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How to sell your car privately

February 09, 2023 by

So, the time has come to say goodbye to your trusty set of wheels, and now that you’ve decided to move on, it’s no longer a car — it’s an economic unit, waiting to be exploited to the full. So, how can you get the best price for your car?

Before we start, remember you can now sell your car through Carwow. See how thousands of dealers could be bidding to buy your car. It’s free to use and simple to do. Click SELL MY CAR.

Trading in may be an easy route if you’re intent on buying a replacement, but that’s not going to get you maximum value.

Dealers will always include in their calculations not only what the car is worth, but what they think they can get for it, and how long it might sit on their forecourt before it’s sold. The result will always be less cash than the car is physically worth.

So, what about selling it yourself? You’ll get more than you would for a trade-in, and you will then have a little more leverage when it comes to striking a deal on your next car. Here, we’ll details the ins and outs of private car sales, explaining how to sell a car privately, what prep work you should do when selling a car yourself, as well as other information such as if you can sell your car without an MOT, or what’s involved in selling a car with mechanical problems.

If you’re sure you want to sell your car privately, here’s how best to go about it…

Tips on selling your car privately

Selling cars is a skilled profession – you only need to look at the number of second-hand dealers out there to realise that.

It makes sense, therefore, to do as much homework as possible before selling your car privately, as with around 400,000 used cars for sale at any one point, standing out from the crowd (for the right reasons) will maximise your chances of securing a quick sale at the best possible price.

1. Check your car’s condition and fix any issues

Unless your car is really rare and special, car buyers will have a huge amount of choice when shopping for a used car.

While adverts can hide a huge amount of issues, someone who has taken the time and effort to come and see your vehicle in the metal is likely to spot obvious damage or faults, and are unlikely to thank you if you’ve wasted their time by not photographing the side of the car with the massive dent in it, or failed to disclose the fact the dashboard is lit up like a Christmas tree with warning lights.

So get any damage or mechanical issues fixed prior to sale, as while your car is ‘old’ to you and you are likely to want it gone, prospective buyers are likely to be putting a significant amount of money into a ‘new’ vehicle for themselves, and will want something that looks good, drives well, and doesn’t immediately require a tonne of remedial work at the garage.

Not everything is black and white here, clearly: if you’re selling a 15-year-old, high-mileage car for £2,000, it is unlikely to be worth spending £500 getting kerbed alloy wheels refurbished prior to sale, while the odd parking ding might be expected, too.

If you are selling a car with problems beyond the odd wheel scuff, though, be sure to photograph and detail them clearly in any advert, reducing your asking price accordingly if necessary.

Do note that the car must match the advert, so if you declare it to be in ‘perfect working order’ when you know it is riddled with issues, the buyer may have legal recourse.

2. Have your car serviced

Again, use your judgement here: if your car was serviced three months ago it’s not worth putting it through another one. But if the last service was more than eight or nine months previously, getting a new service will be wise, not least as it will throw some light on any potential issues a buyer might spot, while also giving the buyer confidence that you have taken care of the car during your ownership of it.

3. Get a fresh MOT

The same principle applies to an MOT: if you’ve only just had this done it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to get another one. But buyers will welcome the fact they don’t have to think about an MOT as soon as they drive away in your car, while consumers are getting increasingly good at checking a car’s MOT history.

The same goes for recall work: if your car is subject to an outstanding manufacturer recall, it’s of vital importance that this is attended to, not least because many recalls are safety related.

4. Prepare your car’s paperwork before selling your car

A V5C, or logbook, does not prove ownership of a car – it only shows to whom it is registered

Dig out all your car’s paperwork before you advertise your car, not least because this will give you time to get any replacement documents, should you need them, while also helping to re-familiarise yourself with the car’s history and your time with it.

Documents you will need:

  • The V5C Logbook (essential); this shows the car is registered to you, and is needed before a car can be sold
  • Service history – not legally essential, but very important and desirable
  • Any receipts for tyres, bulbs, parts etc; again, builds confidence with the buyer
  • MOT certificate; not strictly necessary as this can be looked up online, but good to have
  • Any warranty documents you may have if your car is still under manufacturer guarantee

Check out our dedicated guide to what documents you need when selling a car.

5. Clean your car

You wouldn’t go out on a date having not had a shower in days, knowing you had broccoli stuck between your teeth and with tomato ketchup on your shirt, so put your car in its best possible light by showing it a little TLC prior to advertising it or giving viewings.

