget to remove any credit card numbers or personal information from your repair and maintenance records. A lot of times the shop will jot down personal information or credit card numbers right on your paperwork
A couple of quick and easy ways to deal with this:

1) Purchase a sharpie and color over the numbers. This is mostly effective, just have to check the back of the page and make sure the numbers aren’t legible from the back.
2) Purchase a good old fashioned hole punch. A couple of holes right through the string of numbers and they are permanently removed. Just make sure you always do the same sets of numbers to make sure they can’t piece together the number. Or, just punch all of them out, on a receipt it only takes a few punches and is a great job for children to earn some extra allowance money.

Paul September 25, 2007 at 11:20 am

I’ve sold my last 2 cars on Ebay (and purchased the last 2 the same way) Seems like I get much better price than through a dealer and a quick sale. Also, don’t have the hassle of bargaining with someone.

I think you are selling your cars too soon. I’ve driven 10 of my 12 cars over 200k miles. I buy them nearly fully depreciated so I don’t have to worry about resale value.

Millionster September 25, 2007 at 4:46 pm

Oh my sweet Rusty Betty. She’s on her last leg… I counting the days until I sell her which I imagine will be soon =) thanks for sharing your experience with us

Silicon Valley Blogger September 26, 2007 at 11:54 am

@Nerd Mom, I hear you. 🙂 Looks like we’ve been lucky enough to sell each car we’ve had at half the price we bought it for (even the used one). We’re definitely changing our strategy this time to sell at a much later point (higher mileage): we just can’t afford to buy new cars within the next couple of years due to our income situation right now.

@Todd, Excellent tips on how to protect our information! I will definitely be scouring our paperwork for sensitive data. Thank you for sharing this.

@Paul — We may look at eBay to sell through in the future; I wonder how different an experience that would be vs going through Craigslist. Did you specify only local buyers for your car?

@Millionster — Love what you’ve named your car. 🙂

I agree, we may be selling a bit too early. We’ve agreed to keep the cars for much longer this time again, given our cash flow situation. We try not to get financing as much as possible you see…

Paul September 26, 2007 at 12:44 pm

To Silicon Valley blogger

I sold one car to a buyer in Illinois (I live in NY). The buyer was not too bright though. He thought he could drive from NY to IL with no license plates. He called me 15 minutes after driving away because the NY State Troopers had stopped him and wanted to borrow my plates!

Car For Sale Sign September 26, 2007 at 2:47 pm

good history on your car sales. I have seen some have very good sucess with just putting a for sale sign in the window and letting passers by dee it. The trick to that is a readable sign, and a high traffic area where you can park your car with out getting onto trouble.

Car Blog February 2, 2008 at 5:22 am

Great tips for selling your car, I agree that a car is not a financial investment though, make sure you get all you want from your car before selling it on, and then go down the ebay route – seems this is where most people are getting good selling and buying results.

Serpentine Belt Diagram August 21, 2008 at 12:39 pm

As well it can be a good thing to change your serpentine belt (fan belt) before you put your car up for sale. It is one of those fixes that if done yourself can be done on the cheap, and those little fixes can instill confidence in the buyer. Buyers like to hear that a car is in top working order before you sell. Plus it is easy to change the belts, filters, and plugs.

Mitch September 24, 2008 at 9:32 am

I have also found that taking care of small dings and dents and any noticeable paint chips before putting your car up for sale can greatly help smooth selling. People like to buy a car they can show off and are often embarrassed to show their friends if their new car if it is ugly. :p

lookout September 29, 2008 at 3:07 pm

if you’re trying to sell your car it will be realy useful to try to post it online but what’s more important and not mentioned before is to put all the details you can put plus add photos; by doing that you’ll help yourself and potential customers, and you will save yourself the bother of receiving calls all day to ask about details. well you should try to sell your used car online with free services websites because they are more or less the same.

