How do I sell my car?
August 11, 2013 4:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm selling my car, a 2002 Honda Civic with about 80,000 miles. It's my first time selling a car, and I don't really know what I'm doing - how do I go about this? Can I minimize hassle without getting screwed?

I'm moving to NYC in the next month or so (exact date is still TBD, and I'd like to keep my car until as close to my moving date as possible), so I've started thinking about how I'm going to get rid of the car I've had since high school. I am a) lazy and b) super shy and hate dealing with strangers, haggling, etc., and would much rather get this over with quickly and easily than make the most money possible.

- Given the above, is it ok that I'm thinking about using CarMax or a dealer (rather than a private sale), or are those really just for suckers? Is one or the other likely to be dramatically better? How much less than the Blue Book value should I expect?
- If I really, really must go the private sale does this even work? Craigslist? Other options? How do I avoid scammers?
- The car runs well, has new-ish tires, and is in generally ok shape, but there's some rust on the windshield wipers and assorted scuffs and dings in the paint - is it worth getting some repairs done first?

Any advice is much appreciated!
posted by naoko to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
In two experiences CarMax offered the same or more than blue book value. I would absolutely get an appraisal / offer from them.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 4:32 PM on August 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

CarMax is worth a visit, particularly since you're moving. However, if you do want to try for a higher price, there's a good guide available on
posted by grudgebgon at 4:38 PM on August 11, 2013

Carmax is absolutely perfect for you. Just do that.
posted by Perplexity at 4:47 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just a data point, CarMax offered me about 25% of what I eventually sold my car for on Craigslist. I'd sell it for cash there.
posted by Justinian at 5:01 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

The last time I was buying a used car (November 2011), cars were not going for below Blue Book, period. Because of the economy, used cars are (were?) more popular, driving up the prices for all of them a little bit.

I'd shoot for Blue Book exactly. Just post on Craigslist, list for $400 above Bluebook, and then let people talk you down no lower than Bluebook.

It really shouldn't take long with a 2002 Civic, a very popular car. If you lived in Seattle I might buy it from you.
posted by Precision at 5:21 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

CarMax, definately.

You say the money doesn't really matter, so do what's easiest for you, and that's CarMax. You can keep it as long as you need to, but you can be sure of selling it, which you wouldn't be if you were trying to sell it privately. You wouldn't have to deal with meeting strangers and the stress that would bring. You wouldn't have to worry if you WOULD find a seller in time for your move, as well as if that prospective seller might try to cheat you with a bad check or steal the car or anything else.
posted by easily confused at 5:22 PM on August 11, 2013

Haggling! I'm not a big fan, but lots of people are, so I've done my share. I look at it as a game that other people want to play. Do like Precision suggests, inflate your asking price by $400 or so, then see if anybody bites. If anyone comes back with "omg I can't believe you think this car is worth x! I'll give you x/2 an you'll thank me profusely!" just ignore them. If you get someone who says "it's a good car, can you come down on teh price?" you say, "yeah, can do, what's your offer?" If anybody pisses and moans because you're raking them over the coals, shrug and say, "hey, that's my asking price, I think it's reasonable for the value of the car, sorry if you disagree," and stop talking. Like I said, it's a game for them, you're giving them the satisfaction of playing and still actually getting what you want.

If nobody worthwhile shows any interest, you've got carmax as a backup.
posted by disconnect at 5:33 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

CarMax will probably buy that 2002 Honda from you, but as a 12 year old car, they're unlikely to retail it themselves, and will probably just wholesale or auction it out to another dealer. So, they're unlikely to offer you top dollar on it, as they would with a car 7 years old, or younger, with fewer miles on it, that they would retail. If you're still living in the Mid-Atlantic area, I'll bet you'd leave at least $1000 on the table, and maybe significantly more, taking a CarMax offer over doing the sale yourself, to a private party. If lack of hassle is worth the cost of having CarMax buy it from you, to you, I don't see why you shouldn't go the CarMax route. But if the money is important to you, you can definitely do better by shining the old thing up a bit, and selling it yourself.

It will make a difference to a private party buyer if your car is as clean and ding free as you can reasonably get it, but a 12 year old car, owned and driven in an urban setting, isn't likely to be a cream puff. Get together and organize whatever paperwork and maintenance records you have for the car, and maybe have it detailed, if you can get a good detail job done for under $200. That level of detail ought to include some minimal attention to minor scratches and dings with a scratch remover product, but if you've got to pick and choose services to keep the cost down, tell them to keep the tire shine product, and focus on the paint. You can replace those rusted wiper arms for about $30 each, and 10 minutes of your time. If you still carry comprehensive insurance on the car, and your windshield is obviously pitted or dinged, you might want to have it replaced, too. A clear windshield gives a good impression on test drives.

If you do decide to go the private sale route, particularly in the area your profile says you are currently in, I'd put an ad in the Washington Post, as well as on Craigslist. The Post is still one of the highest local circulation papers in the country, despite years of declining subscriptions.
posted by paulsc at 11:44 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Moving is such a hassle, selling a car is a hassle too.

If you plan on having a garage sale, you can list your car for sale as part of it.

But we sold our Hondas to the dealer and we got pretty close to blue book price for them.

Find a Honda dealer and see what they offer you. They can tart your car up and resell it for a nice profit.

Carmax is the other option.

