How to sell a car: the complete guide

Whether you're trading your car in for a new model or are just getting rid of it for cash, we reveal how to get the best price...

For sale sign in car

Saying goodbye to your car can be an emotional business, and the often complicated process of actually selling your car can make it all the more challenging.

That’s where we come in. We’ve combined our expertise with insight from industry experts to compile the definitive guide to selling your car.

In our complete guide, we'll take you through all of the steps, from deciding where to sell your car to how to prepare your car for sale through to actually writing the advert.

Where can I sell my car?

Where to sell your car is the first thing to consider, because it influences how much you might get for it, and the amount of effort you'll need to put in.

Traditionally, there were two options to choose between: selling your car to a dealer (the more straightforward option) or privately (which could make you more money).

Where to sell your car

Now, though, there are many more places for you to turn if you’re looking to get rid of your old car. Websites such as Motorway, can put you in touch with dealers who want to buy your car, while others will buy the car themselves at a fixed price, before selling it on.

On the other hand, if you think you can get a better price by selling a car yourself, sites like Auto Trader or eBay allow you to reach more potential buyers than a classified ad in the local paper ever could.

However, before you decide where to sell, it's important to find out how much your car is worth. So, What Car? offers a free car valuation tool, which will give you a certificate detailing its value in all types of sale.

Once you’ve done that, which approach is best? Here are the pros and cons of each, to help you decide which one is right for you.

Dealer trade-in

If you’re buying your next car from a dealership, the simplest way to get rid of your old car is to part-exchange it against the value of the car you’re buying.

A dealer who’s keen to sell you a new vehicle, or who has a buyer in mind for your old one, may offer you a good price for your old car. Conversely, if you negotiate a good discount on your new car, the dealer may be reluctant to give you the best price for the one you have to sell.

Car dealership

This flexibility is more common among franchised dealers and specialists; larger independent dealers and car supermarkets typically take a more structured approach.

Mike Vousden, content editor at Motorpoint, told us how the trade-in process works at his company: “We use industry-standard data to make sure we’re buying and selling cars at a fair price. Cars are inspected, then valued based on this data, and a fixed price is offered to the owner. This can be offset against the cost of their next car.”

Car buying websites

Selling your car to a professional online buyer can be a quick and easy alternative to selling privately or to a dealership. Companies such as We Buy Any Car tend to be less picky than dealers or smaller businesses, because they usually auction off the cars they buy to motor traders who will sell them on from their own forecourts.

However, auction results aren’t all that predictable, so these companies may not give you the best price for a car that's in overall good condition.

Motorpoint also has an online buying service, called Sell Your Car, and Vousden explained how theirs works: “When someone sells us their car, it will go through one of two different routes. Newer, lower-mileage cars that fall within our retail criteria will be sold directly through one of our stores. The majority, however, will go on to our trade-only reselling platform. They are then bought by smaller dealerships and professional sellers, who will prepare the cars themselves before selling them on.”

Selling to a dealer online

You can also use Motorway, a free-to-use service, which works with a network of more than 5000 dealers nationwide to offer you a great price for your car. You enter your car's reg and then profile your car. The firm will enter your vehicle into a daily sale where dealers compete to buy your car for the best price. If you wish, you can then proceed with the highest offer it finds.

Private sale

As a rule, you will get more for your car by selling it privately. However, the process can be time-consuming and the cost of advertising can be steep. You will need to be available to take phone calls and respond to emails, and be flexible enough to arrange viewings and test drives at times that suit potential buyers.

Online auction

Using a general online auction is quick and easy, but it is also potentially the riskiest way to sell your car, because you don’t know how much people will be willing to pay – particularly if you set your sale as an auction without a minimum price.

If there’s a minimum amount you’re willing to accept, be sure to include a reserve price. This will prevent the sale going through if the car doesn’t attract as many bids as you’d hoped. Most auction platforms will charge a fee, whether your car reaches its reserve price or not, so you need to consider the extent to which this will cut into the amount you’ll ultimately make.

Where to sell your car

Charity donation

​​Rather than simply scrap a low-value used car, you could donate it to charity instead. Many charities will accept a donation in the form of a car – roadworthy ones get sold at auction while unroadworthy ones are scrapped. It’s easy to donate your car online, just make sure that 100% of the proceeds will be going to your chosen charity.

Read more: How to buy a car online

How to prepare a car for sale

Making sure your car looks its best before showing it to a potential buyer – whether they're a private individual or a dealer – will help you sell it as quickly as possible, and for the best price.

Cleaning your car

Richard Tipper, owner of Perfection Detailing, believes it’s important to look at your car through the eyes of someone coming to view it. He said: “First impressions are very important. The goal is to make your car look like it’s been looked after, not as if it’s just been through a car wash that morning.

Cleaning car seat

“If you’re tight on time, or working with a limited budget, then focus on the interior first. Over time, your car will pick up smells; dogs, smoking and air fresheners are the worst offenders. A thorough vacuuming session is a must, but you may wish to go further.

