Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A salesman is shown speaking to a couple about their vehicle's trade in value.

The Different Ways to Sell Your Vehicle

With supply chain issues and low inventory continuing to take their toll on the auto industry, there’s never been a better time to sell your vehicle or value your trade. It’s a seller’s market, and drivers looking to take advantage have plenty of ways to unload their unwanted vehicles. While selling a car doesn’t necessarily require the same level of research as the buying end of the process, there are a few key factors to consider before heading to the dealership or sticking that For Sale sign in the window.

As with all sales, the first step is figuring out the fair market value of whatever it is that you’re selling. Pinpointing your vehicle’s current value will not only allow you to recoup the maximum return on your investment but also ensure an easy sale that’ll quickly put the cash in your pocket to finance your next ride. Then, once you have a price range in mind, it’s time to figure out how you are going to sell your car.

Drivers have a number of options when it comes to parting their vehicles, from trade-ins and private sales to instant cash offers and even charitable donations. Each approach has its own advantages and disadvantages, whether it comes down to speed, maximizing profit, or getting a tax write-off. Let’s take a close look at different types of vehicle sales to see which will net you the best return on your investment of time and energy, and the best price for your vehicle. We are going to provide some examples so you can see how the different selling avenues can affect price, but these are only a guide and not reflective of what you will probably actually see, as values can dramatically fluctuate based on a variety of factors, so keep that in mind.

Dealership Trade-In

For most drivers, a dealership trade-in is the most convenient way to divest yourself of your old vehicle. Simply drive in, answer a few questions, let the finance rep take a look at your car, and you’ll receive an offer that can either be paid out in cash or used as a trade-in to finance the purchase of your next vehicle. As we said, this method tends to yield a lower return than a private sale but is a logical choice for those looking to get rid of their old vehicle and find a new one in one fell swoop. There can also be some tax benefits to trading in your vehicle, as many states allow sellers to only pay the sales tax on the difference between the value of the trade-in and the price of the newer vehicle. Of course, that’s not always the deal it’s cracked up to be, with some critics suggesting that the trade-in approach can actually net a higher price for a new vehicle, but more on that later.

Not ready to buy a new vehicle just yet? Many dealerships also allow the value of a trade-in to be put towards a leasing agreement, reducing the monthly payment and allowing drivers to enjoy all the perks of a new vehicle without the long-term commitment. If neither of those options works for you, then just take the cash offer and head out.

Value Example: A 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited with 120,000 miles and standard equipment in Good condition could fetch between $11,290 and $13,433 on the trade-in market, according to Kelley Blue Book.

A person is shown handing a car key to a driver.

Private Sale

For those willing to do a little more leg work, a private sale can often net a higher return. Not only will the starting price be higher as the buyer, unlike a dealership, isn’t trying to make a profit by selling the vehicle to another driver, but private buyers can also be easier to negotiate with. Dealerships always have the bottom line in mind and might give their salespeople little latitude when it comes to trade-in offers, but virtually any arrangement can be worked out on the private market.

That’s not to say that it’s easy, however. Private sales involve a lot of effort on the part of the seller, who has to research fair market values, take photos, make listings, and then field endless responses from buyers, tire-kickers, and everyone in between. Sellers looking for some quick cash or drivers who desperately need to finance a new vehicle might not have the time to go through this whole process, which can involve days or weeks of missed calls, test drives, and awkward encounters with strangers. So, while you might gain a little more money in the sale, you do lose time.

Value Example: The 2013 Toyota RAV4 we mentioned above could have a value of between $11,987 and $14,262 in a private party sale, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Instant Cash Offer

Instant cash offers have become an increasingly popular way of selling your vehicle for drivers looking to make the process as quick as possible. Essentially an express version of the dealership trade-in, instant cash offers can usually be completed directly through websites like Kelley Blue Book, CarMax, TrueCar, and the like. Sellers simply fill out the same information they’d supply when determining their trade-in value, answer a few additional questions about the vehicle’s condition, supply some photos, and the website then gives you an instant cash offer that can be redeemed within three days at a participating local dealership.

The dealership will perform a quick inspection to make sure that you were accurate in your details (for example, you didn’t say your vehicle was in Excellent condition when it is actually Good), and they will honor the offer given to you. If something seems off, they will adjust the offer accordingly, giving you all of the reasons why it was changed. Like dealership trade-ins, instant cash offer prices tend to be lower than what a vehicle might garner on the open market, but it’s all about convenience.

Value Example: The 2013 Toyota RAV4 netted us an offer of $12,690 through Kelley Blue Book’s Instant Cash Offer program.

A person is shown filling out paperwork for their vehicle.

Charitable Donation

While far from the most profitable method available, charitable vehicle donations can be a great way to reduce your tax liability at the end of the year. There are plenty of organizations out there that are more than happy to take your old vehicle off your hands for you, with many offering free vehicle pick-up. Once handed over to the charity, the vehicle will typically be sold at auction, with the proceeds bringing in anywhere between $300 and $3,500 on average. The charity will note the sale price and send you a handy IRS form 1098-C, which can be used to deduct the sale price from your annual income taxes, with the proceeds of the sale going to support the charity itself. It’s a win-win for drivers looking to get rid of their vehicles in a hurry while simultaneously making tax season a little less painful.

If you want to make sure your donation is going to have the greatest impact, do a little research on the various car donation charities using tools like As is often the case when it comes to charities, some do a great job of passing on donations to those in need, while others allow a vast portion of the funds to be tied up in administrative costs. As a general rule, stick to those charities that ensure at least 70 percent of donations are used to pursue the organization’s charitable aims.

Value Example: If the 2013 Toyota RAV4 sold for $12,000 at auction, a seller could apply that $12,000 to their annual income taxes as a tax-deductible donation.

Other Ways to Sell

There are a few other ways you can get rid of your current vehicle. You can always gift it to a family member or friend (though make sure you look up laws in your state about that, as sometimes it’s easier to “sell” it, legally speaking, rather than “gift” it). If your vehicle isn’t in the best shape, you can sell it to your local mechanic or scrap yard or go through the effort of selling the valuable parts yourself. These will probably not be the most profitable way to get rid of your car, but they can still be great options to consider.

Effort vs Price: Which Way Is Best for You

Selling your car is a matter of time and effort vs the potential profit. If you’re not seeking a quick buck, consider the private market, where values are often higher, but be prepared for a slower, more work-intensive process. If you want to get rid of your vehicle for a reasonable price quickly, trading in to a dealership or getting an instant cash offer may be the best way to go. If you want to do something nice, you can use your car as a charitable donation or sell it to a close friend. If your car isn’t in the best shape, sell it to a mechanic or junkyard, or sell the good parts yourself for a little extra cash. There is no “right” way to sell a car; it’s all a matter of personal preference.