A Guide To... Selling your car

Selling your car can be a daunting process for anyone.

Here we talk you through the potential pit falls and guide you through the shark invested waters of the second hand car market…

Where to sell it?

Firstly, you need to decide how and to whom you want to sell your car. The quickest and easiest way is to the trade. You won’t get the full price you might achieve by selling it privately but it will be a lot more straight forward.

The second option is to run the gauntlet of the ‘we buy your car’ sort of websites. This is similar to selling to the trade except that you get an online valuation and then need to pop over to one of their sites to finish the deal. Be warned though, the online valuation will bear little or no resemblance to the final offer you receive. They will knock down the price for every scratch and scuff the car has. We had a customer who received an online price of £1650 for her Honda Civic. Upon visiting the sales office that offer shrank to just £700, less than half!

Normally, the most profitable route, albeit the one with the most potential problems, will be to sell the car privately. This is the area that we will focus on in this guide.

First things first.

Before you start to make inroads into the selling process, you’ll need to make sure the car is sale ready. Spend some time having a good, objective look at your vehicle. Try to see it from the buyer’s point of view. Does anything want fixing on the car? Any bodywork damage that needs attending to? Obviously you want to keep costs to a minimum as this will erode your profit but at the same time it’s silly leaving simple, cheap jobs if it might put off potential customers.

Next, get your paperwork in order. Buy a folder and neatly present all the material you have. File all the old MoT certificates you have in chronological order, (with the newest one at the front), make sure the service book is present and up to date and keep the V5c, or logbook as it’s known to hand. This might take an hour or so but will create a good impression to potential buyers and allow them to inspect the paperwork quickly and easily.

Whilst on the subject of paperwork, check your MoT certificate for its expiry date. If it falls within three months, have it renewed before you start to market the car. Nothing screams 'potential problems' quite like a car for sale with a short test. Even if the current ticket is longer than 3 months, it might be a good idea to have it done again anyway. It will demonstrate that the car is mechanically sound.

How much should I sell it for?

Basically, common sense should be applied here. Have a good look around at what cars similar to yours are fetching. Be mindful of the differences certain models may change hands for. In other words, don’t price your base model with cloth seats and wind down windows at the same as the all singing top of the range model!

Be realistic with your price. Keep it on the cheap side of you need to sell it quickly but don’t pitch it too low as this in itself could put many buyers off. That said, if a speedy sale is what you’re after, you’ll be better off selling to a garage.

When working out your selling price, leave a little wiggle room for the buyer to negotiate. I’ve sold hundreds of cars over the years and I can count the number of people who haven’t tried to lower the price on the fingers of one hand. People love a bargain so adding a couple of hundred quid to what you want then knocking it off again come sale time may help seal the deal.

The advert.

Once both the car and paperwork are ready and you’ve got a price in mind, now is the time to let people know it’s for sale. There are literally hundreds of outlets that you can use to sell your car. However, I’ll save you a lot of bother, (and money), and tell you a little trade secret. The only place worth selling a car is on the Autotrader. It’s the first place people look so if your car is on there, they will see it.

There are only two exceptions to this rule. Firstly, if you have a particularly sporty car, or one that has a specialist following then using Pistonheads would also be wise. This tends to attract a lot of enthusiasts so is an ideal platform to advertise your BMW M3 for example.

Secondly, is using the dreaded eBay. This can be good when you’re not sure what to pitch the car at price wise or if the vehicle has issues. Buyers on eBay tend to be looking for ‘projects’ so won’t mind a car that needs some work.

A picture tells a thousand words. If you have ever used the Autotrader’s website before, you’ll be aware at the sheer volume of cars available. You need to make your car stand out and the easiest way is with a decent set of photographs.

Firstly, before you even start, make sure the car is clean. By that, I don’t mean run a damp cloth over it either. If you’re expecting somebody to travel all the way to your home and part with a large chunk of their hard earned money to buy your car, the least they should expect is a clean car. If you have the time and inclination spend a few hours with the bucket and sponge, (you can find our guide on how to wash a car like a pro right here on our blog). However, it can sometimes be worth getting the car professionally cleaned. This can cost anything up to £75 at most car washes but will make the car look it’s best.

