How to get the best sale price for your car

Man taking photo of a red car

Tianna Nadalin

Posted March 05, 2021

Nine expert tips for getting the best price for your car when selling online.

With demand for second-hand cars soaring, there’s never been a better time to put your wheels on the market. But just because hot rods are hotter than ever right now, it doesn’t make navigating the sale process any easier. From how to write a killer car listing to how to take the best photos of your horseless carriage, these expert tips will help you get the best price when selling your car online. 

Nine expert tips to help you get the best sale price for your car

Do your research

Price is one of the biggest factors when it comes to selling your car. List it too high and you risk driving away potential buyers, list it too low and you might be cheating yourself out of cash. Do your research and know what your car is worth before you even think of listing it online.

“Do a quick search and see the range of prices for models with your specs,” says technical editor Ken Gratton. “Then work out where your car sits and what you think is a genuinely fair price.”

Ken says online tools such as RedBook, which is owned by CarSales, can help you get a better idea of where your car sits among the pack. But remember the information it provides is generally calculated on averages, and doesn’t take into account the nuances that may add value to your car, such as low kilometres on the clock, so set your price allowing a little wriggle room for negotiation.

Get it sale-ready

While it might seem like an unwelcome upfront cost, getting a roadworthy certificate, and making sure your servicing and registration are up to date, can go a long way towards helping you get the sale price you want. “From a buyer’s point of view, if there’s any inconvenience involved, they will be more inclined to shy away from your car,” Ken says. 

Give it a clean

Even if your car has been impeccably maintained or has slightly lower mileage than others listed in your price bracket, when it comes to selling, you want to present your wheels as well as possible. And that means making sure everything is scrupulously clean. 

As well as the obvious things like washing and vacuuming, wiping over all the surfaces, cleaning the wheels with a toothbrush and even steam cleaning the engine can help make your car look in tip-top shape. And, if your vehicle is older than 10 years, Ken says having it professionally detailed could add extra dollars to the sale price. “If it comes up looking so good that you’re starting to wonder why you’re selling it, then mission accomplished.” For expert tips, check out our guide to detailing your car like a pro.

Remove personal items 

As well as cleaning your car, it’s worth considering if any personal items are adding or potentially detracting from its value. “If you’ve got an American car from the ’50s, fluffy dice hanging from the mirror might be a hook,” Ken says. “But a Toyota Yaris with Pokemon figures on the dashboard could be jarring.” 

If you’re selling a relatively mundane car, you don’t want too many distractions, so remove any personal objects and keep the glovebox clear of clutter, except for relevant receipts, manuals and logbooks.

Get the money shot

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to get great shots of your vehicle. The key is to take the right photos and, if you’re using a smartphone, to always photograph in landscape format.

“Most cars have reflective surfaces, so you want to photograph them against a background that’s not too high contrast,” Ken says. “This is because your phone or camera will average out exposure across the entire photo, so if you’ve got a white car against a dark wall, all the detail will be burned out. But sometimes those sculpture lines help sell a car.”

He recommends taking the car out of the driveway and finding a pleasant but relatively bland background, as you want the car to be the focus of the photo. As well as shots of the front and back of the car, don’t forget to include snaps of the boot, interiors, engine bay and any little details. “The more photos the better,” Ken says. “Video is really helpful, too.” 

Having your car professionally detailed can add $$ to the sale price.
If your car has any issues or damage, be honest about it in the listing.

Write your own listing

Writing a catchy listing is very important. “Safety is always pretty high on the list of priorities for buyers,” Ken says. “The latest gadget everyone loves is AEB [autonomous emergency braking]. It has gotten to the stage now that if your car doesn’t have AEB it is going to be harder to sell.”

Listing your car’s comfort features will also make it more attractive to buyers and, if you have any non-standard fittings, they’re worth mentioning too. “If you have a factory-fitted sunroof, for example, you might not get more money for your car, but it might help get someone over the line,” says Ken.

If you’re not good with words, ask someone who is to help you.

Be upfront about any damage 

While you want to paint your car in the best possible light, it is important to be honest in how you present your ad. If your car has a damaged panel and you make no mention of it, then a prospective buyer might use the fact that they weren’t aware of that to negotiate the price down. The same goes for accident history. If your car has been involved in an accident, it can affect a buyer’s chances of getting finance approved.

Ken suggests going one step further and downloading a history report that you can give to interested parties. “This will give buyers a full rundown of the car’s history, and if it’s been written off at any stage, and can provide peace of mind.”

To test drive or not to test drive 

When you have prospective buyers come to test drive your car, you need to exercise caution. Ask the buyer to leave something of value – such as their driver’s licence or the keys to their car. 

Always speak to your insurer first to find out if you’re covered if the car is stolen or the driver gets into an accident, bearing in mind the age and experience of the buyer will affect your excess if there is a prang. 

Be prepared to negotiate

Many buyers expect to be able to haggle a little on price, but how much you’re willing to negotiate depends on your personal situation. If you’re in a hurry to sell you might have limited options, but if you’re in no rush it might pay to be patient. You don’t have to take the first offer.