Give it a thorough wash, plus a wax if possible, as this will help it stay clean for longer, and will help it ‘pop’ in adverts. Pay particular attention to getting the wheels as clean as possible, as these tend to draw the eye, especially if the car is a dark colour and the wheels are silver.

The inside needs a thorough hoover and dust-down, together with a little car air-freshener, perhaps – though don’t go overboard, or the buyer might think you’re trying to mask pet or smoke smells. Clean any obvious stains from seats and carpets, too.

A professional valet may achieve better results than you can, though, if you’re happy to pay for the privilege.

And don’t forget to clear the glovebox and other storage areas of your old rubbish and detritus. . Look under the boot floor and in any rear cargo cubbies, and use that moment to check you have the key for the locking wheel nuts (these tend to be kept with the spare wheel).

Don’t forget to open and clean any cupholders, and be sure to remove any CDs from the stereo, if the car has a player or changer.

6. Clear your personal digital data

Modern cars tend to feature infotainment systems that tend to pair with mobile phones, often synchronising data as they do so. Be sure to clear this data, including telephone contacts that may be stored on the car’s system, or addresses that may be stored in its sat-nav. It’s not a great idea for information like this to get into strangers’ hands.

7. Take the best pictures of your car

This is such an important point that we have an in-depth guide on how to photograph a car but, in short, find a neutral background like trees or a park. Crouch down so you’re on the same level as the car, make sure pictures are in focus (tap the phone screen to make it focus on a specific area), take photos of the front, rear, sides, three-quarter angles (IE standing a little distance from each corner of the car and photographing it so it’s part side on, part head/rear on).

Snap the interior, front and rear, from a variety of angles, including one of the driver’s seat shot from the open front door from a slightly raised angle.

Take pictures of the dashboard and driver’s binnacle with the engine running, showing the car’s mileage and that there are no warning lights.

Take pictures of each wheel, plus the boot, and try to avoid sun glare or obvious reflections when doing all this.

Don’t photograph your car on the driveway, as this can give away your address to all and sundry, and make sure the background of your photos isn’t strewn with rubbish.

7. Value your car to get the best price

There’s no point going to all this hassle if you then advertise the car at 50% more than it’s worth, while you also don’t want to sell yourself short and do yourself out of serious money.

Our free car valuation service is an important port of call on your car-selling journey.

8. Choose where to sell your car privately

All manner of platforms and options are available to people selling a car privately.

From local social-media groups and a sales notice in the back window, to online auctions and classified adverts, you’re spoilt for choice. (Our guide on the best ways to sell a car details them all if you’d like to explore this area further).

Do consider selling your car through carwow, though: upload a few photos and details and our trusted dealers will bid on your car, leaving you to choose the best price. They’ll even come to you to collect the car, paying you at the same time.

9. Create your car advert

Creating a good car advert is a fine art. You want to be as detailed as possible without waffling on and losing people’s interest, while extolling the car’s features and advantages without sounding like you’re talking about a beloved pet.

Focus on details and accuracy: for example list the key features it has, especially if these are not fitted as standard (EG a sunroof). Detail that you have looked after the car and serviced it regularly (assuming this is true), while highlighting if its tyres are recent.

Don’t bother including details such as ‘one lady owner’ or ‘drives really well’ — these are meaningless. Equally, don’t bother being aggressive with potential buyers, with phrases such as ‘no time-wasters please’. It just puts people off.

Also, don’t bother saying you have a ‘genuine reason for selling’. Of course you do, but no one cares about that. Equally, be careful about including any personal information in the advert (look carefully at the background or any reflections in your photographs, too) — there are unscrupulous types out there and be especially wary if they call from a withheld mobile number and aren’t happy to provide contact details.

10. Arrange viewings to sell your car

It is quite possible that you will find yourself fielding a fair few calls and messages from buyers who want to low-ball you with ridiculous offers; be polite, firm and brief, resisting the urge to take offence that someone thinks your pride and joy is worth £10k less than it actually is (they don’t actually think that – they’re just hoping you’re ill-informed about its value and they can take advantage).

Be flexible when booking viewing appointments, but don’t bend over backwards: there’s no point taking a whole day off work for one sale who doesn’t turn up, though if you can arrange multiple viewings it could be worth booking a half day.

You’ll probably want to sell the car from your home, as buyers are unlikely to want to meet in a random car park to do the deal, but do consider whether you want to let a stranger inside your home; if the address on the logbook matches the one the buyer us coming to, that should be reassurance enough.

It can be a good idea to have someone with you for viewings, too, both to help deflect silly offers, and because you are dealing with strangers, who intrinsically represent an unknown quantity. .

