How to sell your car privately

May 23, 2024 by

So, the time has come to say goodbye to your trusty set of wheel. 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 vehicle?

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.

Trading in may be an easy route if you’re intent on buying a replacement, but that won’t get you maximum value.

Dealers will always include in their calculations not only what the car is worth, but also 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 have a little more leverage when striking a deal on your next car. Here, we’ll detail the ins and outs of private car sales, explaining how to sell a car privately, what prep work you should do, and more information, such as if you can sell your car without an MOT or what’s involved in selling a car with mechanical problems.

Only 5% of those who sell their car take all the necessary steps to maximise their return.¹ If 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.

Therefore, it makes sense to do as much homework as possible before selling your car privately. Yet, around one in four (23%) sellers don’t take any measures to increase their vehicle’s value before selling.

Used car sellers are most likely to skip over simple price-boosting steps. Close to a quarter (23%) of second-hand car owners took no measures to prepare for a sale, while only 17% of new car sellers said the same. In fact, those selling new cars were more likely to take all the steps to improve the selling price.

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 rare or unique, car buyers will have a lot of choice when shopping for a used car.

While adverts can hide a huge number 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 is 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.

Our latest survey shows that very few sellers made steps to improve their car’s condition, including topping up their fluids (23%), removing dents or scratches (21%), or fixing minor issues (27%). These steps may seem small, but they can be vital for increasing the value of your car.

So, be sure to address any damage or mechanical issues before putting your car up for sale. While your car may seem ‘old’ to you, and you are likely eager to part ways, potential buyers will likely put a significant amount of money into a ‘new’ vehicle for themselves. They’ll prioritise something that looks good, drives well, and doesn’t immediately require a tonne of remedial work at the garage.

It’s worth noting that not everything is black and white here. 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.

However, if you are selling a car with problems beyond the odd wheel scuff, remember 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 ago, 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 them confidence that you have taken care of the car during your ownership of it.

3. Get a fresh MOT

According to our survey, 80% of sellers failed to get a new MOT before selling. Similarly to servicing your car, if you’ve just had an MOT done, it doesn’t make much sense to get another. However, buyers will welcome the fact they don’t have to think about an MOT as soon as they drive away in your car, and 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, this must be 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 it. 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.

Through a survey of our trusted dealers, we found that a lack of paperwork was one of the top reasons that deter dealers from bidding on a vehicle.²

Almost half (48%) of dealers admitted that they didn’t bid on a vehicle due to too little information, with the most stated reason being a missing service history. 86% of sellers failed to update or replace existing documents, meaning that they were potentially missing out on buyers.¹

Documents you will need:

  • The V5C Logbook (essential); this shows the car is registered to you, and is required before a car can be sold
  • Service history – not legally essential, but very important and desirable
  • Any receipts for tyres, bulbs, parts, etc. This, 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

Put your car in its best possible light by showing it a little TLC before advertising it or giving viewings.

Cleaning their car is one of the most popular steps among sellers, with 67% stating that they spruced up their vehicle before selling. However, this step alone often falls short of fully maximising your car’s value.

Give it a thorough wash and wax if possible, as this will help it stay clean for longer and 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.

If you’re willing to pay for the privilege, a professional valet may achieve better results than you can.

Don’t forget to clear the glovebox and other storage areas of any rubbish. 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).

Lastly, remember to open and clean any cup holders and 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. In short, find a neutral background like trees or a park, crouch down so you’re on the same level as the car, and make sure pictures are in focus. Take photos of the front, rear, sides, and three-quarter angles (i.e., 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 various 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. Also, 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 in going through all this hassle if you then advertise the car at 50% more than it’s worth. You also don’t want to sell yourself short and lose 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 want to explore this area further).

Do consider selling your car through Carwow: upload a few photos and details, and our trusted dealers will bid on your vehicle, 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 detailed without waffling on and losing people’s interest. You also want to praise the car’s features and advantages without sounding like you’re talking about a beloved pet.

Focus on details and accuracy: for example, list its key features, especially if they are not fitted as standard (e.g., a sunroof). 95% of sellers don’t remove modifications before listing their car, so it’s important to highlight this in your car advert for clarity.

Detail that you have looked after the car and serviced it regularly (assuming this is true) while highlighting if its tyres are recent. If you have serviced your vehicle, including the service history where possible is a must, as this can make or break a sale.

Don’t be aggressive with potential buyers, with phrases such as ‘no time-wasters please’. It just puts people off. Also, don’t say you have a ‘genuine reason for selling’. Of course you do, but it’s often irrelevant.

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; 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

You may find yourself fielding calls and messages from buyers who want to lowball you with offers. Be polite, firm, and brief. Resist the urge to take offence that someone thinks your pride and joy is worth £10k less than it is (they don’t actually believe that, they’re just hoping you’re ill-informed about its value and 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 halfday.

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 is coming to, that should be reassuring 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.

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 your ideal price, what you think is fair, and the lowest possible price you will accept.

Don’t accept low offers, however persuasive the buyer may be. Stand your ground and take 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 estimate what you could get for your car (though do consider that trade prices will be higher than private ones). You should also factor in whether your car has higher or lower mileage than the average.

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 can sometimes take time to arrive. Consider asking the buyer for a test transfer first (£1, for instance) to verify their details and how long the complete transfer will likely 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 processing them can take time, slowing the sale down.

Once the funds have been transferred, remember to hand over any paperwork and draw up a receipt detailing the car’s make, model, mileage, and registration, plus your name, the buyer’s name, the agreed price, and the transaction date

Get the buyer to sign the receipt, then sign it yourself. Make sure the receipt has a line saying ‘sold as seen, tried and approved without guarantee’, 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 or 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 buying 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 before 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 tough to do this, though (we advise never to buy a car without a V5C). A replacement logbook from the DVLA only costs £25, 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.

About this data:

¹ All results were gathered through a YouGov survey of approximately 2,000 UK residents of varying demographics. The survey was conducted on 29th March 2024.

² Dealership opinions were collected through a survey of 96 dealers through Carwow.