On New Year’s Eve I finally bit the bullet and bought a new-to-me car. I’d been planning to replace my existing vehicle for quite awhile, and I’m absolutely in love with my Subaru Crosstrek. Once I drove the Subaru home and parked in my driveway, I was temporarily a two-car household. I still had my Volkswagen City Golf, and it was time to find it a new home. There was only one problem: I had no idea how to sell a car myself.
When I was negotiating a sale price for the Subaru, I briefly toyed with the idea of trading the Golf in at the dealership. The convenience was appealing, but after they offered me a pitiful $1,200, I knew I couldn’t accept their offer because the car was worth so much more on the private market.
The problem was, I’d never bought or sold a car as a private seller before, and I had no idea what I was doing.
Fortunately, I have some mad internet research skills and was able to sell my car for $2,800 more than I would have at the dealership. Here’s how to sell a car as a complete beginner:
Step 1: Research How to Sell a Car
The first thing I did – and always do when I come across a topic I lack knowledge in – was research. The first step was to research how much my Golf was worth. I did this by checking a bunch of websites including Autotrader.ca and Kijiji. I was specifically looking for Volkswagen City Golfs listed that were approximately the same age and had the same number of kilometers. It took me about a month of researching to find enough comparables to determine the car was worth about $4,000. I also researched the best ways to write a sale ad and how to appropriately photograph a car for sale.
Step 2: Fix Problems
My Golf was a 2007 model, and after ten years on the road, it wasn’t exactly in perfect condition. The interior was coated with a thick layer of dog hair, the rear windshield wiper was rusty, and there was a significant chip in the windshield cowl. I knew that it would be worthwhile to do a few small repairs to get the car sale-ready.
The first thing I did was book the car for a professional cleaning. I opted for the VIP package that included shampooing and scrubbing the seats and waxing the exterior. I also paid for an extra two hours of pet hair removal to get rid of every last speck of evidence that the car had ever had my dog in it. It cost me about $390 but it was entirely necessary.
After cleaning the car I made a few small repairs, topped up the fluids, and double checked the pair of summer tires in my basement were in good shape. It was time to advertise it for sale!
Step 3: Post the Ad
I photographed the car on a sunny day in January, making sure include a variety of angles of both the interior and the exterior. I wrote the ad to make it appeal to younger males since that’s the target audience for this car. I also made sure to include a list of recent repairs that were done to the car and all of its features (like air conditioning) and benefits. On the advice of some car-savvy friends, I listed it on Kijiji for $4,500 and planned to accept no less than $4,000. Then I hit publish and played the waiting game.
Step 3: Insurance and Temporary Plates
The process of cleaning, repairing, photographing and listing the car took about a month. Since I wasn’t driving the car during that time I dropped its insurance coverage down to the bare minimum to save money.
I also got a temporary plate for the car when I moved my old license plate over to the Subaru. This cost $13.50 and was good for 30 days, which I was hoping would be long enough to sell the car. I also took this opportunity, while I was at the DMV, to ask the clerk to walk me through the process of signing over the registration to the new owner. She was super helpful and used the new car’s registration as an example. She pointed out all of the sections I needed to fill out and explained which part I needed to return to them. I felt MUCH more confident after talking to her!
Step 4: Dealing with Responses and Setting up a Viewing
I did not immediately get a response to the ad. It took a few days before someone got in touch requesting a test drive. I made sure to be super responsive and to reply as quickly as possible because I assumed the potential buyer was replying to several ads and would be test driving several cars. I wanted him to see my car first.
I set up a viewing for a time when both my (now ex) husband and I were going to be home. I arranged for the to meet us at my home. I was a little unsure about this since many websites say to meet in a neutral location, but eventually, I decided the whole neutral location thing was a little over cautious.
Step 5: Making the Sale
On the day, my husband took the car out for a quick trip around the neighbourhood to make sure the battery was charged and knock out the cobwebs. The car had been sitting in our driveway for a few weeks so the last thing I wanted was for the battery to be dead. The buyer showed up on time with his father in tow, and it turned out he was looking to replace his own City Golf that had been totaled in an accident recently.
My husband went with him for the test drive since I had minimum insurance on the car and I stowed a Tile in the glove compartment as an extra precaution. They were back in about 10 minutes and I sat on the deck and chatted with his father while we waited.
The buyer decided pretty quickly that he wanted the car, which caught me by surprise. I expected him to take a few days to mull it over. As it turns out he had been trying to set up other viewings with other sellers but I was the most responsive and this was the first car he looked at. He asked if I would take $4,000 for the car including the summer tires, which was exactly what I wanted, so we agreed.
Again, I expected him to go to the bank, which wasn’t open as it was a Saturday, and come back with a bank draft. Instead, he pulled out a wad of cash! At that point, we went into the house and started filling out the paperwork.
This part might be different in different provinces, but in Nova Scotia, you sign over the registration of the car to the buyer and remove your license plate. The buyer puts their own license plate on the car and then pays to have it registered in their name. My only responsibility as the seller was to keep the detachable portion of the registration and return that to the DMV. After that my responsibility for that vehicle is officially done.
I also wrote the seller a paper receipt including the vehicle’s VIN number, the date, our names and the selling price.
Step 6: Making the Money Count
Once the seller left, I sat for a moment to absorb what just happened. I had expected to advertise the car for weeks and show it multiple times. Now I was sitting at my kitchen table, three days after listing the car, with $4,000 in cash. Did that just happen?
It took me about 20 minutes to recover, and then I sprang into action. I hopped into the Subaru, drove the detachable portion of the registration to the DMV and deposited it into their dropbox. I also took a picture of it in case it got lost. Once that task was completed I went straight to the bank to deposit the cash.
Selling my car myself was an experience that included some uncertainty. I didn’t know what I was doing and had to rely heavily on the internet for advice. I can understand why most people simply trade in their car to the dealership – because it is easy and convenient. That said, I sold my car for $2,800 more than I would have received by trading it in, and that amount of money was totally worth it. All in all, I only put a few hours of work researching how to sell a car for such a big payoff, and I highly recommend going the private seller route for anyone considering ditching their automobile.