11. Offer a test drive

You should only do this if the buyer is comprehensively insured to drive your car – either they have taken out a ‘temp cover’ policy for the day, or they have put your car on their insurance for the day (ask for evidence of insurance).

At the very least they must have third-party insurance (fully comp insurance policies often provide this for other cars by default), but know that if there is an accident on the test drive, you won’t get a penny from the potential buyer’s insurance company, and they are unlikely to buy the car.

Whatever you do, don’t let them test drive the car without you in the passenger seat.

As for the test drive itself, our guide on how to test drive a car is written from the buyer’s perspective, but should give you an idea of what you might expect as a seller.

12. Negotiate the price

Go into any negotiation knowing what your ideal price is, what you think a fair price is, and what the lowest possible price you will take is.

Don’t accept low offers, however persuasive the buyer may be, and stand your ground, taking your time before speaking. Do be willing to knock a few hundred quid (depending on how much the car is) off the price to ease the sale along, though.

Researching similar vehicles for sale will help you know what you should be getting for your car (though do take into account that trade prices will be higher than private ones), and factor in if your car has higher or lower mileage than is average, or if it’s loaded with kit/spartan.

13. Sort out the type of payment for your car

Cash used to be king, but receiving what is likely to be several thousand pounds in notes will leave you liable to counterfeit currency, while also posing a security risk (that may or may not be insured) if kept at home.

An electronic bank transfer is the quickest and easiest way to receive funds, though be aware that if the seller is a fraudster and has control of a victim’s bank account, the funds could be clawed back, even after they appear on your balance. Be wary if their bank details do not match their name, and ask to see some identification to verify this.

Transfers are often immediate, but in some cases may take time to arrive with you. Consider asking the buyer for a test transfer first (£1, for instance) so verify both their details, and how long the full transfer is likely to take. Do not hand over the keys and paperwork until all the money is with you.

Cheques and banker’s drafts can also be used, though these can take time to process, slowing the sale down.

Once the funds have transferred, don’t forget to hand over any paperwork, and draw up a receipt detailing the make, model, mileage and registration of the car, plus your name, the buyer’s name, the agreed price and the date of the transaction. Get the buyer to sign the receipt and sign it yourself, and make sure there is a line saying ‘sold as seen, tried and approved without guarantee’ on the receipt, safeguarding you should any issues arise with the car.

14. Notify DVLA you sold your car

There is a legal obligation to tell the DVLA if you have sold your car, plus you don’t want to be chased for any parking tickets or other penalties the new owner may incur, so transfer the car’s ownership the second you sell the car.

This is most easily done online via the DVLA, though you can also complete the relevant section (section 2) on the car’s V5C logbook, before tearing off section 6 (the ‘new keeper slip’) and posting the remainder of the logbook to DVLA.

Selling a car privately FAQs

Can I sell a faulty or damaged car?

You can sell a faulty of damaged car, but it may be difficult to do so, and you should declare this in any advert. You are legally obliged to tell the buyer of any faults you know of if they ask about this.

Note it is also illegal to sell an unroadworthy car, and a valid MOT is not necessarily proof of this, as dangerous faults can develop after the car has been tested.

What do you write on a sold as seen receipt?

You should write ‘sold as seen, tried and approved without guarantee’ on any receipt, as this confirms you are offering no warranty on the car, and they buyer has deemed that they are happy with its condition.

Can I sell my car without an MOT?

It is legally permissible to do so, but it may be tricky to sell the car, and it will not be possible for the buyer to test drive it on the road. The buyer must also have the vehicle transported away after they have bought it.

Our detailed guide on how to sell a car without an MOT has more information.

Can I sell my car with outstanding finance?

You must clear any outstanding finance you owe on the car prior to selling it. If selling to a mainstream dealer, they should have the means to arrange this simply, but a private seller will not. Until you have paid off any funds owing, the car will belong to the finance company, and you could be committing fraud by selling it.

Our guide on how to sell a financed car has more information.

Can I sell my car without a V5C?

The V5C logbook is not proof of ownership – it only shows to whom a car is registered, so you are legally allowed to sell a car without a V5C.

It is very difficult to do this, though (we would advise to never buy a car without a V5C), and a replacement logbook only costs £25 from the DVLA, so arrange this prior to advertising the car.

Change cars online with carwow

Looking for an easy way to change your car? Then carwow is the place to go. You can sell your old car for a great price, and get the best deals on a new one. All through our network of trusted dealers and all from the comfort of your home. Tap the button below to get started today.