Tips for selling a used car.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 1993

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have sold cars and motorcycles by putting ads in the newspaper and dickering with whomever called. Though I would have trouble selling ice water in the Sahara, I wasn't worried because only a few hundred dollars was involved in each case. But now I'm considering selling my 1987 Honda Prelude. Now we're talking several thousand dollars! Because I hate to sell and I'm not very good at it, what do you suggest I do?

RAY: Well, whenever my brother sells a used car, he wears a mask. Of course, that's not only to hide his identity, but also so he won't scare potential buyers.

TOM: What you really have to do is some research, Marvin. If you have a realistic idea of what the car is worth, you can confidently insist on a fair price for it.

RAY: And there are several ways to find out what it's worth. There's a publication called the National Auto Dealers Association (N.A.D.A.) Used Car Guide, which is only available by subscription for $43 a year (1-800-544-6232) But all banks and car dealers have them, and will usually tell you the value of your car if you ask.

TOM: There should be two numbers. One is the "trade-in value;" the price a used car dealer (a guy wearing a plaid suit, white belt, and white shoes) would pay for the car. The other is retail, what a used car dealer (see above) would SELL the car for. Your price should be somewhere in between.

RAY: If your car looks like my brother's --with pizza boxes stuck to the carpet, mushrooms growing out of the back seat, big holes in the roof--then your price would be closer to trade-in. If it needs major repairs (a mechanic can check it out for you) it would also sell for a lower price. On the other hand, if it's in superb condition, and has very low miles, you might even ask a little MORE than retail for it.

TOM: If you can't get the N.A.D.A. values for your car, check your bookstore for a booklet published by Edmunds that estimates the values of used cars.

RAY: But don't stop there. Look in the newspaper to see what similar cars are selling for. Compare the model year, mileage, condition, and extra features. Get a sense of where your car fits in. Call a few dealers and ask what it would cost if you wanted to BUY the car you're trying to sell ("Hey, what would I have to pay for an '87 Prelude with mushrooms growing out of the back seat?"). Once you've collected all of this information, you should be able to make a fairly good estimate of what your car is worth.

TOM: Then set a price a few hundred bucks MORE than what you've decided the car is really worth, and put an ad in the paper. Leave a little room for the buyer to talk you down, but have a number in your mind below which you will not go...and stick to it.

RAY: Even though being "talked down" may reinforce your self image as a negotiating pansy, Marvin, it's important to let a buyer "chisel you" a little when selling a used car. That way, when the car breaks down on his way home, at least he can say "well, thank goodness I didn't pay full price for it." Good luck.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter