For many people selling their current vehicle can be as stressful and time consuming as buying or leasing a new car. The traditional options are to either sell it yourself or to trade it in at the dealership when you get your new car.

Both of these options have trade-offs. Selling the car yourself should net a higher amount, but requires significantly more work and potentially dealing with strangers and a large sum of cash. Trading it in at the dealership requires less work, but can yield a lower dollar amount.

Alternatively, there are third-party services, like that offered by Cartelligent, that split the difference between these options and help you get more money for your trade-in without the stress and time of selling it yourself.

We’ll look in depth at each of the steps involved in selling your vehicle using each of these methods and help you weigh the pros and cons of each. We’ll also provide some tips on whichever route you decide to choose.

Before listing the vehicle

We’re often asked how much work you should put into a vehicle before you sell it or trade it in. Below we’ve outlined our recommendations (depending on how you intend to sell the vehicle). We recommend putting the most effort into the car if you plan to sell it yourself. If you decide to trade it in at the dealer, it can be beneficial to opt for a professional detail and any small improvements that will help increase the value you receive.

Research the value

The first step, no matter which method you choose, is to spend some time researching the vehicle’s value so that you know what to expect and can weigh the potential gain of investing additional funds in repairs prior to sale. Websites like and can help you estimate the value range for your make and model. It can also be a good idea to look at similar vehicles online to get a sense for the local market value. Be aware that the asking price is often higher than the actual price the car will sell for. Typically you can expect the following:

Dealership Sell Yourself
Amount Received Lower value Higher value

It’s worth noting that the valuation from the dealership can sometimes be artificially inflated by adding additional costs to the new vehicle. If you opt for this route we highly recommend keep the transactions separate as we’ll discuss below.


Next, you should locate the following paperwork in advance of selling the vehicle:

Dealership Sell Yourself
Loan or Lease Payoff Bring most recent statement/bill Pay balance in full prior to sale
Vehicle Title Bring title if available Find or request from DMV prior to sale
Vehicle Registration Bring most recent copy. If expired you will need to pay outstanding late fees/penalties Bring most recent copy. If expired you will need to pay next year’s registration plus outstanding late fees/penalties
Service Records / Owner’s Manual Bring if available Find if available
Smog Inspection n/a Vehicle must be smog-inspected
Vehicle History Report n/a Request through CarFax
Bill of Sale n/a Request from DMV

If you plan to go through a dealership or sell the vehicle on your own, we strongly recommend a thorough detailing to make the car look more attractive and add perceived value. Potential buyers will perceive a clean car as a well-maintained car and assume the rest of the vehicle is also in top condition. Additionally you may want to consider repairing minor cosmetic damage such as:

Dealership Sell Yourself
Exterior detail n/a Professional detail
Interior detail n/a Professional detail
Minor dings/bodywork n/a Repair
Windshield cracks n/a Repair
Minor scratches and paint n/a Repair
Scratched wheels n/a Repair
Missing hubcaps n/a Replace
Burned-out bulbs n/a Replace
Major damage Get professional estimate Get professional estimate

It can be a good idea to get an estimate on the cost of more extensive damage or needed repairs and then decide if the potential resale value of these will offset their upfront costs.


A mechanical check-up can let you know if there are any issues with the vehicle and get you an estimate as to what it will cost to repair them. We recommend that the following are taken care of:

Dealership Sell Yourself
Windshield wipers n/a Replace
Worn tires n/a Replace
Warning lights Get professional estimate Repair underlying causes
Noises Get professional estimate Repair underlying causes
Safety issues Get professional estimate Repair underlying causes
Mechanical Check-up Get professional evaluation Get professional evaluation

If you plan to sell the vehicle yourself, you should ensure that the vehicle is safe to be driven by the new owner. If you are going to trade it in at the dealership, it’s worthwhile to have a mechanic look at it first so that you are aware of exactly what problems the vehicle has before you trade it in.

When you’re ready to sell the vehicle

In addition to our recommendations above on preparing the vehicle for sale, we’ve put together some things to consider when you’re ready to make the sale.

Selling the vehicle yourself

If you decide to sell the vehicle on your own, we recommend the following:

  • Ad Copy: Be as honest as possible in the body of your ad but use words that will be compelling to potential buyers and make them want to see the vehicle in person. Avoid abbreviations, first-person references to the vehicle and short-hand that may come across as unprofessional and detract from the perceived value.
  • Photos: Take high-quality photos of the vehicle that will show it to its best advantage in your ad. Low quality camera phone photos can make the vehicle look less appealing to potential buyers.
  • Online Ads: If you decide to list the vehicle online, we recommend you:
    • Consider using a disposable cell phone rather than providing your personal number
    • Find a public, well-lit place for test-drives and the financial exchange
    • Call your insurance to make sure the test drives will be fully covered by your policy
    • Request a cashier’s check or cash for the final payment

You’ll need to get the vehicle smogged and pay off any balance due before you can sell the vehicle. Once the sale has been finalized, you will want to inform the DMV that you are no longer financially or legally responsible for the vehicle. You can fill out a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form once the sale is complete – it’s important to follow up in a few weeks to ensure that this went through.

Trading the vehicle in at the dealership

If you opt to trade the vehicle in at the dealership, our advice is as follows:

  • Shop the trade-in at more than one dealership so that you have full information about what the vehicle is worth.
  • Make sure the trade-in transaction is completely separate from the new car transaction. Knowing what a fair value is for each can help you make sure you get a good price on each element of the transaction.
  • Be prepared to walk away on one or both parts of the deal.

No matter how you decide to trade-in your vehicle, you should remember to remove the vehicle from your insurance policy and your FastTrak account so that you’re not liable for any additional fees or damages.

Cartelligent Trade-In Service

Alternatively, Cartelligent can manage the entire trade-in process and give you a great value for your vehicle. Our Trade-In Service is included at no additional charge as part of our Premium package. It is also available as a stand-alone service for $295.

Because we take the time to research in-depth the market for your vehicle and keep the transaction separate from your new car purchase, we can get you a higher value for your vehicle than a dealership typically offers. We’ll give you a fair valuation of the vehicle’s worth without the added hassle of getting it detailed and repaired in advance of the sale.

If you would like to take advantage of this service, all you will need to do is give us some basic information about the vehicle (using our simple online interface), bring the paperwork with you when you drop off the vehicle and we’ll take care of everything.

We make trading-in your new vehicle as simple and enjoyable as buying a new car with us. To learn more, call us at 888-427-4270 or get started today.