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Top tips for selling your car privately

By selling privately, you could get a higher price than part exchange from a dealer or a car buying service. Here are our tips for going it alone.

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With the growth of car buying services, selling your car privately may have fallen from favour, but plenty of people still sell their cars themselves.

By selling privately, you might achieve a higher price than part exchange from a dealer or possibly a car buying service.  Here are our tips for going it alone.

What’s it worth?

The year of registration, exact type of car, mileage and option will determine your car’s value. You can look at examples of the same types of car for sale but the prices might be just what the sellers would like to get – not what they actually might get.

You can use the free valuations offered by car buying sites such as our Expert Partners Motorway or Cazoo, but this will be nearer to a part exchange/trade price, lower than private sale. Paid access to the online valuation guide of sites such as Parkers will give you a value for your car under set headings: original price; franchised dealer; independent dealer; private good; private poor and part exchange.  You’ll need the latter two.

A private poor car will have some mechanical or bodywork problems, no service history and need work to make good. A private good car will have service history, possibly a full MOT and be smartly presented.

For a more precise value we’d advise paying for a month of valuations – it also works for cars you might want to buy. Paid valuations also allow you to enter your car’s exact mileage and any options which add value, both of which can significantly affect value.

Most people car hunting will have used the same car valuation service to work out what they should be paying, so be realistic setting yours, with some room for haggling.

The time of year matters a little. If you can pick your time, you might have more luck selling a convertible in the spring. Similarly, people tend to not change cars just before Christmas and rein in their spending in January. And get your own timing right. Don’t place an ad if you’re going on holiday just after it ends as you may not have time to conclude the sale or need to extend it.

Online fixed price or auction

Some regional newspapers carry classified advertisements for cars in the physical paper. If it’s widely sold and covers a big area, this may find you a buyer. It’s easier than online because the number of words is small and only one image is required. However, for most used car sales, the process has now largely moved online, adding multiple pictures and video walk-rounds.

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 with 51 million views a month. It provides a free valuation service and as of early 2023 prices ranged from £39 to £84 from (two weeks to until sold).

Exchange & Mart online ranges from £5 for two weeks or £10 for five weeks. Gumtree, which is owned by the Ebay auction site, 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.

All these outlets will 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.

Ebay Motors also offers auctions or 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. Ebay Motors will handle the payment from your buyer whether you are selling for a fixed price or by auction.

Preparing the paperwork and the car

The crucial bit of paper is the logbook, called the V5C, which proves you are the owner. This should be two sheets of A4 folded, with non of the tear-off sections missing. Showing a paper MOT certificate no longer applies as they went online from January 2021. Any buyer can check the MOT and road tax status by putting the registration into the gov.uk website, but you might like to show them the receipt and any advisory notes (which they can also see online).

While we’re on the subject of MOTs, buyers still like to see a lot of months to run until the next test. If the MOT is due to run out in a month’s time have the car tested early and then boast that you have a full MOT. Also, if you have to renew the road tax near the time you are selling just buy the minimum six months. When a car transfers ownership sold, you cancel your tax and get a refund for any whole unused months and the new owner taxes the car afresh.

To show the car has been cared for, stamps in a service book are ideal but physical service books are less common now, as franchised dealers keep digital records which their whole network can access. So, get together any bills and invoices which shows you had work or servicing done in your ownership (taking off any identification such as credit card slips). If It’s showing a warning light for a service, best have at least an oil change done. Also, find the handbook and the second set of keys.

After a car is a few years old you can expect a few small scratches and the odd scuffed alloy wheel, and most buyers will expect them, but if you are asking, say, over £10,000 and it has a very noticeable bumper scrape there are companies such as Chipsaway which can make good small scratches, smarten scuffed alloy wheels and remove small dents (minor enough to be pulled out without needing new paintwork).

If it’s not too much trouble you can get a quote online, decide how much you’re prepared to pay to get your car shipshape, show the flaws and be prepared to be knocked down. However for minor parking rub marks, paint restoration kits available online are easy to use and work quite well.

Putting the ad together

We’ll assume that you’re either selling via an online advert of an auction site with lots of words and pictures on offer. Consider a full valet or give the car a clear out and wash inside and out before taking the sale photos.

Online sales sites will allow you to start off by entering the registration number to show what it is., Then there will be drop-down options to choose things like number of doors, engine size, manual or automatic gearbox, fuel type (including electric) and its year of registration.

Description

Now to the description you write. Here are some things potential buyers like to see:

  • Important optional extras like sunroofs, upgraded stereos.
  • A low number of owners or if you’ve owned it for a long time.
  • Lots of months left on the MoT.
  • A full service history, all the better if at a franchised dealer or a specialist for that make.
  • Say if there’s been a recent service, especially if a costly item like a cam belt has been replaced (see our feature on what’s important in a service history).
  • Reason for sale. If the car’s that marvellous why sell it? You may say need a bigger car, moving house etc, new car on the way or having a company car.
  • No noticeable dents and scuffs.

If it has been in a serious accident and been repaired this will come up in a data search, so be honest. Insurance Category S and Cat N cars can be repaired. You must tell the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) if your vehicle has been written off by your insurance company or face a fine.

Photos

Online adverts and auctions include the chance to upload a generous amount of photos in the standard price (Auto Ttrader allows 100 at all prices). Make the most of this – Autotrader says that customers who have 20 photos increase their advert views by 39%.

Clean the car, de-personalise it, and put it in a place where there’s not too distracting or unattractive a background. Lots of cars parked behind could make it look like a car dealership (traders often put their cars on a posh gravel drive). Take photos from front, back and sides, front and rear seats from either side and the boot. If there’s a space-saver spare wheel, some people will want to see that.

Again, honesty will be appreciated. If there are still scrapes to the bodywork or the wheels, show them. Provided you’ve allowed for this in your end price, they shouldn’t be a problem.

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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.