Once the car is cleaned and ready to go, try and pick a nice bright morning. You don’t want to photograph a car is direct sunlight as they always look awful, likewise at dusk. Make sure the vehicle is dry also. Try to find a place with a nice neutral background so the buyer’s eye is drawn to the subject of the photos and not what’s behind it. Include a variety of photos covering all angles of the car, making sure you get some of the interior, the boot and under the engine bay. Photograph any areas of damage you wish to highlight and try to get clear photos of all the wheels if they are alloys so prospective buyers can see their condition.

Your photos will look a thousand times better if you use a decent camera. It doesn't have to be a professional set up, a good quality smart phone will be fine. Just avoid using the ‘My First Digital Camera’ you got for the kids three Christmases ago. I take most of my photos on and ageing IPhone 5 and they have been pin sharp even on a large computer screen.

The number one rule for photographing a car is to remember you are not on the catwalk at the Paris fashion show. You might think that taking obscure shots of the way the sun reflects off the rear spoiler makes the car seem exotic and mysterious but it doesn't actually tell potential buyer's anything. Just stick to some decent detailed pictures of what you’re trying to sell.

However, that said and in reference to our earlier comments about the Autotrader being a crowded market place, make sure you get one ‘hook’ photo.A hook photo is just that, a hook to reel in the buyers. It will be the main photo and the one that’s displayed on the listing.

Here is an example of a hook photo. As you can see, it displays the car at a slight angle, better filling the screen. A filter has also been used to give it a nice feel. If you look at this photo in a line of others, it will instantly stand out which will draw the buyer’s eye to your advert. It is important to make sure you only have one hook photo and the rest are as described above.

Writing the advert.

Along with the photos, the only other thing a potential buyer has to go on is your written description of the car in question. How well that is written will dictate whether they pick up the phone or move on to the next one.

Keep your description clear and to the point, you are not writing a letter to your elderly aunt so don’t ramble on. Present the fact clearly and logically. Mention how long the MoT is, whether or not the car has a service history, the mileage the car has covered, what extras the car has fitted and so on. It is also a good idea to be honest about any issues the car may have. If the clutch is hanging on for dear life, (and assuming you have priced the car accordingly), then make sure you mention it. There is no point wasting time, (both yours and the buyers), by having them turn up then walk away because of a problem you know about.

When describing the car, avoid using clichés. Phrases such as ‘first to see will buy’ or ‘ready to drive away’, will make your advert look like its come from a car dealer. Also never refer to the car as a he or a she. It makes you look like the automotive equivalent of a mad cat lady.

Sell, Sell, Sell!

Assuming you've done the right things up to now, the phone should start to ring with potential buyers. They will probably have questions so be ready. It can be helpful to keep the main details on a piece of paper in your pocket to refresh your memory. Even though most of the information should be in the advert, people have a tendency to ask anyway.

Mixed in with the buyers, you may well receive a couple of calls from what are called canvassers. These companies will phone, telling you they have buyers lining up to buy your car. All you need to do to access their extensive database is pay a nominal fee. Under no circumstances do this. They haven't got potential buyers at all. Pretty much every one in the market for a used car will check out the Autotrader or Pistonheads websites. If your car is on there, it WILL be seen by the right people, you don't need to pay a company more money to help along your sale.

When you do get calls about your car, try and judge who is on the other end of the line. There are a lot of time wasters out there and it pays to try and root them out at this stage. The first group of people to avoid are traders hoping to pick up a bargain from a desperate seller. They will usually ring and tell you they are in the area for one day only and offer you a low price for your car in cash. They do this in the hope that your rent is due or a large credit card bill has dropped onto the doormat that morning and you'll crumble and accept their derisory offer. The time limit of a day is used to pressure people to make the wrong choice. These firms spend all day every day phoning up people hoping to find the desperate ones.

The other group to avoid are the classic time wasters. If you're asked what's the lowest price you'll take over the phone, trust me and don't bother lining up a viewing. It doesn't matter how good the car is, that sort of person simply won't pay the price.

Hopefully though, you'll get a few calls from genuine buyers!

The viewing.

For those that want to view the car, set up a mutually convenient time to meet up. Always do this at your home address and make sure you allow enough time for them to have a good around the car without feeling pressured. Don't agree to meet anybody at the side of the road or at their home. Try and make it a time when you'll be assured plenty of daylight so you don't have to conclude the viewing in the dark.

