Where Can I Sell My Car for the Most Money?

Getting the most money possible when selling your car isn’t as difficult as it once was. The internet allows you to reach a wider audience and increase your odds of finding a buyer willing to pay more — whether selling to an individual, online-only auto retailer or traditional dealership.

When choosing where to sell your car, the decision comes down to whether your top priority is convenience and speed or getting the highest sales price. If your main objective is getting the most money, expect to spend a little more time in your endeavor.

Here are steps to help you get the most money for your car, from prepping for the sale to selecting the best sales platform.

Preparing to sell your car

Before presenting your car for sale, there are some preliminary steps to take. These can vary depending on where and how you intend to sell it.

Know your car’s fair market value

Regardless of where you sell your car, research what dollar amount you can realistically expect to receive. Online valuation sites like Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book show average prices paid to buy a vehicle like yours from individual sellers or dealerships in your area. Providing your vehicle identification number (VIN) or license plate number, as opposed to just entering the make and model, will give you a more accurate value.

Have a price range that you’ll accept in mind. That way you can be prepared to set your asking price at the high end if you create your own listing. And, you’ll know a realistic bottom line if a potential buyer wants to negotiate or a dealership makes you an offer.

Invest time to present your car in its best light

Clean your car inside and out, and have this done professionally if possible to remove any odors or stains. You may also want to clean the engine bay and make any minor repairs, such as restoring cloudy headlights. Your car’s appearance can be very important in convincing a potential buyer (or dealer) that the vehicle is well-maintained and worth more.

Also, gather maintenance records as proof that your car has been taken care of and is less likely to have mechanical problems.

Create a detailed description of your car

This step is needed only if you plan to list your car on sites that sell to private parties. Write a description that shows and tells potential buyers why your car is worth the price you’re asking. Take quality photos from all angles, and write a description highlighting selling points like low mileage, upgrades or any remaining transferable warranty.

Choosing where to sell your car

A lot has changed since the days of selling your car by putting a “for sale” sign in its window, a flyer in the supermarket or a classified ad in the local newspaper. While those are still options, you have a wide range of other possibilities available, too.

Here we focus on the three main avenues for selling a car — selling to an individual, to an online-only retailer or to a traditional dealership. Some websites enable you to use more than one approach, for example getting both private party and dealer offers for your car.

We’ll start with the option that typically results in car sellers receiving the highest prices.

Sell your car to an individual or private party

Selling your car to an individual, also called a private-party sale, is typically where you can get the most money. However, it can also be more time-consuming and come with added risk.

You can use traditional ways of letting people know your car is available, like word of mouth. But you can reach a bigger audience by listing your car on online private sales sites — like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Autotrader or eBay Motors.

While you can make the most selling your car privately, that amount could be reduced slightly by certain expenses. Some private sale sites let you list a car for free while others charge a fee, so consider what you’ll be paying. For example, Autotrader charges $49 for a listing, but this fee also includes a Kelley Blue Book listing and a free vehicle history report for possible buyers. Remember to take into account whether you could have travel or transport expenses to get your car to someone who doesn’t live near you.

Also, be wary of scams when selling your car to an individual, which could be the difference between receiving the most money for your car or not receiving payment at all. Scammers can fake just about every form of payment — including cash, cashier’s checks and certified checks. If your buyer is local, you could meet at that person’s bank to ensure the cash or check is legitimate.

If the buyer isn’t local, using an escrow company — a third party that holds your car title until payment is confirmed — is a good option. But beware that escrow companies can be fake, too. To avoid escrow fraud, don’t use a company suggested by the buyer. Take time to identify a legitimate escrow service, such as a local bank or attorney, or a well-known online service. AutoTrader offers escrow services when you sell through its site, but expect to pay the greater of $49 or 0.99% of the car’s selling price.

Sell to an online used car retailer

Selling your car directly to an online-only car retailer, like CarMax, Carvana or NerdWallet’s own Automotive Marketplace, provides a middle ground. The nonnegotiable offer you receive is likely to be less than what you could get from an individual buyer. However, it’s typically quite a bit more than you would get from a traditional dealership.

Online auto retailers provide an easy way to submit your vehicle information online, receive an immediate offer and in some cases even have your car picked up. At pick-up, you’ll most likely have a check handed to you, or you may receive payment into your bank account via direct deposit or wire transfer. You won’t have to worry about scammers or a possibly drawn-out process of fielding inquiries from strangers.

Online retailers do have vehicle requirements. For example, Carvana only buys cars that are model year 1992 or newer, have a working odometer and are safe to drive. However, if your vehicle doesn’t meet such requirements, you may have options to sell to companies like Peddle and NerdWallet Automotive Marketplace that accept older and damaged vehicles.

Sell to a traditional car dealership

Selling your car to a nearby used car lot may be convenient, but it’s usually where you’ll get the least amount of money. Brick-and-mortar dealerships have overhead business expenses that individuals and online retailers don’t, so dealer offers are commonly the least competitive.

Occasionally a dealer might beat other offers, especially if you’re selling an in-demand car that the dealer needs in inventory, but that isn’t the norm. And, it’s up to you to provide other, higher offers for the dealer to beat.

One way to do this is to get offers from online-only retailers, then ask the traditional dealership if it can do better. Another option is to get and compare offers from many dealers through companies like Cars.com, CarGurus and TrueCar, where you can request bids from local dealers or a network of dealerships.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If you’re buying a car from a dealer and trading in your old one, expect the trade-in value to be less than what you could get selling the car yourself. But you may pay less in taxes, since most states charge sales tax on the difference between the trade-in value and new-car price.

Getting more offers can mean more money

Whether you decide to sell your car privately, through an online retailer or at a local dealership — or in some combination of the three — it’s a good idea to cast a wide net. Unless you’re paying to list on a private sale site, it won’t cost you anything to seek offers from multiple sources.

For example, offers from sites like CarMax and Carvana can vary by thousands of dollars, and one doesn’t consistently pay more than the other. So why not get offers from both, along with several other sites? It’s a small investment of time to find the highest offer and make the most possible when selling your car.