“Rather than looking to cover up any odours, look for products that will neutralise them. If this doesn’t work, some professional valeters use ozone treatment that’s intended to rid your car of particularly stubborn smells,” said Richard. 

However, professional services don’t come cheap, so you need to be sure any advanced cleaning will prove cost-effective.

He continued: “Think about all the places the potential buyer might look and touch, and make sure these are pristine. The door handles, gear lever and steering wheel should all be properly cleaned. Avoid any trim cleaners which leave a shiny finish or sticky residue, though, because these give the impression the car’s been dressed up to sell.”

Maciej Lipinski, owner of CCC Detailing, agrees. He told us that his customers appreciate a ‘factory fresh’ finish, so he takes great care to remove all odours and contaminants, including those of air fresheners and heavily scented products.

Additionally, he reckons that even if you’re on a budget, there’s scope to improve your car’s exterior appeal: “Even if your car is only worth, say, £1000, a simple multi-stage wash can really help.

Vauxhall Astra 2022 long-term half clean half dirty

“A good-quality snow foam, followed by tar and glue remover to get rid of stubborn stains and an all-over wash with car shampoo can have your car gleaming in no time. If you have time to spare, applying synthetic wax will help the paintwork retain its shine for longer.

“Most cars now have alloy wheels, and it’s important to make sure these look as good as the bodywork. Use a pH-neutral or alkaline wheel cleaner, with fallout remover to get rid of brake dust,” advised Maciej.


Richard recommends that you prepare yourself, as well as your car – especially if you’re selling your car privately. He says: “You should dress smartly, and make sure you’re punctual and polite. The buyer needs to have confidence that you’re a responsible and conscientious owner.”

As for the car’s documents, he suggests putting them in date order, and splashing out on a nice folder to put them in. This must include the V5C registration document – you won’t be able to sell the car without it, so if it's gone missing you should order a new one online through the government website before putting your car up for sale.

How to write the perfect car advert

How to write a great car advert

Being able to create a compelling used car ad is essential if you want to sell your car yourself, in good time and for the right price.

We spoke to Keel Bentham, an experienced salesman with more than 40 years in the motor trade under his belt, to find out his top tips for putting together a used car advert. So, here are the things you should include, and why they matter.

Detail is key

“Include as much information about the car as you can. If you’re advertising your car online, you won’t be short for space, so why not give people all the facts? It makes buyers so much happier to see that information.

“Service history is extremely important. If I was looking at a car ad, I’d want to know whether the car has a full service history, as well as the mileage at which each service was carried out, and the dates of these services,” advised Keel.

Online car buying research


“Pictures are the most important aspect of all. Get as many photographs on there as possible; 40, 50, 60 photographs is not unreasonable if the website allows. It’s also good to include a 360deg walk-around video.

“Make sure to include photographs of dents, scratches and other damage, inside and out. Nasty surprises will put buyers off, so it’s important that they know about any damage before a viewing to allow them to make an informed judgement,” he added. 

It’s best to take pictures in daylight, and to make sure that each picture shows the viewer something new.

Number plate

There are now a number of ways to get an idea about a car’s history online, including through the government’s MOT history check service. By concealing your car’s number plate, you may make buyers suspicious that your car has a dodgy past: “If you try to hide something, somebody will think something’s wrong with the car,” advised Keel.

Yellow VW Golf rear cornering


It’s important to state the exact mileage of the car, where possible, because this demonstrates your attention to detail, and will reduce suspicion that you’re deliberately understating the true figure.

Number of owners

“The number of owners will reflect the value of the vehicle. If a car has had a lot of owners, stating this up-front means a potential buyer can decide whether that bothers them,” says Keel.

This reduces the likelihood that you’ll make time for someone to view the car, only for them to walk away once they find out that it’s had too many owners for their liking.

Trim level, equipment and optional extras

You should use plain English when outlining the car’s spec, and be sure to list any features or optional extras that make your car stand out.

How to spec a BMW i7 lead

Many car buying platforms have search bars and filters that allow users to narrow their options down based on desired equipment. Using clear, universally recognised terms and descriptions will help connect you with those who are looking for features that your car offers.


As well as knowing how much your car is worth (What Car?’s free car valuation tool can help with that), it’s important not to risk losing potential buyers who may be searching for cars in a particular price bracket.

For example, if you list your car for £10,100, people shopping for cars below the five-figure mark won’t even see your advert, much less contact you to arrange a viewing.

Avoid acronyms

Not everyone will know what SIPS, ESP or LSD are, so write things out in full where possible.

If you’re trying to fit within a tight word count, stick to common abbreviations such as FSH (full service history), AC (air conditioning), ONO (or nearest offer) and VGC (very good condition).

Finally, remember that attempts to infuse an ad with comedy, or the inclusion of clichés such as ‘first to see will buy’, might undermine the sincerity of even the most genuine seller.

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