When you tire of your faithful transporter, when your family size goes up (or down), when it just doesn't feel like fun anymore, or when the miles have piled up too high, it's time to move on. From here, you have two choices: use your car as a trade-in on your next car and probably take a small beating on its value. Or sell the used car to someone who wants it more than you do and, with any luck, make a nifty profit.

Get the Word Out

The first order of business when you sell a used car is to tell the world your vehicle is for sale, through a newspaper or magazine classified ad, or through an Internet auction. Whatever you do, take an enticing photo of the car. You might browse automotive magazines for suggestions of flattering angles. In the ad copy, state its equipment, features, mileage and wear as honestly as you can. Name your price in the ad in order to attract earnest shoppers when you sell a used car.

Preparation Is Everything

To sell a used car, make your vehicle look as pristine as possible. If it's a late-model and you expect to bring a lot of money for it, invest in a complete inside, outside and under-hood detailing by a professional detailer, which could run as high as $200.

If your car is an older vehicle, take a Saturday or a Sunday and do your best with the exterior paint finish (wash and wax), the wheels and wheel wells (car wash detergent, and a strong stream of water) the chrome (polish), the carpeting (vacuum and shampoo), and the upholstery (household cleaner and/or spot remover.) Don't forget the headliner.

Pump up the tires to their recommended inflation pressures, and be sure to wash the brake dust off the wheels when you wash the car. If the tires are worn, you can expect the buyer to ask for a deduction in price, or you can invest in new or slightly used tires to help sell a used car. Remove everything from the trunk, clean the trunk mat, and check to see that the spare tire, wheel and jack are all there and in good shape.

Clean under the hood with a steamer or a bucket, soap and a hose. Be careful of the electrical and electronic parts, which are notoriously allergic to water. Make sure the battery is clean and fully charged, and the oil and filter have been changed before you show the car to its first potential buyer. A dipstick full of dirty motor oil is an absolute turn-off to a savvy buyer.

Showing it Off

Once you've been contacted about selling your used car, make arrangements to meet the potential buyer in a safe, neutral place like a shopping center or a gas station. No one needs to see where you live in order to buy your car. Make it after work or on a weekend morning so there's plenty of time for inspection and driving and nobody's in a rush to get back to work. Be prepared to host more than one person, from a whole family, to a buyer and a mechanic when you sell a used car.

Hold on to the keys of the buyer's vehicle and jot down the license number, just to be sure about your buyer returning with your vehicle. If you feel comfortable, don't accompany the buyer and his entourage on the test drive, so they feel completely free to discuss the pros and cons without you. Agree on a time period for the drive before they leave.

The Paperwork Tangle

AWhen it's time to sell the used car, there's very important paperwork to attend to in the form of the vehicle's title, registration, license plates and insurance policy. Do your homework prior to selling your used car. Go to your nearest state motor vehicle office and make sure you know what all of the legal requirements for a vehicle sale are in your jurisdiction. Inquire about the steps to take for transfer of title, payment of fees and sales taxes.

Payment of fees and taxes can be part of your final sale negotiations with your buyer if that will seal the deal when you sell the used car. In some states, you can transfer your license plates to your new ride. Other states require the plates remain with the car after the sale. Be sure you understand all of your legal obligations in a sale.

Notify your insurance agent of your intention to sell the used car and have the insurance canceled as soon as the funds have changed hands. Check to see if you are entitled to a rebate.

Transfer of Funds

Be prepared when you sell a used car for some degree of haggling and hesitation. Don't go beyond your preset haggling limit, take your time and don't get frustrated.

Never, ever accept a personal check from the buyer. Insist on cash, a certified or cashier's check, or a wire transfer of funds into your account before signing over the title to the buyer when you sell a used car. Once the funds have been deposited to your account, you can sign over the title, cancel the insurance on that vehicle and begin the search for your own next car.

The Flip Side: Buying a Used Car

If you're looking at saving money by buying a used car from a private party instead of from a used-car lot or from a dealer's stock of certified used cars, a number of cautions apply.

When go to buy a used car, always take a trusted expert with you, whether it's a professional mechanic or inspector. Once you obtain the vehicle serial number, do a CARFAX history check on the vehicle's service, recall and crash history. Consider this a considered mandatory precaution.

Agree to meet the seller in a busy public area for your inspection and test drive. Always perform the inspection and test drive in broad daylight. Take a flashlight and rags with you to inspect for flaws, crash damage and leaks when you buy a used car. Examine the vehicle meticulously for evidence of abuse. Check the level, odor and color of the engine oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid and coolant. Look for wear and tear. Take your time, and have your expert go over the vehicle carefully and make written notes for later discussion or haggling.

The Test Drive

Does the engine start instantly? Prolonged cranking is a bad sign. Before you put it in gear, give a long listen to the way the engine idles when you buy a used car. It should be smooth, quiet and regular. A little smoke from the exhaust pipe on engine start is nothing to worry about if the engine is cold. Exhaust smoke under full throttle is, however, something to worry about. It could indicate a possible problem with piston ring or valve guide wear.

Check that everything electrical is functioning, all the lights, turn signals, instruments, radio and speakers (crank it up slowly), heating and air conditioning. When you're satisfied about those, put it in gear and take a test drive for at least 20 minutes. Try to find a freeway on-ramp so you can test full-throttle acceleration when you buy a used car.

No untoward mechanical noises? Strong acceleration? Does the steering feel smooth from left to right? Are the brakes quiet? Do they stop without noise, chatter or fuss progressively? These 20 minutes are important, so note as much as you can before you go back and start haggling with the owner when you buy a used car.

The Buying Decision

Whatever you do, don't allow yourself to be rushed into a decision when you buy a used car. Take a day or two. If the CARFAX report is positive and your expert's opinion is that it's a good buy, make a sincere, reasonable offer based on what you've researched about the fair market value of comparable vehicles, similarly equipped with equivalent mileage. The seller will take it from there.


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