If you know anything about me, you've probably realized that I'm not the biggest fan of financing brand new cars. Over and over, I see stories from readers who financed a new car and later realized that they really regretted being stuck with a payment every month.
Now, if you love new cars…you do you. I'm not saying that you're an idiot or anything like that. I've been writing about personal finance long enough to hear every reason for why people need to buy brand new cars. I get it.
I just prefer used cars. That's all. Even now that I'm doing well with my business, I still have that mindset.
Here's the biggest deal to me – cars are a depreciating asset. Unless you buy some type of really, really awesome collectible car, the reality is that you're probably going to take a loss on your vehicle over time. My strategy so far has been to minimize that damage by letting someone else take the depreciation hit for me first, and then buying the same car used at a lower price. I'm still going to lose money most likely, but it won't be as bad.
The reality is that a lot of people get sucked into the trap of buying a new car before they know what is about to hit them, and many of them get trapped in a cycle of habitually buying brand new cars (or debtmobiles as I like to call them) because they aren't comfortable with the thought of a used car.
At this point you probably have one of three thoughts:
- Uh, oh… I just bought a brand new car, and I want out. What do I do now?
- Used cars aren’t for me bro. I only drive new ones.
- Yep, new cars aren’t worth it – currently driving a used one, and I love it.
If you thought #3, awesome! You're my kind of people.
Let me address #2 before helping those of you who picked #1.
If you are living with the mindset that you can only drive something fresh off the lot, I want to help you get over whatever deep-seated feelings or fears you have about buying new vs. used:
- No one ever really needs a brand new car. You might really want one or think you deserve one, but we can convince ourselves we need almost anything. Why add more debt if you don't have to when a slightly used car will work just as well?
- Cars with over 100,000 miles are not going to blow up. If you follow the steps in this guide, you will not buy a lemon. I will literally lead you to the promise land of awesome used cars in this article. All cars need work from time to time, but you will still save more with a used car than a brand new one, especially if you learn how to do some of the work on your own. My current vehicle has over 140,000 miles on it, and is 14 years old.
- You didn’t necessarily get an incredible deal with that 0%-1% interest rate when you bought new. Dealers are very good at giving you the illusion a good deal. They are in the business of selling you very expensive items and making you feel awesome while you're doing it. Sorry to say this, but you didn’t just cheat the system. They leverage one thing for another to make it feel like they are giving you something more with the low interest offers.
Okay, back to those of you who are realizing that you need to make a change and try a used car. Don’t worry, there is hope! You can get out of those payments with a little determination and some clever car selling tricks.
I learned everything I know about buying and selling cars from my good friend/former co-worker Beau, who went from driving an Audi with a hefty payment to a really nice GMC Yukon without any payments at all.
Because of the things I learned from Beau, I was able to trade up from a crappy little red truck to a much nicer vehicle (2004 Yukon XL that I still drive now) for a net cost of only $1,400. His tips are great and easy to execute, which is why I always use them when car shopping, and I’m sharing it all with you.
The Ultimate Guide to Getting Rid of Your Car Payment:
The entire premise of this strategy is that you need to get over your fear of used cars. While many of the products around us are becoming lower quality, cars are not. Cars made today are now safer, built to last even longer, and have higher-quality parts in general (some might argue that the interiors aren’t great, but it depends on the brand).
Here’s a basic outline for this guide, and there are lots of great tips in each point:
- Evaluate how much your car is worth.
- Sell your car for the absolute highest value you can.
- Find a quality, safe used vehicle and buy it with the proceeds of the car you just sold.
1. Find the value of your current vehicle
A common mistake made by many starting the process of selling their car is that they only check one source (usually KBB) for the value of their car. You need to get MULTIPLE estimates to get a better picture of what your car is really worth.
Check the value of your car at ALL three of these sites before moving forward:
Be honest with yourself and don’t guess on specifications. Pull out your owner’s manual if you aren’t sure which options you have – you want to make sure you get everything, but you also want to make sure you aren’t sugarcoating or overstating its value.
There’s also a solid way to figure out your car’s value, but shhh… don’t tell the car dealerships I told you this.
Find out what a dealership will give you for your car by letting them appraise it. Just go to a local car dealership and tell them you are interested in trading it in but want to know your car’s value first. Tell them you don’t have a lot of time and don’t take any BS from them!
