Top 20 Mistakes When Selling Your Car

top sell my car mistakes

When you decide that it’s time to sell your current car, for whatever reason, you want the process to go as smoothly and quickly as possible, even if you’re not pressed for time. We’ve seen so many people make the same kinds of mistakes over and over again that keep them from achieving their goal, whether it’s to get the most money possible for their car or to simply unload it as fast as possible. Here are the top 20 mistakes when selling your car that can easily be avoided by taking a few simple steps and precautions:

Mistake #1: Not Knowing Your Car’s Value

not knowing your car value

It’s impossible to figure out what price to put on your car without first knowing what your car is worth. Figuring this out isn’t rocket science, but it does take a little leg-work if you want to make sure your pricing is in line with what’s happening in the local market. This is not a place to cut corners in terms of time and effort as the results of this process are the foundation upon which you’ll build your pricing strategy. For the full story on how to determine your car’s value, read our article, Driveo’s Common Sense Method for Vehicle Valuation: Finding Your Used Car Value.

Mistake #2: Spending Too Much on Repairs


If you’ve ever seen those house rehab programs where someone spends a relatively small amount of money that makes a big difference on the home’s value, you might be tempted to do a significant amount of repair work on your care before selling it. Unfortunately, car repairs don’t work the same way as home improvements. Making big repairs to your car will allow you to ask for a slightly higher price, but it will never even come close to covering what you spent on the repairs. This is one instance where it’s better to just make sure the buyer knows about any issues and leave it at that. You can even get a written estimate from a trusted mechanic on needed repair work so that can be considered in negotiations with a potential buyer.

Mistake #3: Being Less Than Honest About the Car’s Condition

condition honesty

It’s always best to be totally honest about your car’s condition to prospective buyers. If you’re selling privately, an unhappy buyer could end up suing if they think you were trying to hide something wrong with the vehicle.

Mistake #4: Pretending There are Other Great Offers

playing pricing games

Avoid trying to make it seem like there are lots of other great offers on your car if there isn’t. Most people can see through this fairly easily and it just ends up creating ill-will and negative vibes for the whole interaction, and could cost you a good deal if you hadn’t tried to enhance the reality of the situation.

Mistake #5: Taking the First Offer that Comes in

first offer

If you’re anxious about getting rid of your car, it’s tempting to just accept the first offer that comes in and breathe a sigh of relief, even if it’s for less money than you were hoping to get for your vehicle. But don’t be so quick just for the sake of expediency. Have a little patience and field a few more inquiries to see if someone is willing to pay closer to what you want to get.

Mistake #6: Failing to Clean it Up

clean up

Prospective buyers want to see that you’ve taken good car of your car, and one sure sign they will notice right away is whether or not the car is nice and clean. Your options here include doing as thorough a cleanup as you can yourself (kind of a DIY detailing job), or go ahead and pay for a professional detailing since the visual impact of a super-clean car does make a big difference to potential buyers. For more information on doing a thorough DIY cleaning, see our article How to Get More Money for Your Car in 5 Easy Steps and scroll down to the DIY Detailing section.

Mistake #7: Settling for a Bad Trade-In Offer

trading in

There’s a trade-off between selling your car privately on your own versus trading it in at a dealership or selling it to a third-party car-buying service. Dealership give you the least amount of money for it but make it incredibly easy and fast. Selling privately on your own will usually get you more money (though it’s not guaranteed), but comes with a lot more leg-work, hassles, stress and headaches to do it right. How do you decide which method to use for selling your car? Read our article, Trading Your Car VS Selling Yourself to choose the method that’s right for you. You should also read How to Get More for Your Trade at a Dealership.

Mistake #8: Not Considering the Sales Tax Issue

sales tax

One advantage of trading in your current car to a dealership for credit towards your next car could be significant savings in sales tax. If you buy a brand-new car, you have to pay sales tax on the whole thing, but if you have a car to trade in towards it, you’ll only pay sales tax on the difference between your trade-in value and the new car price. If you have a trade-in worth $10,000 and are buying a $25,000 car, you’ll only pay sales tax on the $15,000 difference. Sometimes the sales tax advantage is relatively small and not enough to make sway you one way or another, but it’s worth considering.

Mistake #9: Missing Out on Free Advertising

free advertising

When it’s time to sell your car, you want to take advantage of multiple ways of advertising the vehicle, some of which you’ll have to pay for, but many of which are free. Leaving the car parked in a place where lots of people will see it with a “for sale” sign on it is great if you don’t need to drive it. Advertising on Craigslist is free, but comes with its own set of challenges (see our article, What to Expect When You Sell Your Car on Craigslist). Other free options can include some used car publications, bulletin boards at work, community bulletin boards in local establishments, and word of mouth just by letting friends and neighbors know it’s available. The more ways you can get the word out, the better.

Mistake #10: Writing a Bad Description

poor description

A compelling description of your car for ads is more than just a list of its features. First cover the basics – year, year, make, model, mileage, transmission type, body style/category, trim package (if it makes a difference in value) and the VIN. Then go into the vehicle’s condition (remember to be honest), mention any recent work that has been done, and finally explain why you’re selling the car. Highlight the kinds of things that seemed important to you when you first bought it yourself.

