Sell Your Car: How to Get 20% More

Last Updated Apr 13, 2010 9:10 AM EDT

Although you don't need the marketing genius of the Mad Men to sell your car, if you prep and pitch it to prospective buyers yourself, rather than trading it in at a dealer, you can put up to 20% more money in your pocket. That's $2,000 on a not-very-ancient $10,000 used car, and who couldn't use a couple grand right about now?

For example, a good-condition 2007 Honda Accord LX with 36,000 miles is worth $10,925 as a trade-in but could fetch $12,870 in a private sale, according to Kelley Blue Book's used car valuation.

Now is actually an excellent time to sell a car. "Demand is up and supply is still down," says Mark Scott of AutoTrader , the largest online advertising site for cars. (See Used Car Prices Up: Best Bets for Your Money.) With new car sales down last year and early this year, the used car supply fell since fewer people traded in or sold their old cars after buying a new one.

To get the most from a buyer, follow these steps:

Know your car's value. Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds.com and AutoTrader have free online valuation tools that let you do this by noting the equipment, condition, and mileage of your vehicle. (Don't kid yourself about condition; almost no used car is better than "good;" an "excellent" condition usually applies to almost-new used cars sold by dealers). Also, check the prices in classified ads for similar cars.

Make the buyer feel like a winner. Set your asking price 5% to 10% above the amount you'll actually accept. Then, negotiate in small steps and let the buyer drive off thinking he got a deal paying less than the asking price.

Base your price on how soon you want to sell. If you can wait to get top dollar, match local advertised prices. But "if you need to move it, set the price for $9,500 when similar models are all selling for $10,000," advises Scott.

Clean it up. If you don't have the time or interest to do a meticulous cleaning yourself, get your car detailed by a pro for $150 or so if the car is worth enough to justify that expense.

Fix it up. Be sure to get any minor, obvious defect fixed, such as turn lights that don't work.

Advertise online and in supermarket pennysavers. An online ad at AutoTrader costs for $35.99 for three weeks and includes one photo. Also, put an ad in your local shopper and list the car for free on Craig's List.

Write an alluring ad. Sound enthusiastic and give the facts -- make, model, mileage, condition-- without over-hyping. Say something like "runs great" (if that's true) and note any special features, like a premium sound system or sun roof. If you are the first owner, say so. Buyers like that.

Reassure would-be buyers. Show them records of oil changes and maintenance as evidence that you've kept the car up. If you recently splurged on an upgrade, like new tires, brag about it in your ad and pull out the receipt in person. If you are selling a car with recent recall notices like the Toyota Corolla, prove you had the problem fixed. For any used car, get a vehicle history report from a service such as Carfax (cost:$35), listing all previous owners (if any) and guaranteeing that the auto hasn't been totaled in an accident or flooded.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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