By on June 13, 2011

Mark writes:

We will be buying a new car soon and that will leave us with an extra one. My experience selling a car myself makes me think we don’t really have the motivation to do it ourselves this time around.

The car is located in CT and is a White 2007 Hyundai Sonata SE with ~73k miles on it.  The only option is the Sunroof.  For whatever reason the side mirrors seem to attract having the outer housing broken, they are still functional but the housing rattles. I’ve replaced one, unpainted grey, and will be replacing the other shortly.  There are no other issues with the car as I can tell.  The emissions test is due next month, so I’ll have to have that done.

I need your advice on the easiest way to sell used car. Thanks.

Sajeev answers:

That’s pretty cut and dry: trade it at the dealership where you buy your new ride. Depending on your region’s tax code, the trade lets you avoid capital gains taxes when your car turns into a pile of cash. My only concern is when would-be buyers mention their trade in during the negotiation. And never discuss monthly payments: focus on the purchase price of the vehicle first. Which leads me to another point.

Consider getting an “offer letter” from another dealer, especially the big-box chains like Carmax. It’s a good number to fall back on after negotiating a sale price. If the selling dealer offers you almost nothing for your trade, it means they want to get some money back after making you a smokin’ deal on your new car.

At the end of the day, this quandary comes down to the level of convenience versus the amount of cash in hand.   From your interest level and description of the Hyundai, my guess is that trading in the vehicle as-is, with no reconditioning is the best way to save money on taxes, repairs and save a ton of headaches.

Best and Brightest: share your stories for and against my position. That’s how we all learn!

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28 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Sonata’s Ideal Coda?...”

  • avatar

    I’ve private sold a couple of cars. Ran ads via Craig’s List however what I sold were hoopties basically; not a rather nice ’07 Sonata with reasonable miles on the clock and a warranty still attached.

    If you’re going to private sell I think you’re hitting the right points (getting emissions cert done pre-sale) and selling the car for the most part as it is. I would recommend giving it a massive cleaning; inside and out, trunk and engine bay. You could spend a couple of hundred at a detail shop or DIY in a long afternoon.

    I found a place where I could park my car where it was visible on a very busy street near my home, and where the parking lot owner doesn’t seem to care (parked with some other hoopties). I would leave it overnight only on Saturday and then take it home on the weekend. I sold both of them by “drive ups” at the lot. Craig’s List resulted in a fair number of calls – but a lot of no shows and flakes.

    One last thing, if you do go Craig’s List I would buy a disposable cell phone for taking calls and toss the thing (or better yet donate it to a domestic violence program) when you’re done. You don’t want some guy calling you up seven months later saying how the oil pan just fell out and it was your fault.

    Additionally there are consignment lots; but they make take 20% or more of the transaction price. Basically they are the agent selling your car, the 20% covers SG&A and a commission for doing the work.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the disposable phone is a bit extreme, or I have dealt with unusually sound minded people.

      For craigslist buyers, meet in person on your schedule. In person deals weed out the flakes and when you schedule something, expect that no one will show up. I usually have a 10% take rate on meetings.
      Also, everyone on craigslist is expecting a deal. List it a little above what you really want for it. I have never received asking price on craigslist. I usually put a 10-15% mark up on it and I always get more than what I thought it was worth. You can sell a man your garbage on craigslist.

      • 0 avatar

        +1 on the disposable phone being a bit much… Sounds like Holden’s had a previous negative experience, in which case I could understand it. +2 on how to list the car and what to expect from your leads. Though I would also list it on AutoTrader and other dedicated Automotive resale sites, as these listings are usually free for non-dealer car ads as well, and attract an audience that’s focused on just one thing–getting a deal on a used car.

        Another option would be to ask a local trusted dealer to consign the car for you, with a pre-determined amount going to the dealer upon sale, say $500-$1,000 as a selling fee. Your car is new enough that the dealer can also make a few bucks on aftermarket products and financing if the next buyer opts for them. They also have a lot more foot traffic than you would get in your driveway or “visible spot”.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        Yeah there are much better ways to get disposable numbers than a disposable cell phone, a google voice account comes to mind.

