Tips and Advice

Best way to sell a car

Have a car you no longer want? This guide will explain the best way to safely sell a car and get the best price

Buying a new car can be terrifically exciting but most of us will know that part of the process involves selling an old car first. This guide will help you find the best way to sell a car without it becoming a painful chore, while ensuring you stay secure and maximise the car’s value.

- Part-exchange - Guaranteed sale websites - Selling privately - Writing the advert - Setting the price of a used car - Taking photos - Preparing your car for sale - Dealing with buyers - Haggling - Paperwork, V5C and the DVLA - Selling a car without a V5C - Road tax refund - Taking payment


If a dealership is supplying your new car, the most straightforward and speediest way of selling your old car is to part-exchange. As part of your new deal, the agreed value of your old car will simply go towards the cost of the new one.

The big temptation comes from the fact there’s no real selling involved at all, and you will almost always be able to simply drive your old car to the dealership on an agreed date and go home in the new model. This avoids financial and logistical issues around having to tax, insure and park both your new and old car until you find a buyer, or having a gap where you have no car at all.

While part-exchange is certainly quick and easy, the downside is that the dealership will itself need to move on your old car as quickly as possible, and will often seek to make a small profit. They can only do this if they pay a low ‘trade price’, even just to cover their costs, and this can often be a lower value than you may expect. Any damage - particularly scratches, dents and kerbed alloy wheels - will also affect the offer, as each will cost money to repair.

Guaranteed sale websites

If time is of the essence and you just need to free up some cash for your next vehicle, a ‘guaranteed sale’ website such as We Buy Any Car can be worth thinking about.

These sites provide you with an instant quote based on the details you enter about your car. To finalise the deal, you’ll either need to take your car to a branch of the company, or in some cases they may offer to come and pick up the car at your home or work.

The main caveat is that the online valuation is not final. A thorough inspection will be carried out on your car, any damage will be collated and the cost of repairing it will be deducted from the final offer – which may be quite a bit less than the original quote as a result.

This means you should only see the website valuation as the most you can expect and plan for the actual amount to be less, particularly if you know your car has damage or faults.

Guaranteed-sale sites attract customers because they’re very quick and easy, but it’s also likely you’ll get less than with a private sale.

Selling privately

The biggest attraction with selling privately is that you should get the largest amount in return, but it can be a lengthy process that requires you to be proactive.

Selling a car privately can take many forms, from finding a friend, work colleague or relative to buy your car, to advertising or auctioning it online. Each has positives and negatives.

It’s best to cast your net as wide as possible by advertising with a national website or magazine. There’s a lot of choice and some even cater for a niche audience, which is ideal if your car is a classic or has a particular following of loyal enthusiasts.

Online auctions including eBay have become hugely popular. You have the choice of setting a reserve price (the minimum you’re willing to accept for a sale to go ahead) and if two or more buyers really want your car, the sale amount can be pushed up by a bidding war. But online auction sites can make their money by taking a percentage of the sale price as their fee, so you’ll need to take that into account.

Classified sites like Gumtree and Craigslist are popular, partly because they’re free for private sellers to advertise on. It’s possible to reach a large audience, but because these sites tend to be more general, selling everything from computer games to top hats, they’re more suited to selling cheaper cars.

Writing the advert

Regardless of where you decide to advertise, there’s some key information you’ll want to include to inform buyers:

● Make, model, engine, trim level and bodystyle (e.g. Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI SE hatchback)● The year it was registered● Gearbox type and the number of gears (e.g. manual six-speed)● Current mileage● Engine size● Fuel (petrol, diesel, LPG, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric)● Colour● Remainder of MoT● Service history● Remaining warranty period (unless it has already expired)● Number of previous owners

Buyers are likely to be particularly interested in the car’s service history, so make sure to state if it’s a full or partial history and point out if the car has always been tended to by a main dealer (referred to as a full main dealer service history), as this is particularly desirable.

It’s also important to list the equipment fitted to the car, including any optional extras or desirable upgrades like sat nav, Bluetooth connectivity, air-conditioning or a tow bar.

