How to Get Money for Your Old Car

Jacob Ode

Your car has been your faithful companion for many years, but it’s finally time for an upgrade.

Don’t assume that your old friend is worthless. Even a beat-up 1998 minivan with 175,000 miles has some value for its parts.

Consider these four tactics to get money for your soon-to-be-ex car. It’ll make cruising away in a sweet new ride even sweeter.

Sell It To a Dealership

If you’re looking for the path of least resistance, you may want to sell your vehicle directly to a dealership. You may not get as much money this way, but you avoid spending time and energy to find and vet a buyer independently.

First, do some research on the dealerships in your area to find dealers willing to purchase your old car even if you don’t buy a new one from them. By separating your car sale from a new car purchase, you give yourself the freedom to walk away if you’re unhappy with the offer price.

CarMax is a great option if you have one in your area. They advertise that they’ll purchase any car in any condition and it’s been proven they do (we speak from personal experience!).

Sell it Yourself Online

Ebay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace make it easier than ever to sell your vehicle independently. But be savvy in your approach. These tips are key in attracting as many potential buyers as possible:

Give your car some TLC. Clean its interior and exterior to remove stains, dirt, tears, scratches, and dents. Since all prospective buyers will see a picture of your car’s exterior first, splurge for a coat of wax and tire shine to make it camera-ready. If you’re willing to lay out the extra cash, take it to a detailer for a professional job. This will cost you about $100-$200, but could add more than $500 to resale value.

Photograph everything. Buyers want the reassurance of seeing your entire vehicle before contacting you to consider a purchase. Take plenty of pictures to show the condition of your car from every exterior and interior angle. Listings with only two or three pictures tend to receive fewer responses. And make the photos as professional-looking as possible: clear and well-centered.

Choose a Fair Price. You won’t have any luck asking $10,000 for your 2005 Honda Civic, so use a tool like Kelley Blue Book to determine your vehicle’s real worth. It’s also helpful to find similar vehicles listed on Craigslist or to make sure your list price is within reason. Consider adding $200 to your final price to account for buyers who want to haggle.

Write a detailed listing paragraph. Think of yourself as the real estate agent for your car. Write a comprehensive description that draws attention to your vehicle’s best features. Provide the VIN number so prospective buyers can run a Carfax report and confirm the details you give of your car’s history.

Trade It In

If you don’t need cold hard cash for your car, considering trading it in for a new vehicle. The trade value is deducted from your new car price and may help you avoid an out-of-pocket downpayment. Make sure you research your vehicle’s trade-in value on Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds so that a dealer can’t take advantage of your ignorance. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, either! Dealerships want your business and may be willing to accept your counteroffer or meet you half-way. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Donate It

Habitat for Humanity, Good Will, Make-A-Wish, Kars4Kids, and other non-profit organizations accept donated cars. Though this doesn’t give you cash in your pocket, it does give you a tax deduction (the amount depends on what the charity sells the car for, or what use it puts the vehicle to). It’s probably not going to be a ton of money, but it’s often simpler than selling. Just make sure you pick a legitimate charity that has a track record of using donated cars to help the community and that will supply you with all the documentation you’ll need for the IRS.

Read about micro-investing and how to get started with our complete guide: Micro-Investing: What It Is, Why It’s for You and How to Start.