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I'm a writer and personal finance expert from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I write about saving, budgeting, and debt.

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How to Sell a Car In Canada as a Beginner

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.

Tell me about your experience selling a car! Did you go the private seller route or do a dealer trade in?


  1. I have to say that both you and the buyer were lucky that you both were not criminals! The fact that the buyer was carrying around $4,000 in cash is just jaw-dropping to me. I’m glad it worked out for the best for both involved. And it’s crazy that a dealer offered you so much less than you were able to obtain from a private sale.

    While I think I could sell a car privately, I don’t think I’d want to buy that way. I still prefer the security of buying from an organization that I know I would be able to take a dealer to small claims court if they were truly misleading (while a private party would be hard to track down and/or get money from if small claims ruled in your favor). But who knows, I might find a deal too good to pass up from a private seller in the future.

    • Jordann says:

      I guess it’s a Canadian thing? Honestly I was most nervous about the whole transaction part leading up to the sale, but the fact that he brought his father (who openly admitted to knowing nothing about cars) made the situation a lot more relaxed. If it had been someone who was sketchy and trying to beat us down I would’ve been much less comfortable.

      Also I agree with you about the buying part. I’m cool with selling my car this way, but I don’t have the mechanical expertise necessary to buy a car from a private seller. That’s why the Golf and my Subaru were both lease returns from the dealership. Better than paying full-price but not quite as savvy as going full-on used.

    • Remy Ciuba says:

      People buying cars in cash? This happens ALL the time. If you are a seller you should just be upfront and be strong when it comes to people trying to haggle you down. These situations are all about communication. Being as clear as you can before they come see the car goes a long way. People bring cash because it is persuasive and it puts them in a better position if they plan on making you an offer under your asking price.
      I don’t find it crazy at all that a dealer would offer so little. Most go by Kelly Blue book and is usually a gross underestimation of the worth of the car and is usually based on the year of the car and its mileage…that’s it. The condition of the car is not as important, especially if it is in good shape! they will rarely give you MORE money for that but always less for poor condition ( there are exceptions, eg. a collectible car).
      Lets go ahead and admit that most people don’t know anything about cars. You best bet is to google a check list of things to inspect when you are buying a used car from a private seller. You should also look up common problems for the particular model and year of car you are interested in. Ask if these things have been replaced/ fixed recently. Carefully read their ad for a list of repairs if it is listed. This should also steer your decision making when in comes to the type of car you plan to buy! eg. many first year models have problem that get worked out in later model years or vice versa / upgrades in later years.
      As for the reader’s sister who was scammed. It sound like the title was signed over to the new owner but they never took it to the DMV. you should ALWAYS call the DMV to let them know you sold a car. You can also usually check this through your online DMV account or call.


      • I don’t think you understood… Having that much cash for a complete stranger can be dangerous as theft happens is what I was referring to. (people get robbed for a $700 Canadian Goose jacket in US cities). And again, I know why dealers offer so low for a trade in, they have to make money on the resale. I was just expressing how crazy low it was. Thanks for the long, unsolicited answer.

  2. Amanda says:

    So glad that that worked out so easily (and safely) for you guys!
    I’ve never sold or bought a used car before, but I immediately thought about the time my sister did. She thought she had done everything right, but something like a year after she sold it, she started getting parking tickets for it in the mail. Long story short, the guy she sold it to had abandoned it, so it had a pile of tickets and towing/storage fees piled up. Because they missed ONE form or one signature somewhere a long the line during the sale, it was my sister’s responsibility to pay it. She was able to work out some deal with the towing company, but still paid a over $1,500 for this guy over one missed step.

    So clearly, I’m terrified to sell a used car privately now!

    • Jordann says:

      This is EXACTLY why I immediately jumped in the car and took the detachable portion of the deed to the DMV as soon as the sale was completed. Once that portion of the form was submitted, my responsibility to that car was over. I even took a picture of me submitting the form so that if something like that ever did come back I’d have photo proof that I had indeed signed over the car to the seller.

  3. […] Brown, who blogs at My Alternate Life, recently shared her experience in How to Sell a Car in Canada as a Beginner. She researched how much her Volkswagen City Golf was worth and concluded she could sell it for […]

  4. […] Brown wrote a nice step-by-step guide to selling a car privately in Canada, based on her own successful […]

  5. […] Brown, who blogs at My Alternate Life, recently shared her experience in How to Sell a Car in Canada as a Beginner. She researched how much her Volkswagen City Golf was worth and concluded she could sell it for […]

  6. […] are like me and have never sold a car privately before, then you should check out Jordann’s article over on My Alternate Life about that exact […]

  7. […] like me and have never sold a car privately before, then you should check out Jordann’s article over on My Alternate Life about that exact […]

  8. […] dealership offered us a pathetic $1,200 for our old car, but after sprucing it up, I was able to sell it myself for $4,000. I used to repay the $4,000 I’d borrowed from my savings for the down payment, which left […]

  9. Anila says:

    Two weeks ago I listed it on autotrader and kijiji and and got flooded with emails and lowball offers. I kept my phone number and address private because I didn’t want to receive calls and visitors.
    So, i replied to all emails but all complained about something. I even had people asking 80% discount or request me to bring the car to their house in Barrie or Mississauga. People nowadays. Long story short I sold it in to a car buying service, Sellmycar.ca. I got less than asking price but my time and privacy are very important.

  10. scoot bande says:

    realy best car website

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