5 Mistakes to Avoid When Selling a Used Car to a Dealership

Even in a transaction with a trusted dealer, it pays to protect your interests.

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Selling a used car to a dealer can be easier than the alternative of selling to a private party. Dealers have the buying process streamlined, meaning you'll likely receive a problem-free payment if you work with the professionals. That said, there are still some potential hitches of which to be aware. Here are five mistakes people have made when selling to a dealership—avoiding these pitfalls can help the selling process go smoothly.

Mistake 1: Offering a Dirty Car

The first step to selling a used car should be a thorough cleaning.

Dealers determine the value of your car based on several parameters, including the bodywork's condition. Dirt and road grime can hide imperfections, making it difficult to judge the state of the paintwork for an accurate valuation. Running through a car wash is an easy way to display gleaming paint and smooth body lines.

Likewise, it's a good idea to clear your car of clutter, in addition to wiping down the interior surfaces and vacuuming the carpets. It's also wise to apply stain remover to heavily soiled areas. Time invested in cleaning could help lead to a higher valuation.

Mistake 2: Performing Expensive Repairs

A solid maintenance history will generally boost a used car's value. But if you go overboard on costly repairs—like replacing the brakes—right before selling, you might not recoup all of that money, especially if the repair is something the dealership can fix on its own.

Mistake 3: Starting at an Off-Brand Dealership

A good place to begin when selling a used car is a dealership that sells the same marque new. Those dealers likely have an established customer base for the kind of vehicle you're selling and will probably be more interested than a dealership that specializes in other brands. In other words, consider making the Kia dealer your first stop if you have a Kia.

On-brand dealers also have the advantage of a service department familiar with the car you want to sell. Mechanical issues might not lower your sales quote as much as they would at another dealership because they could be fixable in-house.

Mistake 4: Failing to Negotiate and Seek Competing Offers

Don't be afraid to make a counteroffer. Negotiation can be an important part of the car business, and the dealer's first offer may not be its best. Think about firing back with a number you believe is fair—and be prepared to walk away if the deal isn't right.

Also consider getting offers from more than one dealer. Shopping around could help you get the maximum value for your car, and you might also be able to use competing quotes as leverage to negotiate a higher price. If you prefer to stay at home, online sites like Carvana and Carmax are an option as well.

Mistake 5: Not Understanding the Tax Benefits

This common mistake often applies to used-car sellers who are also purchasing a new vehicle from a dealer, otherwise known as a trade-in arrangement. There are sometimes tax advantages to such agreements, and it can be worth investigating the process.

In some states, the value of a used-car trade-in arrangement will reduce the tax bill of the new car purchase by a corresponding amount. For example, if the tax rate is 7% and you purchase a $35,000 new car then trade in a vehicle worth $10,000, you might only be taxed on $25,000. With the 7% percent tax rate, this equals a $700 savings versus selling your car outside of a bundled deal.

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Drew Johnson
I have been a professional automotive enthusiast since 2007, featured on several nationally-recognized sites. I attended Miami University, where I earned a business degree. Car nut at heart.