  • avatar

    In South Carolina, I sold (and purchased) vehicles via craigslist. When the question of capital gains arose during the title transfer, the clerk would see ‘Even Trade’ in the dollar amount. When asked the value of the vehicle, I would reply, “2 chickens and 1 hereford.” I’d pay about 50 bucks in taxes. I Loved SC.

  • avatar

    Here in Ontario. You need an “E test $35, a proper safety check, done by a licenced facility $100..?, and a vehicle history book from the transportation ministry..$20.

    So providing the vehicle needs nothing you got $150 + on the table,before you even start. Kijiji or Craig list maybe? Auto, your looking at $50 and up for an ad.

    In Ontario you pay HST tax on the difference price, 13 percent. So if the dealer offers you a thousand, you knock another $130 of your bottom line.

    I keep my vehicles in pristine condition. I keep them detailed,and I’m anal with my maintaince. All documented. I usually have a list of people that want to buy my car/trucks. I’ve sold a few privatly,and have traded a few of them in.

    IMHO…When you consider all the agravation, selling private, just isn’t worth the B.S .

    A little piece of advice, for what it worth. DON’T sell it to a friend or relative. No matter how good a car its been to you, for sure it will F.U. within a month of you selling it to your buddy/cousin.

    Good luck.

    • 0 avatar

      “A little piece of advice, for what it worth. DON’T sell it to a friend or relative. No matter how good a car its been to you, for sure it will F.U. within a month of you selling it to your buddy/cousin.”

      Surely, this can not be true in the case of a GM car?


      • 0 avatar

        @kixStart…. Yes indeed,GM cars do break. As do Hondas and Toyotas and pretty much any car. Of course if your mechanicaly challenged Brother in law runs the brake pads steel to steel. Oh yeah, then never lubes the front end of a babied 76 Parisienne. Right,then two years later he gets a huge repair bill. And figures,you sold him a POS.

        Okay…enough said.

    • 0 avatar

      What you’re saying is not always the case when selling to friends as I bought my truck from my best friend and his father, it’s been 5 years and I STILL drive it daily and it’s been as reliable as it can be for a truck that now has 234K miles on it.

      Only 2 things went wrong and it had more to do with mileage and wear than anything else. The master clutch cylinder in 2006 and the slave clutch cylinder decided to leak in 2009, otherwise, it’s been the usual consumable items and a new exhaust and a thermostat.

  • avatar

    I don’t see how a private seller can have tax issues. Chances are he bought this car for about twice what he’ll sell it for, so he’d have a capital loss to show if anything. There aren’t many gains to be made buying retail and selling wholesale. If you have a good relationship with the new car dealer, negotiate the value of both vehicles and then have him reduce both by $5,000 so you’ll save big on sales taxes. I’m a cash buyer though, so I guess people financing have fewer options with stated values.

    • 0 avatar

      Right, it’s the sales tax.

      Of course, if you get $1K less for your vehicle by trade vs private sale and save only $500 on taxes…

      As to negotiating the price of both vehicles to reduce tax… I don’t know if the reported price goes back to the finance company or insurance company. If so, that could affect a loan application and/or insurance payouts if the car is totalled.

    • 0 avatar

      “Capital Gains” is probably the wrong term. In know that in PA, you get to deduct the trade in value from the purchase price of the new vehicle for purposes of calculating the sales tax (i.e. you are taxed on a lower number).

      Personally, I avoid playing shenanigans with purchase prices in private sales in order to avoid or reduce sales tax. As a buyer, you shouldn’t agree to do this if the seller offers to. Here’s why: you go to buy a $5500 car from someone. They suggest that you declare agreed price as $3000 to save you $175 in sales tax. In some states (like PA), if the value is below a certain level, you have to provide a valid reason to the notary. So then you say “the car has transmission problems” or something else. You now have a car for which you’ve officially paid $3000. If you’ve been duped about the quality of the vehicle or anything goes awry with the deal, there is no record (most likely) of that extra $2500 in the transaction. Don’t leave yourself in that position just to save a few bucks.

