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Getting the Most for Your Used Car

There are always variations to the rules about pricing, so you should follow your intuition when setting a price. And be sure to leave a little room in your asking price. Your beginning price should be higher than the price for which you really want to sell the car. In other words, if you want to actually get $12,000 for the car, you might start at about $12,500. That way, if you get $12,500 -- great! But if you have to go lower, you won't take a terrible loss.

You may have noticed how creative used car dealers get in assigning a price. Their prices usually seem to end in the number 995, as in: $12,995. Are we not supposed to notice that the car basically costs $13,000? There is a lot of psychology in setting prices. A product that doesn't sell well at $21.00 might jump off the shelf at $19.95.

On the other hand, if you are a private party, you don't want to look like a dealer. Therefore, you might want to take a simple approach and set your price at a round figure such as $12,750 or $12,500.

Defining Your Vehicle’s Condition

Once you have an idea of the general price range for your kind of vehicle, you can zero in on a price by honestly evaluating your vehicle.

Make a list of the optional equipment ordered on your vehicle, such as automatic transmission, air conditioning and any accessories you’ve added, such as running boards on a truck or a sunroof. Desirable extras add value to your vehicle. (Go to Options: Vehicles Made to Order to see how much particular upgrades add to your car’s resale value.)

Honestly evaluate your vehicle’s condition. Is it in poor, fair, good or excellent condition? Obviously, the better the vehicle condition, the faster it will sell and for the highest price. Kelley Blue Book provides the following definitions of conditions that are generally used in the industry:


The vehicle looks great, is in excellent mechanical condition and needs no reconditioning.
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The vehicle is free of any major defects. The paint, body and interior have only minor blemishes, and there are no major mechanical problems. It will need some reconditioning to be sold at retail. The majority of recent consumer-owned cars fall into this category.
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The vehicle has some mechanical or cosmetic defects but is still in safe running condition. The interior or exterior needs work by a professional in order to be sold.
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The vehicle has severe mechanical and/or cosmetic defects and may be in questionable running condition. Problems cannot be readily fixed, and the title may not be clean.
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In addition to the vehicle’s condition, other mitigating factors may affect the price of your vehicle.

The time of year you sell your vehicle has an impact. Used-car sales are seasonal depending on where you live. In the northern and western parts of the United States, fewer used vehicles are sold in the winter months of December through March than during spring or summer. In fall and spring, used vehicles are at their highest levels at dealerships. You might do well if you try to sell your vehicle during the off-season when you have less competition. Of course, the trade-off in the north is that there may be fewer buyers in winter, and used cars show more poorly in the cold and slush of winter.

On occasion, you will notice a glut of a particular kind of vehicle. For instance, a few years ago when Ford and Honda were in a December race for the title of best-selling car in America for the Taurus and Accord, respectively, some very attractive lease deals were offered. A couple years later when those vehicles went off lease, there was a glut, which depressed prices. You will easily recognize such a glut if you drive around town and check out the lots of new- and used-car dealerships, or by perusing newspaper advertisements.