Always be honest about your vehicle and any faults or damage it has. Trying to hide any issues can waste your time and that of potential buyers, as they’ll most likely not go through with the sale even after a visit and test drive.

While this is a lot of information, try to be as snappy and concise as possible. Many online and magazine adverts in particular limit your word count anyway, but it’s always best to make your listing as easy to digest as possible. Avoid writing in all capital letters, too.

It’s no longer possible to transfer road tax to a new owner, so at the point you tell the DVLA you no longer own a car, any remaining tax will be refunded to you. We’ll go into more detail about this below.

Setting the price of a used car

Choosing the price to advertise your car at is one of the trickiest aspects of selling - ask for too much and your phone might never ring, but ask for too little and you could be left out of pocket.

The reason it’s hard to judge is because of the number of factors at play. The car’s age, condition and mileage have the most obvious effect, but other less predictable factors include where you live (cars are generally pricier in the south and cheaper in the north and some rural areas). Even the time of year can have an impact, with demand often increasing for SUVs in winter, while convertibles are more popular in spring and summer.

Used price guides are available at newsagents and online and can be a good starting point, with dealerships often using something similar. However, you can now get free online valuations, too, provided by national classified websites. It’s also worth checking out online ads for cars as similar to yours as possible – even narrowed down to your local area – to see how they are priced and ensure your advert stands out.

Taking photos

The photographs you take will sell the car, so it’s worth investing some time (and money) getting the best results possible. It might sound obvious, but clean the car inside and out, or get it professionally valeted. Private buyers want to feel like they’re getting a good-as-new car, even if it’s a few years old.

Park your car somewhere flattering, where you can easily get the whole vehicle in shot without lots of other vehicles or street furniture in the frame. Ensure the conditions are suitable, too, with dry weather and plenty of light.

We’d recommend including the below pictures:

● Stand diagonally away from the front wheel, so both the nose and side are in shot● Repeat this for a shot of the rear and side of the car● Next, take a picture of each side of the car in profile● Then a picture of the nose and tail of the car from directly in front and behind

Interior photographs should include:

● The centre console● The front seats● The rear seats● Any items of desirable equipment, such as a sat-nav screen● The instrument cluster, preferably showing the car’s mileage

It’s also worthwhile including pictures of any damage mentioned, as this is often much more informative than a written description and will help buyers proceed accordingly.

Preparing your car for sale

Just as a dealership will always display cars in pristine condition, private buyers need to show their car in its best light, too. Ensure you clean the car or have it valeted inside and out before buyers come to see it. Even buyers of older cars will want the impression it’s new to them, which won’t be the case if your personal effects are scattered around the interior.

If there are faulty parts, scuffed wheels or dented panels, it’s often worth getting them repaired or replaced before putting the car on sale, especially if they’re fairly inexpensive jobs. Do this and the car will attract more buyers, command a higher price and give fewer reasons to haggle the price down. Getting the best price for your car should help recoup the cost of any repairs.

Many buyers will look for an MoT with as long as possible remaining, because it shows the car is less likely to need repairs or maintenance for up to a year and that it’s safe to drive on the road. At a cost of around £50, a new MoT is well worth considering.

Lastly, once your car is spic and span, ensure all its paperwork is kept together in a safe place, including its service stamps, receipts for repairs, parts and servicing and MoT certificates. Most importantly, you’ll need the V5C registration document (sometimes referred to as the logbook) to sell the car, and it proves you are the registered keeper.

Dealing with buyers

Once the advert is live, you’ll hopefully receive phone calls or e-mails from potential buyers, so you may want to keep a list of notes and a pen near the phone to help answer questions, and make a note of test-drive bookings. Ensure you also get the name and number of callers, in case you sell the car before their appointment or you need to rearrange. We’d recommend trying to avoid starting negotiations before they see the car, as this could put you at a disadvantage during the final negotiation.

Ensure all viewings are at a location you choose and arrange for a family member or friend to join you for added safety. Never take the vehicle to an address arranged by the buyer.