It can be a little daunting to have strangers turning up on your doorstep so if it makes you more comfortable, have somebody with you.

When arranging a time with the buyer, make sure you ask them to bring with them their driving license and proof of any insurance. People might not automatically think to do this and it could cause problems later on, (we'll cover this later on).

Before they are due to arrive, make sure the car is clean and tidy. Try to avoid using it though as it's normally advised to view a car when it's cold. If your engine is red hot when they arrive, they may suspect a cold starting issue. Another tip is to make sure the radio is tuned to Classic FM. Whilst you may prefer the dulcet tones of The Eagle of Thrash Metal Death Killers, you’d be amazed at the difference little things like that can make!

If you've arranged the meeting a few days previous, it can be a good idea to phone them on the day to confirm the appointment. It's surprising how many people don't bother to let you know they bought a different car the day before or they forgot they had to take their dog to the vet.

Once they do arrive, introduce yourself properly. Have the paperwork to hand for them to inspect and obviously, let them look around the car. NEVER let them have the keys.

The test drive.

Rather obviously, the person will want to test drive the vehicle before they decide to buy or not. At this point, you'll be glad that you asked them to bring their documents because now is the time to take note of them. Their driving license should have their full name and address on it and an insurance certificate should confirm they are covered to drive the car. If you are not sure, phone your own insurance company to check. The last thing you want is for them to damage your car only to find out they aren't covered.

Once you are satisfied everything is above board, begin the test drive. It's a good idea for you to drive the car first, so the buyer can concentrate on listening for any noises without worrying about driving a strange car at the same time. Halfway through the test drive, pull over and let them drive the car. Pick a quiet road to do this so they won't be pulling straight out into a main road in an unfamiliar car. Make sure you're never out of the car whilst the keys are in it. When you swap places, take out the key and put it in your pocket, once you are both back in the car, hand them over.

It's important to let the buyer have as long as they want to drive the car, (within reason). Try not to fill any silence with small talk. They may be keeping an ear out for rattles and other noises so might welcome the quiet. Once again, if it makes you more comfortable, have somebody accompany you on the test drive.

Doing the deal.

If all goes according to plan, they buyer will be happy with the car and want to take it. They will more than likely try to knock the price down a little. Hopefully you will have heeded the advice given earlier and built a little negotiation margin into the price. Once you are both happy with the price, shake and hands and finish the deal.

Getting paid. Before you fill out any paperwork, make sure you are paid. The ideal way will be by CHAPS. This is an instant and secure transfer carried out by the bank. The buyer will have to pay a fee but you're protected as unlike a standard bank transfer, it's instant and irreversible.

The buyer may also wish to pay in cash and depending on the sums involved, it's safer for everybody to do this at your local bank. That way, it can be paid straight into your account and you can be assured the notes are real.

If payment is made by any other method, make it clear to the buyer that the car can not be taken until full payment has cleared.


Once you are satisfied you've been paid in full, it's time to sort out the paperwork. There are two main things to make sure you complete. The first is to issue a receipt to the buyer. Make sure it has the date and time of the sale, (the time is important in case there are any speeding tickets issued on the day of transfer). Also include both your names and addresses, the car's details and the amount paid.

Click here to download our car sales invoice template>>>

If you are using your own, make sure it includes the phrase, 'Sold as seen with all its faults and defects. No warranty given or inferred'. Please note though, that isn't a get out of jail free card. If you have misrepresented the car in anyway, you can be found liable should something go wrong.

Complete two copies of the receipt. issue on to the new owner and retain one for your records, making sure both copies are signed by all parties.

The other important piece of paperwork, is the V5c, commonly known as the log book. This is the form that the DVLA use to log who the registered keeper is. It will be a double sided form with a red front cover. Read through it thoroughly and make sure the relevant parts are completed correctly. In the main, the buyer will fill out the details in section 6 and you will both sign the declaration, (section 8). The new keeper should also fill their details out in section 10 and retain it, (this is known as the new keeper's supplement). The rest of the form should be retained by you and posted to the DVLA on the provided address. Before you do so, make a copy of the completed form to retain for your records.

Make you give all the other paperwork pertaining to the car to the new owner.

That's it, hopefully by now, you have a happy buyer and the price you wanted!

Good luck!

Dave O’Sullivan

For more helpful hints, search for the tag 'A Guide To' on our blog page.

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