RTanner November 25, 2008 at 8:29 am

As with many other things…you have two options. Make sure the car you are selling is something you would want to buy and is in tip-top condition or you can do the obvious.. lower the price!

rosco January 9, 2009 at 9:14 pm

You can sell them on eBay too; and the eBay Motors section is actually chock full of project cars; cars you’d spend your leisure time reassembling. It can be really fun to look through the listings with a “tooltime” mentality 🙂

GTR January 21, 2009 at 9:22 pm

@rosco — I’d be wary of buying a full car on ebay though.. Plus shipping would be trouble unless you were local.

Philips July 10, 2009 at 5:02 am

I have also been trying to sell my car old over these last 3 months. I had bought it at $4000 but now I want to sell it at $3500. I have given ads on internet and newspaper as well. Till now I’ve not been successful.

SVB’s response: Time to lower your price?

CIO September 19, 2009 at 3:21 am

Yikes @ the picture…someone got hungry!

@ GTR — I completely agree. I’ve heard some “horror” stories from people who bought a car on Ebay. Stay away if possible.

Vauxhall Tigra November 23, 2009 at 6:36 am

@ GTR, I also heard funny stories about buying from online actions. I think that there are so many good online reputable websites, so there are always many options. I bought my Vauxhall Tigra from a website and I don’t hesitate to recommend making purchases online.

Karl January 5, 2010 at 8:01 am

@CIO & Vauchall Tigra – I’ve bough several cars from online sources such as eBay and Pistonheads and never had a problem, although I always view them first. I think as long as you actually go and view the car you shouldn’t have a problem.

Noetik February 9, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Haha… What a cool picture… Do you have copyright on that, or can I use it? :p

Max March 22, 2010 at 7:21 am

I would recommend to buy online too. But be wary where.

Car Blog – yes eBay is a good source but only if you can go and verify the car you’re buying.

If you’re selling you have to be honest and divulge the problems that the car is having. If you get caught lying, your reputation will be marred and you won’t be able to sell anything.

Off topic:

Buying a Prius (for example) won’t necessarily save you money. It might be to save the planet we are living on and which we are destroying slowly but surely. I’m not going to start throwing numbers here on how bad gas-fueled cars are for our environment because there are several other articles on this topic that explain things well enough.

Also, I don’t understand the people that buy a 500 HP car to go to work and be in a constant traffic jam all day. They only do it to show off.

Alston May 29, 2010 at 6:19 am

Craigslist is a great place to buy and sell. However, the problem I see is that the prices are all over the place. Being a car guy for so many years, I noticed that lots of people don’t have a clue about what their car is actually worth. I always suggest to do good research on the values with various books guides and price your car right. And in the ad, you should state “the vehicle is priced to sell” and give them a reason why you’re selling.

Kansas City Used Auto Sales August 23, 2010 at 10:16 am

I completely agree with Alston’s statement on Craigslist, and just seller ignorance in general… as if the constant e-mails from scammers and spammers wasn’t enough. As a dealer, this is frustrating, because it seems the Craigslist crew has spent more time developing software to “ghost” our ads, than they have on keeping tabs on these things!

Jonas January 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Without a doubt, you should check a car’s history records. This will help you to eliminate half of the vehicles from your list with potential problems. Vehicles that have been flooded or restored after serious accidents, those with rolled back odometers, heavily abused vehicles (e.g., ex-rentals), those with outstanding liens, etc., can be eliminated after simply checking the history record of the vehicle. In fact, it is not even a good idea to look into a car until you check its history.

Car Dealer website July 17, 2012 at 5:36 am

I would also recommend checking your local banks for the loan value on your car and how long they will loan the money for. I had an 06 Tundra that I tried to sell in my front yard. I had plenty of people stop by and say they would go to the bank for a loan, never to be heard from again. I found out later that banks would only lend 36 months on my vehicle which made the monthly payment the same as a new car. Older vehicles and higher mileage cars tend to fall in this category.


Silicon Valley Blogger July 17, 2012 at 7:56 am

Thanks for the tip Chris, that’s good to know. When you’re selling something (anything), you’ll succeed if you offer a good price. Having a better price than the competition will make your product/offering sell faster.

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