How to Sell a Car with an ICO

It’s 2022 and never in the modern history of motoring has a used car had a stronger value in the market. You can sell it yourself to a private party, trade it in, donate it, or pass it along to a family member. For once, the ball is in your court.

New to the world of selling your car is the instant cash offer (ICO). Think of an ICO as a sort of advertisement from a car dealership to you. They are reaching out, using the internet, to let you know that they want to buy your car.

Most of us stumble across an ICO before we realize we may want one. Almost every online valuation site, such as KBB and Edmunds, will show you an ICO when you start plugging in your info to see what your car is worth as a trade-in or as a used car you sell yourself.

After you are done inputting all of your info, an offer to buy your car pops up. It’s not a scam or a trick, but it is also not an offer to buy your car no questions asked. Most ICOs come with a few strings attached. Take a look at the ones from Edmunds or KBB and you will find that both are really referral services. They send your information to a local dealership or to a list of dealers who will buy your car “pending an inspection.” If, during the inspection, the dealer can find anything wrong with your used car they will reduce the offer somewhat. And let’s face it, you wouldn’t be selling the car if it was perfect.

Some dealers may well honor the cash offer you receive. If so, and if that price is satisfactory to you, you now have a great starting point from which to try to sell your car towards a trade-in, or you can take the money and run.

Pros and Cons of Sell Your Car Online

  • Quick and easy way to find out the low end of what your car might be worth
  • An excellent starting point for selling your car
  • Matches you with participating dealers, if you decide to sell
  • You are not really selling it online. You will have to visit a dealer to use an ICO
  • Likely to be the lowest offer you can find

ICOs How Do They Work

Let’s take a peek behind the scenes at how Edmunds says its instant cash offer program works for dealers. The following is from an Edmunds press release targeted to dealers, who pay Edmunds to gather up ICO deals for them.

  • Step One - Customers use the Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer tool online.
  • Step Two - KBB’s software tool generates an offer for the customer's vehicle.
  • Step Three - The call center initiates communication with the customer (typically within two minutes) and continues to work on the dealer's behalf through a precisely determined cadence of phone calls, text messages, and emails to schedule the appointment.
  • Step Four - The customer comes into the dealership for their appointment to finish the transaction, and the dealer decides what to do with the vehicle.
  • Step Five - The dealer receives detailed follow-up reporting that showcases the KBB Contact Center program results.

While many ICO programs require that you bring the vehicle to the dealer for an inspection, some do not. For example, and both handle the process without you needing to change out of your PJs. They skip the inspection part and send a tow truck to fetch your car after you’ve completed the online sale.

Other instant cash offers are a bit more old-school. If you have a service appointment relationship with a local dealer, they will send you mailings that offer to buy your car. These are similar to the online offers. They already know the facts on your car since you've brought it to them in the past. The dealer you purchased the vehicle from also keeps track of the car throughout its lifespan so they can also solicit you to sell it back to them. Either or both may share that data with marketing companies to solicit you to sell your car via an ICO.

Paperwork You Need to Sell Your Car

Using an instant cash offer is easy. Once you have a deal you are happy with you can start to pull together the paperwork you will need. Don’t try to figure this out on your own. The ICO company will tell you what you need.

Expect to need a title if you own the vehicle without a loan. Your state’s department of motor vehicles should have sent you one when you paid for the vehicle. If you lost it, they can help you get a copy. Each state handles the process a bit differently, so follow your ICO company’s lead, but they can’t do it all for you.

If you have a loan, it is worth speaking to your lender and letting them know you are selling the vehicle. They can provide you with the loan payoff amount and explain the process to you. Your ICO company can also help here. In most cases, vehicle loans are secured loans. That means the lender is the actual owner until they release the vehicle title. You can’t sell the car and keep the loan.

If you have a folder with service records the ICO company may ask for it. If so, purge it of your personal information like date of birth, social security numbers, home address and home phone. If your folder has your original purchase agreement, you should separate that from the service records.

Once your sale is complete, you have a few more things to square away. You will be canceling your registration if you sell the car without buying a new one from the same company. Your DMV can explain how to do that on its website. Your plates will also be turned in or recycled.

If you have satellite radio, On Star, or other vehicle-related subscriptions, you will cancel them. You should also speak to your insurance provider to let them know what you’ve done. If you sold your car and didn’t buy a new one, they will cancel your policy and you may be due a refund if you paid in advance. If you have an extended warranty on the car, make sure you look into canceling this as well.

