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How to sell your car

A Top Gear guide to minting money for more cars legitimately

Published: 16 Feb 2023

Buying a car is the second biggest purchase after buying a house - famously the world’s biggest headache after migraines. Ergo, when it comes to selling your car, it can be pretty intimidating first time. You’re looking to shift your motor for a minimum effort and maximum return. Fortunately, technology enables myriad options. But firstly, there’s some stuff you have to prep.

What do I need to do when I’m selling my car in the UK?


You can only sell a car you own, or have permission to sell. Your car’s V5C document has the section you complete once you’ve sold the car to transfer the car’s title to the new owner. 

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With this in mind, if you’re selling a car that you’ve financed, which still has a balance remaining, you have to clear the balance before you sell the vehicle. Prepare to be challenged by potential buyers if you’re selling for someone else.

The registered keeper of the car, identified on the V5C, isn’t necessarily the owner of the car, but the registered keeper is responsible for taxing and maintaining the vehicle - and will be the initial recipient of any fixed penalty notices until authorities are otherwise notified.

Clean your car

Let’s level here: if you took one look at a wrapper-laden cabin with multiple pairs of muddy trainers kicking around the footwell, last week’s milkshake developing into a science experiment in the cupholder, and a musty smell you can’t quite place reeking the place out, you’re offering to buy for a basket-bottom price, if you’re offering anything at all.

Just clean it, already. Or pay someone to do it for you.

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Service the car

Cars (over three years) tend to fetch a better price with a longer MOT and a full service history (FSH) - basically, demonstrable proof that you’ve given more than two monkeys about the state of your motor. In the likely event during test drives you can’t play hardcore metal over the mystery clacking sound coming from the back, get any niggles looked at by someone who knows what they’re doing. 

Calculate if it’s worth getting the work done i.e. you’ll get back more than you’ll pay to fix it. If it’s not worth your effort, manage your expectations around price.

Set the price

Speaking of which, figuring out the best price when you’re selling your car requires a bit of detective work and honesty about how quickly you want a sale. You can wait it out for top dollar or do a deal to shift it fast. Waiting too long might eat into top features like 'long MOT' though, so it's a fine balance.

Look at listings for your model; same year; same spec. Compare pricing to give yourself a ball park figure then factor in the following:

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Mileage affects the price of your resale. The average annual car mileage is just over 5,000 now, down around 24 per cent from pre-pandemic levels. This is almost half the perceived annual average mileage of drivers in the UK, around 10,000.

Based on how old your car is, you can gauge the average mileage buyers will be expecting and whether you can feature ‘low mileage’ on your ad. Every 1,000 miles over the average roughly counts for a one per cent reduction in asking price.

The condition of the car also determines how much you can ask for. Damage will affect the price negatively. Private sellers usually do so ‘sold as seen’.

Dealing with a car labelled Cat S/N/C/D? These are vehicles involved in an accident and written off by an insurance company, at least on paper. Essentially, the repair to make it roadworthy isn’t as cost-effective as just compensating the owner. Third-party garages and dealers buy these for a tiny price, knowing they can do the repair work cheaply and turn a decent profit. 

If you have any damage on your car, or know of historical damage, you ought to declare all you know about the car to potential buyers, answering any questions they ask honestly.

Write the ad

Wherever you're selling, you want to write your car ad to capture a buyer’s attention, give them all the info they need and entice them to come and take a test drive.

Thus, state the obvious credentials of the car - make, model, trim, engine size, transmission, mileage. Then list any gadgets or optional extras.

Unlike your dating profile, take good photos that bear an indisputable likeness to the vehicle you're selling. Front, back, right, left, inside, outside, boot, engine bay... and any of the damage you've cited. Whittle the potential buyers down to those that really are interested once they know everything... er, just like your dating profile should be. 

What is the best way to sell a car in the UK?

Consider part-exchange to sell your car

One way to understand how much you want for your car is to understand what your next car is going to cost you. Part-exchange (part-ex) is easy; drive yourself to a dealership, pick a car, ask what price you’d get for your motor to offset against new motor, try to haggle. Effort Level 2.

Pointers: Clean your car, see above (shift to Effort Level 4).

Pitfalls: The dealer doesn’t have the best price. The trade-off for the easiest trade is that the price ain’t great.

Call a corporate buyer

The emergence and increasing popularity of companies that buy cars is doubtless based on the success of their radio and TV ad campaigns. Not only will these businesses take your car off your hands without hassle, they'll also give an indication of the value of your car (so perhaps worth a call whether you use them or not). Some will offer the convenience of collecting the car, too. Effort level 1.

Pointers: Declare all the issues with your car accurately. Anecdotal evidence suggest the buying price quoted is often negotiated down upon collection/delivery of the car when the reality of the car's condition can be assessed in the flesh.

Pitfalls: Naturally, these companies lowball prices, just like the dealers. The cars get sold back to the traders, so they're also looking for their cut.

Definitely sell your car privately

Offline, old-school

Ask the nice people at your local post office* to pop your ad in the window. You can also consider listing your car in the ‘Classifieds’ section of your local newspaper. (*local shop, newsagents, etc). Effort Level 3.... and a long wait, potentially.

Pointers: No one will buy your car if they can't read your scrawl on the ad. Borrow your neighbour's printer or write really carefully. 

Pitfalls: Village dwellers are gonna struggle with the numbers game. Might need to cast the net wider.

Online, best way 

You've got a large choice of online car-selling platforms these days. Selling privately generally tends to give you the best price - mainly because you get to keep all the money after you've paid to list the ad. Effort Level 5, but you get out what you put in.

Pointers: Some platforms are cheap to list on, even free, others are expensive. It doesn't always mean 'you get what you pay for'. You have to take a punt and choose more than one. Up your price a little, so you give yourself room to negotiate down. 

Pitfalls: Security can be an issue so take the buyer's details (full name, contact details) and try and find them online before you tell them where you live. There's also a fair share of time wasters who turn out to be no-shows. Anticipate this and you'll be less annoyed.

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