Yes, selling it in a private sale will get you more money, it will be MUCH easier to sell to Carmax or a dealer. Also, you can do it on your own time, which may be important to you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:01 AM on August 12, 2013

If the car is in good working order there are many people who would want to snap this up for a starter car for their teenager. A private sale will likely yield more money, but a bit more hassle. I sold two cars via craigslist and it didn't require a terrible level of background research to figure out how to do it safely. The Carmax route is definitely simpler but I doubt if you will get as much for it.
posted by dgran at 8:26 AM on August 12, 2013

My dad (a used car salesman at a Honda dealer) was just complaining yesterday that they can never find enough Civics in that ~$5,000 range. The year of your car might make it hard to finance but it's really low mileage for a 2002.

You should find it really easy to sell that car should you decide to sell it yourself. The thing to keep in mind about Carmax is that it takes no time at all and you don't lose anything by trying to sell it yourself for a few weeks and failing (provided you use Craigslist and/or some other free service to advertise it).

Selling a car private party often drops a lot of the baggage that comes with buying/selling a car at a dealer. The people buying the car usually aren't as on edge and it's much more casual.

I've had good luck with Craigslist. The key to the whole thing is mostly just be honest and don't be afraid to ask. Most people aren't really sure what to do next so both people tend to tip-toe around hoping the other figures it out.

When people call/e-mail, answer whatever questions they have then ask if they want to come and take a look. Often, the person you're talking to doesn't know what they want and when you ask them to come look at it they say to themselves, "I didn't realize it but that's exactly what I want!"

When they show up, show them the car, answer any questions and then ask them to take a test drive ( go with them and ask if they know the area or need directions but otherwise just be available for questions).

After the test drive, ask them if they like it. If they do, ask them if they want to buy it. You're basically prompting them to have the internal debate.

If it's yes, they'll probably ask if you can come down on the price. You can either ask them what price they're thinking or just offer them a discount off your asking price. Statistically, you're better off making the opening offer but it doesn't matter all that much.

In a perfect world, you'll have some other stake holder you'll need to confer with so that if you don't get the chance to ask them to buy it and they say, "Would you take X?" You can reply, "Maybe, I'll need to check with my [brother, sister, mom, significant other, etc.]. Let me give them a call. If I can do that, will you buy the car?" This is mostly just a way to give yourself a mental break so you can evaluate their offer objectively and it gets them to commit to buying the car or it will uncover any objections they might have (I better check with my SO, I want my mechanic to check it out, etc.). It doesn't really matter if they have an opinion or not.

Probably the most important thing is, when you ask a question, especially a big closing question (If I can make that price work, will you buy the car?) don't say anything else until the other person does. It doesn't matter how awkward it gets or long you have to wait, just don't say anything or otherwise distract them. They're having an internal debate about whether or not to take your offer, whether or not they really are ready to buy your car, or what price they think they should offer next. If you interrupt that thought process, they'll default to, "No."

If you can do that and listen to people talk about themselves, you'll have more skill than most professional car salespeople. I think you'd be surprised at just how easy it can be.

I would take it to Carmax (and maybe another dealer or three) and get some offers for them to buy your car. Compare those to the Kelly Blue Book private party retail price and browse Craigslist, eBay, Autotrader, or other local listings to see what similar cars are listing for. This will tell you what you should list your car for and a bottom end. Your goal is to get more than the top offer from Carmax/local dealer. That way, you'll have some idea going in what the lowest offer you should take is. If you can't get that, you can always take it to Carmax or wherever the week before you move. It really can't hurt to try and sell it yourself.

Last year, we were replacing my 2005 Nissan Altima 3.5SE. I took it to a couple of local dealers and asked them if they wanted to make me an offer to buy it. I called first and asked to talk to the used car sales manager (there wouldn't a be a commission until the car is sold it's a waste of time for a salesperson) and told them that I realize that they're offer will be closer to trade-in value than retail and I'm okay with that. Some told me, "No, we don't buy cars, just take trade-ins." A couple gave me offers. In every case I told them, "At that price, I'll need to think about it."

The highest offer I got was for $8,500. Cars like mine were usually listed for $11,000 or so. I listed mine at $10,500. My goal was to get at least $500 more than the dealer would give me. If I couldn't get more than that after six weeks, I'd trade it in. After it had been listed for about a week a guy called and we setup a time for a test drive. He offered me $9,000, I talked to my wife and said, "I'm going to sell my car to this guy for at least $9k. Now it's just a matter of trying to get more than that."

So I asked him, "Will $9,500 work?"

He said, "Yes." We shook hands and I delivered it the next day doing the paperwork at his bank so I could verify his cashier's check right there. I was blown away how easy it was and told my dad later, "If every car deal were this easy, I'd still be doing it professionally!"
posted by VTX at 2:06 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

This seems so obvious, but since I haven't seen it mentioned yet...
have you worked your network?

Option 1: if you have a Facebook or Twitter account, post a line that says, "I'm moving soon and looking to get rid of my 2002 Honda, low miles, runs great, bluebook value is $4900, anyone interested?" Also, when hanging out with your friends, the topic of your move will come up - tell people in person you're selling your car pre-move.

You may have a friend, or a friend of a friend, who needs a car. Then you are dealing with someone you know or sort-of-know. Get your payment in cash, or in certified check while you accompany your friend to his bank to get the check.

Option 2: do you know and trust anyone who is a mechanic, works in the car industry, or is otherwise comfortable with cars? If so, ask that person if they would sell the car for you for a set percentage of the sale price as a "commission". For example, tell your car-enthusiast pal, "look I need to sell my car, it's bluebook value is $4900, I need at least $4500 for it, please sell it for me and then you can take 10% off the top for handling the sale." (My husband is a mechanic and has sold many cars for friends with this arrangement.)

Used cars in running condition under $5K sell super easily as first-cars for high-school or college students, so you should have no trouble getting rid of it in whatever fashion suits you.
posted by Ardea alba at 12:56 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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