      To the main topic, I’ve always been able to get book value out of my cars at private sale, at the cost of a few weeks. My last car was offered $3000 in trade at the dealer. Book was $5000, which is what I got for it on private sale about five weeks later. I’d say that $2000 was worth the time. I even got $500 for an out-of-inspection, not-worth-fixing, offered-$250-for-scrap-mobile by private selling.

      Also, when I posted the ad for the car on craigslist, I made sure to do great car photography (magic hour, very low angle) and used image links in the ad instead of their inline image stuff. It really stood out.

  • avatar

    In CT, you don’t pay sales tax on the value of your trade, so CarMax or a private buyer would have to pay 6% more than the dealer for him to break even. I agree getting a CarMax number first is the way to go, and most times it is a reality check as to the real value of your car.

    As for negotiating, yes, negotiate the price not the payment, BUT, know what that price is going to turn out to be payment-wise first so you knwo yuo can afford it. I couldn’t tell you how many people negotiate a price with me, then tell me the payment is too much. Yes! That’s why I ask you what payment range you are looking for!! So we look at a car in your budget.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d go a step further and recommend taking your Sonata to a Korean-make new car dealer that might be able to retail it off their lot – I got rid of my basketcase 2009 Elantra Touring wagon this way (and the dealer that took it, a new Korean car dealer in Wallingford, not only cut a check on the spot on a Sunday afternoon but also came in $1000 higher than CarMax).

      • 0 avatar

        What!….a “basket case 2009 Sonata”?…Say its not so. The Koreans solved all thier quality issues a decade ago.

        I thought they were building that elusive “perfect car”.

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    Ask a friend to sell it for you and pay him/her an agreed-to percentage of the selling price.

  • avatar

    1. Always sell your car privately
    2. Be patient
    3. Use craigslist

    The trade-in process is a scam and you’ll never get close to what the car is actually worth. The key is to be patient, having the time and flexibility to hold off on the new car until you sell the old one.

    I just sold – this weekend – our Ford Taurus X via craigslist. I inquired on trade-in values at a couple of dealers to see what the market was. We sold the Taurus for $3000 more than the highest trade-in offer. It took 3 months because we only got 3 calls on it, but we were patient and that third call was the charm.

    In the past 5+ years I’ve sold six cars, all via craigslist. Other sites like and autotrader were useless and not worth the money. My three cents.

  • avatar

    Personally when I have sold motorcycles or cars I always sell it a whole lot quicker on cycletrader or autotrader without putting up with all the losers , lowballers , flakes , and dreamers on craigslist . Craigslist is fine for selling something fairly cheap like a used tv , but not so much for vehicles when you get emails or calls from idiots wanting to trade some POS they’re trying to unload or ridiculous offers for thousands less . Spend some money on an autotrader ad , you’ll sell it quicker and not have to put up with the craigslist clowns .

  • avatar

    +1,000 on Craiglist. Just posted my 2006 Fusion Thursday, and will close a deal this week on it. Key for me was doing a ton of research on what to ask for the car to make it: a) appealing enough to a potential buyer and b) worth it for me to do so. I took the average of averages from Kelley, NADA and Edmunds, based it not on “excellent” because I felt it was too hard to justify a perfect car when it has 114,000 miles on it. Make sure there are no glaring issues (which wasn’t a problem for me…pretty fanatical about maintenance) and be honest (yes, my car was in an accident a few years back…showed the documents that backed it up). Finally, I made the sure the car was clean (I used to detail cars while in college, but if the seller doesn’t have the time or inclination, spending the $$$ for a good detailing is worth it). Meet any prospective buyer in a well established public area. Oh, and my Bill of Sale always has verbage regarding “AS IS” with no warranty expressed or implied…get it notarized once signed.

    So…price it right, keep it maintained (records help), keep it clean!

    Good luck! Selling on your own isn’t the huge PITA that it appears to be, and in most cases, you’ll do far, far better financially doing so than by trading it. For my efforts of detailing it, posting it and responding (quickly) to inquiries, I easily sold it for $2000 more than I was going to be offered at trade-in time!