Mistake #11: Poor Quality or Not Enough Photos

bad photos

Visit a good car dealership website and look at the series of photos they present for each of their vehicles – you want to do just as good a job with your photos. If you can’t do it well yourself, enlist the help of a friend who is camera-savvy because these photos are important! You need to capture all the right angles both inside and out, the trunk, the tires – everything! As a great example of how to do this, visit the inventory page of Auto City, a used car dealership in San Diego, choose a car and look at the 24 photos the post for each vehicle. Use that as a model for the photos you take of your car.

Mistake #12: Not Being Prepared to Show It Off

being prepared

As soon as you post advertisements that your car is for sale, you should be ready to start showing it. You may be surprised at how quickly you get inquiries and how soon some people who are serious want to take a look at the car in person. If you’re not ready to start showing it, you could easily miss out on a quick sale at a great price.

Mistake #13: Mishandling the Paperwork


There are two important forms that need to be filled out properly when selling a vehicle privately on your own, including the Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form REG 262 and Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability. The problem here is that even when you’ve done all the right paperwork on your end, the new owner also has to complete their own paperwork, and if they don’t, you can be held liable for all kinds of things that happen with the car after you’ve given it to the buyer, including parking tickets or property damage from accidents. Meet the buyer at the DMV to make sure they complete their end of the paperwork. For more information on making sure you handle the paperwork correctly, read our previous article 6 Steps to Limit Risk When Selling Your Car Privately. If you sell or trade your vehicle at a dealership or car-buying service, you won’t have to worry about any of the paperwork as most will handle all of that for you.

Mistake #14: Bad Pricing Strategy

pricing mistakes

If you price your car too high at the outset, you might limit the number of potential buyers who would otherwise have been interested. If you price your car too low, then you’re needlessly leaving cash on the table that you should be putting in your pocket. Those are the obvious mistakes people make in their pricing strategy. For more information on getting your prce strategy right, read our article How to Value Your Car and Come Up with a Selling Price.

Mistake #15: Incomplete Service/Maintenance Records

service records

Nothing gives potential buyers peace of mind like seeing a full set of records showing the maintenance and repair history of your car. If you’re good about keeping records like that, then this will be easy. If you’re not, then you might have to get in touch with the different places you’ve taken your car and ask them to print records for you. This may seem like a pain in the neck, but it’s totally worth it.

Mistake #16: Failing to Screen Inquiries

failure to screen buyers

If you advertise your car for sale online, you may be surprised at the sheer volume of inquiries you get. The problem is that a pretty high percentage of them will be from people who aren’t even serious but just want to see if they can get a steal. You’ll save yourself a lot time and hassle if you know how to screen inquiries and qualify potential buyers. Learn how to do this by reading our article, How to Qualify Prospective Buyers When Selling Your Car.

Mistake #17: Meeting Up with Potential Buyers in Unsecure Places

meeting strangers

When you get to the point that it’s time to start letting people see your car in person, you want to do this as safely as possible. Never let strangers come to your house to look at the car. Always meet in a public place that has surveillance cameras, like the parking lot of a busy retail store. This may seem overly cautious, but it’s really just common-sense safety precautions – and there have been some unfortunate attacks on people just trying to sell their car. This is one situation where it is definitely better to be safe than sorry.

Mistake #18: Mishandling the Test Drive Appointment

test drive mistakes

The test-drive appointment with potential buyers is another meet-up situation that needs to be handled just right, not only in terms of safety but also in how you manage the process from start to finish in ways that will help you make all the right impressions with the potential buyer and increase the likelihood of a sale. Read our article, The Failsafe Test Drive Appointment: Our 5-Step Plan for Selling Your Car Fast.

Mistake #20: Giving Out Personal Information

mishandling personal information

You shouldn’t be sharing your phone number or personal email address with anyone who is responding to your advertisements. On Craigslist you want to use the anonymous contact channel you’re given rather than your real email address. Eventually, if it looks like this might be your buyer, you can share your cell phone number with them.

Mistake #20: Getting Scammed on the Payment

getting scammed

The last thing you have to watch out for is people who want your car but don’t want to actually pay for it. Whether it’s a personal check that bounces or a cashier’s check that turns out to be fake or cash that turns out to be counterfeit, there are all kinds of ways that bad people can get you to give them your car without ever intending to pay you for it. Once again, however, there are some precautions you can take to make sure this never happens to you. Find out more in our article, Safe Ways to Accept Payment When Selling Your Car.

These top 20 mistakes when selling your car are the most common ways that people derail their own best efforts. But if you can avoid these mistakes by following the advice contained in the other articles we’ve pointed to, you should be just fine. However, the easiest way to avoid all these mistakes is to sell your car to Diveo. You might not get quite as much you could in a private sale, but you’ll get significantly more than you would on a trade-in offer at a dealership. And it’s every bit as convenient and quick as it would be at any other dealership. We handle all the paperwork for you and you get to walk away with a check in hand and a ride to wherever you need to go in San Diego County. You’ll love how easy it is to cruise in and cash out with Driveo. Visit our website now to get a fast online quote that’s good for 30 days, which gives you time to try and find a better deal – but we know you won’t do better than Driveo’s offer!