How to Sell a Car at a Dealership

Thom Blackett | Oct 22, 2020

Most anyone who has owned a car knows there comes the point when it’s time to sell. Perhaps it’s a convertible you don’t often use or a handy pickup truck that’s no longer needed, or maybe a dealer wouldn’t offer you a fair price in trade when you bought a new car. Regardless of the reason, you’re now a seller looking for a buyer.

how to sell a car to a dealership

You could quickly get an offer using our online selling tool, by visiting one of the large national chains like CarMax or listing your vehicle on any one of the many auctions or marketplace sites. Unfortunately, if you list and sell your car yourself, you’ll need to meet and possibly coordinate payment with strangers, which isn’t ideal.

Another seldom-considered solution is to sell your car to a local dealership. Depending on the vehicle you’re trying to sell and its condition, this may prove to be the most straightforward option.

Will a Dealership Buy Your Car? 

You may be thinking, “Dealers sell cars. Why would they want to buy my car?” Well, all of those used cars on their lot need to come from somewhere. Dealers need inventory, and they’re especially hungry for models they can finance for a broad range of prospective buyers. 

They source many used cars from auctions, and a few are trade-ins, though with people keeping their cars longer, the vehicles they’re trading in may be undesirable due to age or mileage. So, if your vehicle is less than ten years old, has less than 100,000 miles, and is in good overall condition, it’s worth your time to shop it around.

On the other hand, maybe you already received a low-ball offer when trying to trade in your Subaru, for example, for a new Toyota. Take your car to the nearest Subaru dealer, which may be willing to pay more, knowing it has customers waiting for a used vehicle like yours. 

Even if your car is beyond its sell-by date and needs repairs, a dealer may still be interested in purchasing it if the price is right. In cases where a vehicle is in imperfect condition, they’ll likely send it directly to auction for a quick and easy profit.

Selling Your Car to a Dealership

The process of selling your car directly to a local dealership is exceptionally efficient. Given how many transactions these businesses handle, that’s not surprising.

Before offering your car for sale to a dealership or any buyer, determine what it’s worth. Based on your vehicle’s mileage, condition, and equipment, you need to understand the value range between the trade-in number and the retail figure. Expect dealers to offer something close to trade-in value. That’s less than you’d likely get from a private party responding to an advertisement you place for the vehicle, but selling to a dealership also involves much less hassle.

Next, if you have a loan on the vehicle, contact your lender to get a 10- or 20-day payoff amount (dealers will need the extended payoff period for processing paperwork and submitting payment). Let’s say that figure is $10,000. If the dealer offers $10,000, you simply sign the paperwork and walk away. However, if the dealer offers $10,500, you’ll walk away with a check for $500. But if they offer $9,000, you would need to cough up the $1,000 difference to make the deal happen.

Of course, this is less complex if you own the car outright. In that case, you’ll need nothing more than a title and/or bill of sale (these vary based on the age of the vehicle and your location). Many dealers will come to you to view and test drive the car, provide all necessary forms and payment, and arrange to have the vehicle transported. Alternatively, you can take the car to the dealership where they will inspect it before making an offer, after which they will provide you with paperwork, payment, and likely a ride home.

How to Sell Your Car for the Highest Price

Dealerships are in the business of making money and are, therefore, most interested in vehicles that need little in the way of reconditioning and can be resold quickly for a profit. Not unlike any other buyer, a dealer will make a lower offer on a vehicle with a dirty exterior and cluttered interior, evidence of mechanical problems, and a lack of documentation that proves the car has been properly maintained. 

If your vehicle needs more substantial repairs that you can’t or don’t want to pay for, make it as presentable as possible by spending a few hundred dollars on a professional car detail, oil change, and, where applicable, an updated or new inspection sticker.

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