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How to Decide whether to Sell Privately or to a Dealership

Selling the family heirloom. Deal(er) or No Deal(er)?

*Sniff, sniff* Goodbye old Yeller
So, let’s say the time has come to ditch the old family clunker. You have a feeling that it may still have some value, but, if it does still have value then how much? And would it have more value if you were to trade it in or if you sold it on the open market to an individual (also known as a private party sale)?

Hmm, good questions. Let’s take the second question first. Yes, generally you can expect to get a different amount from a private sale (usually more) than you can get from a trading it in at a dealership.

Why? Well, one of the main reasons is that a dealer will offer you less because he will incur costs for reselling your car. Costs such as reconditioning, inspection, as well as needing room to make some profit. Where as a “private party buyer” assumes the vehicle “as is” with no warranty except perhaps for the factory warranty if it can be continued.

Both types of sales have pros and cons. For instance, if you’re in a rush and need to get another a new car quickly, the dealership may be the better way to go mainly because it can take some time for you to find an individual buyer. Even after finding one you may have to wait longer still while the buyer attempts to get financing. And sometimes they can’t get financed and the whole process begins again! If you’re not rushed to make the sale and you have the patience to wait it out, then you can possibly pocket a higher amount and not have to deal with dickering with the dealership.

Back to the Basics

Great, so we know HOW we’ll sell the car, but, how much can we expect to ask for it? First, we have to take any emotion out of the equation. No matter how good our clunker has been to US, no matter how many rough miles it taken us or to how many swim meets or softball games, others just may not share our feelings. So, feelings out! Objectivity is key here.

There are plenty of resources available to you to help you evaluate the worth of you car and the good news is you never even have to leave home to do it! Scanning the web to get an idea of the dollar value, most owners will consult a website like Kelley Blue Book (or it’s paperback edition) or NADA Guides. There are other sites as well, but, these are extremely popular and trustworthy.

Knowledge is power

All sites will be asking for information about your car that you should try to have on hand before you begin. To that end, here is a list of some of the types of information they’ll be asking for:

What is the year of your car?
How many miles are on the car?
What is the make and model (ie Subaru Legacy)
How many doors does it have?

What kind of equipment does it have? For instance, does it have AC? Power windows? Tilt Wheel? Cruise Control?
What is the condition of the car?

How does it look? Rusty? Any dings or scratchs?

Will it pass inspection?

Show me the Money!

Depending on the site, you can immediately see what you can expect a dealer to offer you as well as what you can reasonably ask for out in the open market to individual buyers. Here’s an example from Kelley Blue Book online. This is for a 2000 Subaru Outback Limited Sedan 4Door.

Trade-in Value:
Excellent $5640
Good $5165
Fair $4340

Private Party Sale:
Excellent $7285
Good $6710
Fair $5985

You’ve got that lovin’ feeling

Now that you know what the market feels the car is worth here are some tips to help you nail down the sale.

Vacuum the car. This may seem like a “duh” kind of thing, but, you’d be surprised at how many people think buyers don’t mind knowing what they’ve had for breakfast over the last month. Yuch.
Use something like ArmourAll. Help the dashboard, steering wheel, console, etc to gleem! This does wonders.
Try to remove any window stickers if possible. Use Goof Off! Or something similar. Not everyone shares your childs passion for My Little Pony.
Try to wash the car. It does wonders for the resale when it shines. Makes folks want to take home right now!
Try not to talk down about the car. Avoid saying things like “I think I keep hearing a noise somewhere underneath”.
So, sell to a dealer or an individual? That’s going to be up to you, but, at least you won’t be walking into either situation blind AND you’ll be armed to get the maximum value you deserve.