Note that an online dealer won’t be able to help much with this, but at least you can do it at home in your PJs.

Getting the Car Ready to Sell

ICOs are unique among the ways to sell your car. You don’t have to impress the buyer, because they reached out to you. They will ask you detailed questions to know what they need to know about your car. You need not have it professionally cleaned or prepared in any way. If you are honest when you fill in the ICO questionnaire, you are pretty much done.

Since you start with a price before the buyer sees the car, doing maintenance or replacing tires doesn’t make much sense. If your ICO requires an inspection, wait until they see the car to decide if it needs any repairs, maintenance or tire replacements.

Negotiating The Price: Setting a Price for Your Car

Negotiating the price of an ICO is different than with most types of sales. Rather than ask for more money after the offer is already made, the best way to “negotiate” an ICO is to properly answer every question asked.

Among the things you will be asked are the year, make, model, trim and color. Get the trim right. Look back to your purchase paperwork if you are not sure what trim the car is. It may also say it on the rear bumper (SE, Touring, Signature, whatever). You will be asked the mileage (be honest). And most importantly, you will be asked what condition the car is in. Options may include Excellent, Good, Average, Poor, Run Away. If your car is average or better, choose that or the option just above it. These ratings are subjective. Just remember, if you stretch the truth too far, your ICO deal may change after the company sees it or inspects it. You might also be asked for your VIN up front. This way, they can know exactly what car they are buying and what shape it should be in.

You are also going to be asked what options your car has. There will be a long list. Do not skip past this section. Check off every box applicable. It may be as silly as checking off “AM/FM Radio.” Things like moonroofs, power seats, CD players, Bluetooth, and other features may be listed. Be certain every option you have is checked off. This is your best chance to boost the cash offer’s price.

Some ICO applications ask you for more detailed information about the car’s condition. We just ran one for a “fully-depreciated” 2005 Toyota Prius. The ICO app asked how many interior and exterior parts had minor damage. It asks about tires and if they need to be replaced. You should be honest but also lean your own way here.

If you are getting serious about accepting an ICO, step back a bit. Why not go online and spend 20 minutes filling out five or six ICO applications from various ICO providers? You have nothing to lose. You can also check out some local listings for cars of your style and condition to get a reality check on the value. Just be aware that the prices you see are sell prices, not buy prices.

The Pickup: How the Buyer Will Get Your Car

One great thing about selling a car to certain online retailers is they will send a truck to take away your car. Many donation companies also help out this way. Among the online retailers who will come for your car if they buy it are Vroom, Carvio, Carvana, and However, CarMax may not pick up your car. Most local dealers offering ICOs also don’t come to get your car. In fact, you will likely need to bring it to them in order to have it inspected before an offer is confirmed.

How to Sell a Leased Car

If you wish to sell your leased car, you should first speak to your leasing company. Normally, lease agreements are difficult to exit early without a financial penalty. However, with the inventory shortage now in full effect, and prices for used (leased) cars now much higher than expected, you may well be able to exit a lease early.

Getting Payment

Never let your car leave your presence without having collected payment for it. Online retailers offer either online payments or a check when they pick up the car. If you bring it to be dropped off after completing a deal, you should be given a check when you sign the title transfer or bill of sale.


What does ICO mean when selling a car?

ICO stands for Instant Cash Offer. It is a way for those who deal in cars to entice you into selling your car to them.

Are Instant Cash Offers Legit?

Many, if not most are legitimate, but there are some rules and some fine print to be aware of. Most ICOs are contingent on an inspection of the vehicle and verification of its facts and figures, like mileage and condition.

How do I know if an ICO is a good deal?

You can cross-shop an ICO by calling local dealers for offers, using KBB or Edmunds ICOs, or contacting any online retailer.

How can I find out what my car is worth?

Edmunds, KBB, and many online retailers have car valuation tools that make it quick and easy to find out what your car is worth. Note that the way you opt to sell the car can change its value quite a bit. Trade-in values are lower than private party sales.

Can I sell my car using an ICO if I have a loan?

Yes, but first you need to speak with your lender. They can help you understand the steps needed to transfer ownership to the new buyer, whether it be with an ICO, trade-in, or private party sale.

Editor's note and disclaimer: Car Talk is supported by our fans, readers and listeners. When you click on some of the links on our website, we may receive referral compensation. However, you should know that the recommendations we make are based on our independent editorial review and analyses.