How to sell cars for the best possible return

Selling a car through a websiteThere are approximately two million new car and seven million used car sales every year in the UK. For most of those drivers, the greatest dilemma is how to is sell their old car to help fund buying the new model.

Our guide to selling a car examines the best options for shifting your current car so you can replace it with something newer and shinier.

Car buying websites

You will have seen the TV adverts for car buying websites that claim to take the pain out of selling your old car. They can do exactly that, as it’s generally a hassle-free process. But you don’t get anything for nothing in this world. The downside is, despite what the TV ads promise, we couldn’t find one of these companies that would offer the kind of money that used car expert CAP said our example car was worth. Selling a car this way could have left the owner several hundreds of pounds out of pocket on a £9,000 car.

For: Minimal hassle
Against: You’re unlikely to get the best price for your car

Selling privately

You must be prepared to deal with the great British public – with all the pros and cons that entails. There will be people who are late for appointments; those who will let you down at the last minute; and calls from companies asking you to advertise your car with them. If you’re particularly unlucky you may come across dodgy operators who will try buying your car with a fake banker’s draft. Treat everyone with respect while exercising caution, and reassure yourself with the fact that you’re likely to get the most money if you sell your car privately. For newer cars try Autotrader; for cheaper cars, the local press or eBay is a good bet.

For: Can maximise the value of your car
Against: Aggravation of dealing with unreliable people

Part exchange at a dealer

Let’s assume you’re lucky enough to be buying a new or nearly new car from a dealership. Let’s also assume that you’re not selling a complete basket case. The good news is that car dealers are currently crying out for well maintained, good condition cars that are three to five years old. The result is they’ll offer good money for cars that fit these criteria because demand from car buyers is such they know they’ll be able to sell them quickly at a profit.

For the dealer, it’s a win-win situation. They are selling you another car that you’ll hopefully be bringing back to them for servicing. To top it off they should be able to make a profit on the car they take in for part exchange. As the seller, you must be aware of this and ensure you drive a hard bargain. The dealer will try to use either the price they give for your part exchange car or the price they sell the new car to you as bargaining chips. Knowing what both are really worth by using the CAP valuation tool is the key to not being bamboozled.

For: Dealers are offering good money for quality used cars
Against: You must do your homework to know what your car is worth and haggle hard to get that price


A trade-in is industry speak for selling a car to a motor trader. Traditionally, selling to a car dealer gets you a lower price than selling to a private buyer, because the trader has to offer a price that allows them to build in some profit when they sell on. When haggling, bear in mind that quality used cars are in short supply and remember it’s not a state of affairs that’s going to last forever: as sales of new cars ramp up, so the quantity of nearly new models will increase and the price of used cars will fall.

For: Easy way of selling and you might make good money for your car
Against: If you don’t do your research you might not…

Online auction

Selling your car on eBay has some of the downsides of selling privately. To minimise the risk of being ripped off by buyers who disappear with your car without paying, you need to be careful and confident that selling a car privately is for you. Always read eBay’s guide to selling safely. Set the reserve price carefully: it’s a balance between putting people off and not letting the car go for money you’re not happy with.

For: An easy way to reach buyers
Against: It can be risky too

2 comments on “How to sell cars for the best possible return

  1. Wesley of Trusted Car Buyers 14/07/2014 4:42 PM

    The online car buying process is a quick and hassle-free way to sell a car versus selling privately. It is also worth noting that all online car buying services cannot be tarred with the same brush, as some offer a lot less.

    Trusted Car Buyers endeavour to offer customers more cash for their car by buying cars to restock dealerships’ forecourts as opposed to some who supply auction houses (and thus have to offer less to achieve a profit).

  2. Mark Fan 07/06/2015 11:08 PM

    Sometimes you have to look a the bigger picture. You may get more money for a trade in, but they have made their profit on the replacement car you have bought which you lose when you sell. Private will normally give the most money, but rarely does anyone pay advertised price. Buy Your Car type websites may offer the least amount of money, but if you get a discount for not having a trade in, or you buy privately, you may find you are better off.

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