  • avatar

    I’ve done the CarMax thing before to avoid the predictable low-ball offer from the dealer. It worked out fine for me. Now could I have gotten more selling privately? Sure but I don’t have the time for all that mess. Also as others mentioned due to the taxes the true difference becomes very little in the end.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Some states let you avoid sales taxes on the portion of the new vehicle purchase price which is paid for by the trade-in, others do not. From personal experience I can say that California does not and New Jersey does.

    By far my easiest used car sales have been when I put the word out to family and friends as to what I’m selling. Other than that, you can go the Craigslist or eBay route, but that isn’t terribly easy or fun.

    Personally I either sell to someone I know, or trade it in.

  • avatar

    I think the best way to approach this is simple – don’t be in a hurry to get a new car. Figure out what you want, negotiate the price and let the dealer make you an offer on your trade-in. Take into account the sales tax impact, and price your used car. Advertise it. If it sells within a reasonable amount of time, great! You just made out. If not, trade the sucker in – you are no worse off other than a little elbow grease and time.

    In my case, I had a 2008 Saab 9-3 Combi. I’m buying a 2011 328i Touring. I negotiated a very good price on the BMW, but the dealer was not really interested in taking the Saab in trade and seriously low-balled me (can’t really blame them). I sold the Saab privately for $6000 more than that trade-in offer. I probably spent 6hrs on cleaning and negotiating with interested parties, so I call that ~$1K an hour. Tax impact was probably $600 extra paid on the BMW, so I guess it was only $850/hr. . An extreme example, but I think on anything late model you would be hard pressed to NOT come out $2-3K better on the deal selling it yourself. It is a seller’s market right now for 2-3yo still under warranty cars.

    And as others have pointed out – keep records, and keep the car up, and presentation matters when selling privately. That afternoon of elbow grease cleaning the car will pay off!

    Bottom line is the dealer is going to get you one way or the other – if you get an amazing amount for the trade-in you paid too much for the new car. If you get a great deal on the new one, you got screwed on the trade.

  • avatar

    I’ve had good luck selling cars at busy corners. Some corners are “known” places it’s okay to place your car with a for sale sign, normally A non-full strip mall that’s still in a decent neighborhood. Another possibility as at a friend’s house that lives on a very busy road.

  • avatar

    I agree that selling to someone you know almost always comes back to haunt you.

    Same goes for going into business with family or friends.

    Another way to unload a car with issues could be through an auction. It seems like the auction here in GR, people pay way too much for cars that have issues, even visible ones in photos, not to mention comments in the listing like “runs bad” “leaks oil” missing _____. That way you never have to deal with weirdos, though the auction takes their cut.

    To me, my time is worth that much.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      I have two cars in the hands of friends I sold them to and they both are still thrilled with them. Then again, I own a family business which two other family members work in and we are all getting along quite well. Maybe I’m just lucky.

  • avatar

    Can’t believe nobody’s mentioned this, but paint the mirror caps (or have them painted) before getting an appraisal or trying to sell it yourself. You can probably buy white automotive paint in a spray can that will do an okay job (and it doesn’t have to be an exact match on the mirrors like it would on a fender); if not, I don’t think a body shop would charge that much to spray the mirror covers.

  • avatar


    The advice to hide the trade and to never discuss monthly payments is obsolete. The salesperson will ask about a trade early on, and you’ll be forced to either lie or obfuscate which will tell the salesperson plenty. People have been giving that advice for many, many years now, and dealerships are fully prepared to get the most out of customers following that now old, and tired advice.

    You do more of a disservice by suggesting to start with the price of the new car as if that will keep someone from getting hosed in a dealership. If you can’t follow a deal working from any and all angles, you should not be buying from a dealership, but rather hire a service to buy the car for you.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    I sold my former Outback on Craigslist.

    The buyer and I met at the local Washington auto licensing branch after he test drove the car a couple days before and we agreed on a price. He gave me cash, I counted it, and signed the title over to him and gave him the keys. Then my wife drove me to the bank and I deposited the cash. The whole procedure of selling the car took less than an hour (even with the wait at the auto licensing office). Extremely easy.

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