15 Common (And Costly) Mistakes People Make When Selling a Car

Discover the crucial do's and don'ts of selling your car for top dollar.
Updated Jan. 22, 2024
Fact checked
People at a car dealership

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If you plan to sell your car, beware: There are some common and costly mistakes that could result in you leaving money on the table. 

Avoiding the following errors can help boost your bank account and keep you out of other types of trouble when you sell your vehicle.

Lacking basic car knowledge

Vitaliy/Adobe office worker stuck in traffic jam

Familiarize yourself with your car before selling it.

It’s a good idea to anticipate buyers’ possible questions. So, make sure you know things about your car, such as the engine type, the number of miles on the vehicle, and the type of safety features it has.

Be sure you also have records of any accidents or major repairs the car has had, including those that happened under previous owners

Selling a dirty car

Chalinee/Adobe dirty car rear widescreen

Good curb appeal is important when you sell a home, and you can use a similar philosophy when you sell a car.

Ensure your car is clean before posting pictures online or sending images to prospective buyers. Wash the car and clean the exterior. Wipe down the interior as well.

You also might want to consider paying for a detailing service to get your car ready to sell.

Not describing the car completely

wutzkoh/Adobe car salesman explaining contract to male client on table with car toys

When advertising the car, include as much information as possible to make it appealing to potential buyers.

Include a detailed description of the vehicle and essential information that a potential buyer might want, such as the number of miles on the car and maintenance and repair information.

Using bad (or not enough) pictures

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe photographer

A great way to sell a car is to post pictures online to give potential buyers a good idea of its condition.

Photos show buyers what the car looks like and should reveal scratches, dents, or other problems that might be a factor in whether they make a purchase.

Not knowing the car’s real value

fizkes/Adobe Man working on laptop

Make sure you know the market value of your vehicle. Listing a car for too little will leave cash on the table. Listing it too high could prevent you from finding a buyer.

Check websites to compare your car's value to similar vehicles. A website like Kelley Blue Book is a great place to find the market value of your vehicle.

Settling for a bad trade-in

RomanR/Adobe male car dealer giving keys to new owner in exchange for money

You might decide it's easier to trade your car in with a dealer and use that credit when purchasing a new vehicle.

If so, make sure you know how much your car is worth before you agree to a trade-in value. It’s a good idea to go to Kelley Blue Book and consider that price when negotiating the trade-in.

Letting your emotions stop a sale

pathdoc/Adobe man looking at scratches and dents on his car

You may feel attached to a car that got you through a long cross-country move, or that was well-loved by your kids. Perhaps there's some sentimental value attached to it.

Don’t let these emotional attachments affect the sale of your car. Focus on the selling points that will get it out of your garage and into the hands of another driver.

Accepting an emotional plea

Studio Romantic/Adobe couple meeting with bank manager

It’s also important not to let emotional pleas from buyers sway you during the sale process.

Remember that this is a business transaction: You don’t have to leave extra cash on the table simply because a buyer has made an emotional request to lower the price.

Making costly repairs

Kannapat/Adobe Mechanic repairing car engine using wrench

Some sellers might think making costly repairs is vital so their car is more appealing. But those expensive repairs could cost you more than you can make back during the sale of the vehicle.

Instead, be upfront with potential buyers about possible repairs and ensure your vehicle's sale price reflects the out-of-pocket expenses another owner will have to take on.

Not responding quickly to buyers

shurkin_son/Adobe female freelancer working using laptop

Potential buyers might request more information about the vehicle or want to take a second look at the car.

If so, it’s important to respond promptly to these requests. If you delay, you might risk losing a potential buyer.

Skipping the paperwork

insta_photos/Adobe female accountant sitting at office worrying about documents while using laptop

States may have rules and regulations related to the paperwork that has to be filed when you sell a car.

Check with your state’s motor vehicle department to ensure you have everything you need to start the sale process. That way, you avoid trouble right from the start.

Losing service records

H_Ko/Aadobe businessman wearing suit turning over pages to sign contract at table

Buyers will want to ensure you’ve cared for the car while you owned it. So, have records that reflect the car’s routine maintenance or service repairs history.

If you can’t find those records, don’t make the same mistake again in the future. When you buy a new car, hold on to records throughout your time as an owner to make it easier the next time you’re ready to sell.

Dealing with dishonest buyers

fizkes/Adobe angry tenants having dispute

Selling a car means a buyer needs to trust you, and vice-versa.

If something doesn’t feel right or you spot actual dishonesty, it’s OK to back out of a sale or ask for more information from the potential buyer to ease your concerns.

Not meeting in a safe place

Tijana/Adobe businessman explaining his idea for new project to businesswoman

Be careful about where you meet a potential buyer. Focus on public and well-lit places, and try to meet during daytime hours.

If you're unsure, check with your local police department to see if they have designated safe spaces to meet.

Not clearing your personal data

Tasha Sinchuk/Adobe car navigation system screen with map

Newer car models let you store data such as your navigation history or garage door code. But that convenience can become a problem when you sell the car.

Check your owner’s manual to find out how to clear any personal data. You don’t want to open yourself to theft or other issues later.

Bottom line

djile/Adobe Car sale

Just as it’s essential to do your research before making a large purchase, it’s also important to know how to sell an expensive item.

Avoiding the mistakes on this list can help you get the most money for your car. That way, you can get ahead financially and pile up more cash to purchase a new vehicle.

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Author Details

Jenny Cohen Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.

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