It helps if you look at cars you're potentially interested in and maybe even go for a test drive while they do the appraisal. (Drive a car you think is cool, but NEVER EVER fall in love with it – we’re not buying a brand new car, remember.)
If you find that you are happy with their offer (after doing your own research) and want to sell your car quickly, then you might decide to go through them. But again, don’t buy a new car from them. Car salesmen are nice people, but they are trained to give sales pitches and make you feel like you will never find anything better than what they are offering.
2. Put your car on the market
This is obviously the trickiest part, and there are lots of ways to go about it that will yield different results. Remember, you are trying to get the highest price possible for your vehicle. If you don’t, you won’t have enough money to execute the final step, which is buying your next car.
I highly recommend selling your car on your own, but I’m going to cover the other option first.
Selling your car through a third party
First a heads up – when you do this, you are trading money for convenience. Using a car dealership or a service like Carmax will ensure that you sell your car quickly, but you’ll be leaving lots of money on the table.
Compared to dealerships, Carmax can offer a pretty low-stress experience. They give you decent trade-in values, especially if you are selling a popular and/or newer model. Just remember, you can always get a better deal if you do it yourself.
Selling your car on your own
You will always get more value out of your car if you sell it by yourself. Selling on your own allows you to remain in control of the entire process from start to finish.
You can set your asking price (what you determined in step 1) based on the amount of time you have to sell and find a new car. If you are flexible, you can set your price high and remain firm. Want to get this done quickly? Then set the price at the lower end.
Preparing to sell your car by yourself
Now that you have decided to sell your car on your own, I’ve made it even easier by breaking down each step.
Set your price
Use your price evaluation research as a base for your pricing, but make sure you leave some wiggle room in there for negotiations. People who buy from private sellers expect a deal, but the trick is to make them negotiate the price down instead of you lowering the price.
Even if your car has minor blemishes, set the price as if it didn’t. You know what your car looks like, but the buyer will feel great when they are able to haggle with you for a lower price. Also, don’t forget to add in sales tax if your state has it!
Take a ton of great pictures (literally hundreds of them)
I cannot overstate the importance of taking GREAT pictures of your car. You are trying to attract quality buyers that are serious about making a deal.
Here are a few tips on pictures:
- Be honest with your pictures. Don’t be afraid to show your car’s blemishes, and most used cars have a few. Your honesty will do a couple of things. One, it will allow you to build trust with a prospective buyer. Two, the prospective buyer will like to see that there is probably something they can negotiate on. Bonus, if they don’t care about the blemishes or want to deal with negotiations, you might get to pocket a little extra money because you built a little buffer into your price.
- Maintain your privacy. Cover your plates, blur them out, or take them off of your vehicle when you take pictures. Scammers can use your plate info to find your home address – this is very important from a safety standpoint. Also, don’t take pictures in front of your house if you can manage.
- Detail the crap out of your car before taking pictures. This is a big deal! You want your car to look great, both inside and out. You can take it somewhere, but detailing on your own is easy and will save you even more in the long run. In addition to a quality car wash soap, a washing mitt, and some microfiber towels, here are a few products I’ve used on the last car I sold:
Tuff Stuff (for carpets and leather seats), Stoner Trim Shine (makes all the exterior plastic look BRAND NEW), Turtle Ice Spray Wax (much faster than real wax and works just as well), and Turtle Wet N’ Black (makes your tires look freaking awesome). These may cost you $30-$40 altogether, but they can add $1,000 or more to the sale price of your car.
This is what my old red truck looked like after it was detailed:
Now for the hard part – actually selling your car!
This can be the most intimidating part of the entire process, and before I explain my three main strategies, a couple of important notes:
If you still have the loan for the car you are selling, you need to tell the buyer that there is a lien on the car. This isn’t usually a big deal, but it could change things depending on your loan company. Make sure you contact your lender and ask about the process of transferring a title with a lien on it!
Also, before you do anything else, CHECK YOUR STATE’S DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES SITE. There may be special forms you or the buyer need to fill out when transferring the title. The person that sold me my car forgot about this, and then I forgot about it when I sold my car (failure, I know). The point is, know EVERYTHING you need for transferring the title of your car to avoid total frustration. Trust me.
Alright, now that I’ve warned you all, here are three strategies you can use to sell your car on your own:
1. Park your car on a busy street.
This strategy is old-school, but it’s physically putting your car out in front of people. You can leave a “For Sale” sign in the window with the price, mileage, age, and your phone number and/or email address. This is slow, but you will likely get serious buyers that will actually get out and inspect your car.