Most buyers will want to thoroughly examine the car inside and out, as well as looking over the corresponding paperwork, so budget plenty of time and don’t rush them. Many buyers will also request a test drive, which has its own set of important rules.

Nobody can drive a car without proper insurance, so check they have a valid insurance cover note, and if it’s unclear, call their insurance company to check they’re covered to drive your vehicle. If someone were to crash your car on a test drive without insurance, you’d be liable for repair costs and could even have committed an offence. It’s possible to be fined up to £5,000 and receive from six to eight penalty points for allowing an uninsured driver behind the wheel of your car.

Never let a buyer test-drive the car without you in the vehicle and take a friend or family member with you for extra security if you can. Always be sure where the keys are and never leave the buyer alone with the keys and car, even if it’s just to grab something from inside the house – there’s nothing to stop them driving off.

Allow the buyer to choose the test-drive route – especially if they’re familiar with the area – but be clear how long or far you’re happy for the test drive to last and if necessary ask them to stop and head back. It’s normal for a buyer to want to test the car accelerates correctly, and they may want to test the brakes, but if you feel they’re driving irresponsibly or abusing the car, tell them to stop, as you’re still the owner.

Once you get back, wait for the buyer to get out of the car first, or ask them to stop the engine and pass the keys to you.


Haggling the final price is accepted as a normal part of buying or selling a used car, so it’s important to factor in this negotiation when choosing how much to advertise the car for.

Remember haggling is purely a business transaction, so stay as calm as possible and listen to each criticism so you can try to counter it to keep your price high. Buyers will use any chance to reduce the price, including damage or impending maintenance, but you should decide before a viewing on the lowest price you’ll accept and keep it in mind. If you can’t agree on a satisfactory price for both parties, there should be others happy to pay more.

If the price is very close – say £50 or so – to your minimum, bear in mind it could cost more in advertising, insurance, tax and valeting the car again to hold out for the next buyer.

Paperwork, V5C and the DVLA

If you come to a deal, you’ll need to fill out the new buyer’s section of the V5C registration document (which has instructions printed on it) and post it to the DVLA. It’s now possible to do this online, too.

Create a receipt outlining the car’s details, price, date of sale and stating that it was ‘sold as seen’. Provide the buyer with one and keep a copy yourself.

Lastly, don’t forget to tell your insurance company you’ve sold the car, and if it has any outstanding finance, you’ll need to settle the loan.

Selling a car without a V5C

A car should never be sold without a V5C, because not only will the buyer not be able to verify that you’re the registered keeper and that it’s yours to sell, they won’t be able to tax the vehicle without its V5C, either.

If you’ve lost the V5C or it’s damaged, you’ll need to apply for a new one from the DVLA. It can take up to five days to issue a new one, provided you’re the registered keeper and order over the telephone. Alternatively, you can send a completed V62 ‘Application for a vehicle registration certificate’ to the DVLA, but this can take up to six weeks. Either costs £25.

Road tax refund

While selling a car with several months' tax remaining used to be a selling point, it’s no longer possible. Now, when you inform the DVLA of your sale, any remaining tax will be refunded to you automatically. The new owner will be responsible for taxing the vehicle.

Taking payment

Most of us aren’t used to dealing with large amounts of money, so it’s important to consider how to take payment before selling. Cash is most common for cheaper cars, but large amounts can include fake or stolen notes, which are difficult for private sellers to spot.

A personal cheque, building-society cheque or banker’s draft are other possible alternatives, but they aren’t as desirable as cash because they can also be forged or ‘bounce’, with not enough funds for them to go through.

With either of the above payment methods, the most important thing is to pay the funds into your bank and never release the car to the buyer until the correct amount has cleared in the account. Just seeing the money isn’t enough, always ask the bank if funds can be drawn against the payment to ensure it has cleared.

Online banking is becoming the fastest, safest and most secure way to accept payments. The buyer should be able to transfer funds to your account quickly and simply using online or telephone banking, or even a smartphone app. For peace of mind, it’s best to still check with your bank that the payment has been made successfully before handing over the car.

Online payment systems such as PayPal are also a growing and secure way to make payments and are particularly popular with users of websites like eBay.

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