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The pros and cons of private sale, part exchange and car buying services

Looking to sell your car? Whether your interested in part exchange deals, car buying services or a private sale, we breakdown the pros and cons of each.

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There’s been an explosion in services which offer to buy your car (they often even claim “we buy any car”) without you having to sell it privately or part exchange it for another car.

They claim to offer a fair fixed price and a transaction which can be done from the comfort of the sofa. Here we look at the pros and cons of selling a car yourself in comparison to car buying services.

Before you choose any of these methods, get an idea of what your car is worth by looking at the asking prices of other similar cars and getting an independent valuation supplied by such as Parkers or Auto Trader.

Whichever way you sell you need to get all the relevant paperwork ready and to get the best price, fix any major imperfections.

Private sale


Classified ad

Most of us are quite happy to sell some used furniture from home with a web listing, but whether you are willing to sell your car that way probably comes down to your own personality.

They are still called classified advertisements from the days when you put a small entry in a newspaper or magazine paid for by the word. The process has largely moved online now, adding pictures and video walk-rounds of cars.

The Auto Trader Group claims to be UK and Ireland’s largest automotive marketplace, offering new and used vehicles both from dealers and private sellers. As of early 2022, a basic two-week advertisement on Auto Trader ranged between £36.95 to £74.95.

Owned by the eBay auction site, Gumtree claims to be one of the largest private motors markets in the UK, and its ads are free to private sellers unless you pay extra for features to boost its visibility.

Both Auto Trader and Gumtree help you putting together an advertisement and provide tips on how to deal with callers and what to do if the car isn’t selling

You can set your asking price based on the online valuation the site gives you, compared to what you may know from your own homework. Knowing the lowest price you’d accept, set a price which will attract interest but can be negotiated down. Get together a very full description and take good photos.

However, don’t take the advertised prices of similar cars to be definitive; many people over-value their cars and the end price paid after some haggling won’t be the same.

As a private seller, you have a legal responsibility to make sure the car is roadworthy with a current MOT. It is also illegal to sell a car that still has outstanding finance.

Online auction

If you’re very keen to sell your car, you can place it on an online auction site, the best-known of which is eBay Motors (which also offers fixed price listings called ‘buy it now’).

The process for composing the listing is the same as an ad. You can start the first bid at either an eye-catching low point (and set a reserve) or you make the first bid the very lowest amount you’d be prepared to accept.

Pros of private sale

By selling privately, you can achieve a higher price than part exchange from a dealer or possibly a car buying service. If you have a modified, rare or classic car, a private sale may be the only way you will find the right buyer. Ebay Motors will handle the payment from your buyer whether you are selling for a fixed price or by auction.

Cons of private sale

It can be time consuming and you can’t vet who is going to turn up to view your car. There are several scams and security issues to be aware of. Autotrader produces a free safety checklist which is available to all visitors to its site.Also, in the recent times of Covid, you may not be comfortable having strangers in your house or sitting close to you in a car.

There are some disadvantages to online auctions. Youcan only make limited revisions once the auction has started (hard to correct any errors) and it’s best you are at home on the day the auction ends to answer last minute questions. If somebody wins the auction and pays before collection, you have to sell to them.

As with a with a private online sale, even though the car is sold unseen, a winning bidder can visit and try to chip away at the price they bid for the car before finally settling (I’ve had this happen to me), so you may need to stand your ground.

Part exchange


This is an old and familiar concept. You trade in your old car against the price of the new or used car you are buying from a new car dealership or a used car dealer.

Pros of part exchange

You don’t have to advertise or try to sell your car. The act of getting rid of your old car and replacing it is combined, so you make the transaction all in one place at a time to suit you.

The dealer wants to sell you a car, so will work to make the process happen. If you’ve already sold your car by other means, you may not have transport to go looking for the next one.

Crucially, you can also part exchange your car if there is outstanding finance on it. As part of the process, the dealer will clear your finance and deduct that amount from the price paid for your vehicle.

Cons of part exchange

To get the best price you need to put in almost as much preparation time as if you were selling privately or to a car buying service.

The value of your part exchange can be affected by some quite random factors such as the time of the month or the stock levels of that dealer. With a new car, unless you go from dealer to dealer, you won’t know that you have absolutely the best deal.

Traditionally, a part exchange price is often lower than what you’d get selling your car privately or to a car buying service. With the convenience of online selling, car owners can now compare offers from different services to find the best price.

Car buying services


A car buying service will give you a price for your car, after you have described it online.  It will either take it from you, or you take it to a location, and it transfers the money to your account.

If you search for ‘sell your car online’ top results are likely to be Auto Trader, Carwow, Motorway and Cazoo (all commercial partners of The Car Expert) or the original car buying service, We Buy Any Car. While the principle is the same, there are differences.

Motorway

Motorway has become on of the best-known names in online car selling, thanks to heavy promotions across TV and other media over recent months. You head to the website, enter your registration number and a few specific details about the car. Motorway does not buy cars itself but finds the highest offer from a nationwide network of car dealers​ through a daily auction where the dealers compete to buy your car for the best price.

The winning dealer will pay you via bank transfer, and will either collect the car from your home, or you may be asked you to drop it off at a local dealership.

Cazoo

Cazoo is becoming a driving force of online automotive retail. It sells used cars online, through customers centres and offers monthly subscriptions. It will also buy your car from you, but there are conditions.

The majority of the cars Cazoo buys are under 15 years old and have less than 150,000 miles on the clock. The car offered has be road legal with an MOT, not be on outstanding finance or have been put in certain accident damage insurance categories.  It also won’t take modified cars.

Carwow

Carwow is best known as a broker for new cars, helping you save money by finding dealers willing to sell you a new car at a discount. But it has broadened its offering in recent years to encompass buying your existing car, working in a similar fashion to Motorway by getting its dealer network to bid on your vehicle.

Auto Trader

Best known as an online marketplace for selling your car, Auto Trader now offers an ‘instant offer’ car buying service as well, perfect if you don’t want to go through the hassle of selling your car via a traditional classified advert.

The company claims to offer you a value within minutes and to be able to have the car collected from your house in as little as 48 hours.

We Buy Any Car

WBAC doesn’t sell cars to the public; instead it buys your car and then sells it at a trade auction to a car dealer (the same company that owns WBAC also owns the auction company). It claims that: ‘You can sell your car to us regardless of its make, model, colour, age, mileage or condition.’

After entering the registration number and specific details it gives you a value. You then book an appointment at one of its branches where it is inspected before the transfer is made. Be aware that the inspection often results in a reduction from the originally indicated value.

Pros of car buying services

Speed and convenience, without having to arrange a private sale or a part exchange. Some firms will settle any outstanding finance.

Cons of car buying services

You still need to gather all the paperwork and present the car in the best way you can.

The convenience will be outweighed by it probably not being the best price you could have achieved for your car.

If you describe the condition as fully as possible you will likely get what you were offered when you come to hand it over. However, if the representative considers that it does not match your description this could trigger an attempt to knock down the price.

* The Car Expert has commercial partnerships with Auto Trader, Carwow, Cazoo and Motorway. If you sell your car to any of these companies, we may receive a small commission.

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Russell Hayes
Russell Hayeshttps://amzn.to/3dga7y8
Russell Hayes’ early career was 14 years of motoring journalism in print, television and online. He worked for What Car? and Complete Car magazines, the BBC's original Top Gear programme and Channel 4's Driven. Since 2007 he has written motoring history books on subjects including Lotus, TVR, the Earls Court Motor Show, the Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen Beetle and Bus and the original Aston Martin V8. Now a full-time author, two more books are in the pipeline for 2023 and 2024.