This is how I sold my last car, and it sold within a week!
2. Use a paid internet marketplace like Autotrader.com.
I found my last car on Autotrader and was very happy with how easy it was to find good cars. There is a fee to use their site (like $50), but sites like these tend to bring SERIOUS buyers instead of tire kickers.
And for the love of everything good in this world – make sure you add a cover picture to your car’s ad. It’s too easy not to, and people are much less likely to click on your ad if you don’t have a photo.
3. Sell your car on craigslist.
I’m hesitant to even mention this option because of some personal experiences, but there are a lot of people that like using craigslist for buying and selling cars. You might be able to find a great deal, but I would definitely proceed with caution. Also, have them meet you somewhere besides your house. A busy parking lot would probably work really well.
A few thought on negotiating…
- Take emotion out of the game. You need to understand that people may try to beat you up on the price, which makes sense because they’re also trying to get the best deal possible. Don’t get mad if they lowball you! Go in knowing your lowest acceptable price and don’t let the car go for less than that. It’s THAT simple sometimes.
- Make the buyer find the flaws. Even though your pictures should be honest, it isn’t necessarily your job to point out every little ding. They may be a smart buyer and rattle off everything they see within earshot, but make them say a number before lowering the price. Now, you should still disclose mechanical flaws – these are things that would make the car unsafe to drive or unable to pass an inspection. It’s just good juju to do that.
- He or she who speaks first loses. Always try to get someone else to make the first offer so you can counter. It seems silly, but you will leave money on the table if you fold first and start blabbing lower numbers than you should.
Closing the deal
When you have an agreed upon price, don’t just shake on it. Start filling out a bill of sale, which will be a physical record/receipt of the transaction. Here’s the one I like to use.
Most importantly, never do financial transactions in a shady place! Always go to a neutral location (preferably a bank) to tie up the loose financial ends.
3. It’s time to buy a used car
Now that you’ve gotten rid of your car payment, it’s time to find a debt-free ride! There are a lot of factors that will determine how much time you’ll have to complete the buying process, and you will probably have to work out the logistics of getting around in the meantime.
This might mean carpooling, taking public transportation, or using car sharing services, like Uber or Lyft. You might even need to consider renting a car. While renting a car can suck, you will still come out ahead in a FAR better financial situation. Two or three days of renting a car is much better than two or three more years of car payments.
Here are some shopping tips for finding a used car:
- The great thing about shopping for a new (used) car is that you’ll be familiar with some of the things you needed to know when selling yours.
- Use a site like Autotrader.com for high-quality cars and serious sellers.
- Never be afraid of a vehicle with 100k+ miles, especially one that has had routine maintenance and is in good condition. Newer cars are built to last much longer than 200k miles. Period.
- Carmax and auto dealerships will take less time, but you will get a better deal if you find a private seller.
- Cash is king. There’s something about saying you are a cash buyer that gets people excited. If you sold your car with a payment correctly, you might actually have enough to buy your used car without dipping into your funds. Speaking of cash, if you are buying from a private seller, this is basically the only way to pay, so be prepared.
- Point out every single flaw to the seller. Every. Single. One. This will give you more leverage for negotiation. Also, try to get the seller to throw out a lower number first. You can even ask, “What’s your bottom line?”
- Be safe and don’t trust anyone. Bring a friend to look at cars with you if possible.
- Always test drive the car and ask a ton of questions about the history.
- Research common issues or mechanical failures about specific vehicle/model years BEFORE you go look. Ask the seller point blank if they’ve had any of the common issues that came up in your research.
- Run a Carfax report if you are serious about a car.
- If you find a car that you REALLY like, spend $30 on a Carfax report. You can even use their app and do it from your phone while you are looking at the car. It will pull up any major information you need to know about, like past wrecks, flood damage, or if the car was in Mexico for 10 years before it came across the border (I’m actually serious about this because that’s an issue for us in Texas).
- It even pulls up maintenance and oil changes that were done at the dealership. That $30 is totally worth it for the peace of mind.
- Once you find and buy a car, take care of the loose ends.
- Complete a bill of sale and make sure that you know what will be required to transfer the title. Also, be ready to pay sales tax at the time of the title transfer (check your state’s guidelines to get an idea of how much you’ll pay).
That’s it! Enjoy your debt-freedom and start using that extra money to pay down some other debt, to save, or to invest!
Check out my past car posts for more info: