How to Sell a Car at a Dealership

How to Sell a Car at a Dealership

Selling a car privately can be time-consuming and difficult. Instead, learning how to sell a car at a dealership can be beneficial, not least of all because the process can be much more streamlined. In order to make the process of selling a car to a dealership easier, consider the following tips to help try to maximize your value.

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Can you sell a car to a dealership?

If you’re looking to offload your vehicle, the idea of selling a car at a dealership might not have crossed your mind. But car owners can sell to a dealership, and in many cases, a trade-in isn’t even necessary. You might be able to close the deal quickly and get cash upfront.

Not only does this benefit the seller, but the dealership gains a better mix of vehicle makes and models with varying mileage—something for everyone.

How to sell cars at a dealership

You need to first consider the dealerships in your area that will take a used vehicle. Normally, manufacturer-specific franchises won’t purchase a vehicle if there’s no trade-in, unless they trust the customer and know them well.

However, many dealerships readily accept used vehicles, as long as they’re in working order. Search for more generic used-car dealerships such as CarMax or AutoNation USA to start the process. Once you’ve found a location that’s suitable to sell your car, make sure you follow these steps before bringing it in:

Know the vehicle’s value

The main goal of this process is to get maximum value for your car. However, it’s important to remember that the dealership will see your vehicle through a lens of their own maximum profit.

Researching the value of your vehicle before approaching the dealership will help you keep realistic expectations and arm you with information that will help you negotiate the sale. Note it’s unlikely that you’ll receive the full value of your vehicle that you encounter in your research. However, just having an idea puts you in a stronger position than going in blind.

Make sure all paperwork is in order

The best way to try and ensure a smooth sale is to make sure all of the vehicle’s paperwork is in order and accounted for. Keep the car’s title and registration papers, insurance, and service statements in the vehicle’s glove box for future reference. If the vehicle has been in an accident, you should have proof of the repairs.

Get an inspection

To avoid surprises, take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic for a full inspection before approaching a dealership. The car should run well and have all its safety features in place. A dealership is not going to purchase a used vehicle that will cost them more to fix than it did to purchase from the seller, nor will the dealer give the seller the amount they hope for if the vehicle needs repairs.

Examine the tires

One of the most important features on a used car is its set of tires. This is especially true of vehicles being sold in states where winter tires are necessary. Before you sell your car, make sure you either purchase new tires beforehand or ensure the tread is still acceptable and safe for all road conditions.

A mechanic can help take a look at your tires for wear and tear to try and ensure they are safe. And in states where it snows often, having a backup set of winter tires available for the vehicle will only increase the chances of a sale. You might even increase the sale price to include the tires if they are in good condition and have a few winters left of use.

Get the car detailed

No one wants to purchase something that’s dirty and not well-maintained. A full detail of your vehicle before you sell is one of the keys to getting top dollar. Consider bringing the car to a professional detailer, which will clean the interior and exterior of the vehicle. Remove all personal belongings, make sure the glove box only has the appropriate paperwork and clean out the center console as well.

Fix any exterior damage

A dealership doesn’t want to invest more money into the car than the selling price, and that means they won’t want to fix exterior damage. Look closely at your car for scratches, dents and missing bits. If any are present, make sure they’re fixed before you try and sell your car to a dealership. Otherwise, you may be looking at a lower sale price—after all, you probably wouldn’t pay full price for a damaged vehicle, either.

Research dealership inventory

Used-car dealerships often have specific inventory tailored to their locations. For example, a dealership located in a rural farming area may have more pickup trucks, whereas a central city-based dealership may have more hatchbacks and smaller vehicles. Research their inventory and see if your car is a good fit before you approach them.

Shop around

If it was a private sale, there could be several buyers interested in the vehicle. The same can be said of selling a car to a dealership. Shop around and visit a few dealers to have the car appraised. Visiting subsequent dealers with offers already in hand can help improve your leverage.

Speak to the right person

There’s nothing worse than dealing with someone who doesn’t have the authority to make the final decision and then having to re-pitch the entire sale to the person who does. Once at the dealership, ask to speak with the person in charge of purchasing used cars. This may be the used car manager or a variation of that title. The salesperson at the front of the store might not be the one to make the decision to purchase the vehicle.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate

The dealer will want to flip the vehicle for a profit, so they have an incentive to offer you less than the car may be worth in a private sale. But if your car is in pristine condition and runs well, the dealer should entertain your asking price. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and make the case for why you believe it’s worth more.

Pros and cons of selling a car to a dealer

As the seller, you have some control over the final price you’d like to receive for the vehicle—and you should remember that throughout the selling process. Weigh the following pros and cons before deciding how to sell your vehicle.

Pros of selling a car to a dealership

You don’t have to worry about advertising. Selling a car privately often requires marketing the vehicle and listing it on websites and in classified ads. But a sale to a dealer is direct. With one phone call, you can determine whether the sale is worth exploring.

You can probably sell it faster. Dealers are accustomed to buying used cars and have the systems and procedures in place to do so regularly. Whereas a private sale might take weeks to find the right buyer and get the paperwork in order, a dealer may be able to close the sale and pay in full within a day.

Fewer paperwork headaches. Again, dealerships do this for a living and know what’s required to complete the transaction. As long as you have everything on your end, the dealer will be able to handle the rest.

You’ll have cash in hand sooner rather than later. As a business, a dealership is likely prepared to cut you a check—or hand you actual cash—as soon as a deal is struck. A private buyer, however, may have to secure a loan or transfer money, which can extend the process significantly.

Cons of selling a car to a dealership

You might not get the full asking price. Not only are dealers aware of their advantages (such as speed and convenience), they’re also trying to make a profit off of your vehicle. Barring any market peculiarities (e.g., a particular make and model suddenly surging in popularity), it rarely makes sense for a dealer to offer you the full value of your car.

You’ll need to prepare the car for the sale. A dealership is unlikely to buy a vehicle without proof that it’s in full working order, as any repairs will cut into their profits. Getting inspections, installing new tires and tying up any other loose ends means you have work to do before you ever approach a dealer.

You may see your car for sale at a higher price than you received. Again, dealerships are businesses trying to earn profits. Even if you understand this going into the sale, it’s human nature to recoil a bit when you see the higher asking price. If you did your research and were firm in your negotiations it’s unlikely you got cheated, but it can still sting.

You’re at the mercy of the market. Several factors determine which used cars a dealership chooses to purchase. If all the dealerships in your area are affiliated with manufacturers, making a sale will be tough if your vehicle doesn’t fit within their brands. And even if it does, a glut of similar cars on the lot may make them less eager to add another. A private sale, on the other hand, is just a matter of matching your car with the right buyer.


If you’ve ever wondered if you can sell a car at a dealership, the answer is almost certainly yes. However, there is a process and steps that need to be followed when doing so.

When it’s time to sell your car, ensure your vehicle is well-maintained, in working order, you have all the necessary paperwork and you’ve researched several dealerships in your area. These steps can help get you maximum value for your car—and save time and energy instead of trying to sell the vehicle privately.

About Bumper

At Bumper, we are on a mission to bring vehicle history reports and ownership up to speed with modern times. A vehicle is one of the most expensive purchases you'll likely make, and you deserve to have access to the same tools and information the pros use to make the right decisions.

About Miranda Lightstone

Miranda has worked as an in-house automotive editor and writer for publications such as (where she was head of the Car Channel), as well as She’s hosted video car reviews for Auto123.TV and and The Suburban On Air Driving. She has contributed to the Montreal Gazette, RDK Magazine, and The Suburban.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.