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The Steps to Take When Selling Your Used Car Back to the Dealership

how to sell a car

The easiest way to sell your car is to sell it to a dealer. Most dealers aim to make that process fast and convenient. In fact, plenty of dealers will buy your vehicle for cash without the need to trade it in to buy another car. When you are not looking to buy a new car and do not want to go through all the hassle of selling your car privately, selling it to a dealership is the way to go. But first, you must be acquainted with the steps to take when selling your used car back to the dealership. 

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This article will cover these steps and answer commonly asked questions about selling your used car to a dealership.

How does selling your car to a dealership work?


One of the advantages of selling your car to a dealer is it takes off the burden of needing to find a buyer. But before you go to the dealer, make sure to do the following:

Step 1. Prep Your Car Before Going To A Dealership

  • Clean your car, inside and out. Give the outside a thorough wash and a fresh coat of wax. Make sure to remove personal items and vacuum the inside of your car. Check this guide if you are set on doing this on your own: DIY Detailing. It is important to make a good impression with a clean and shiny car though dealers would say that they can see through to determine a car’s real value.


  • Repair small issues yourself. Inspect all your car’s lights and replace them if necessary. Check for dings and dents that you can fix yourself. Check all fluid levels (brake fluid, washer fluid, coolant, etc.) and make sure they are topped off. If your vehicle requires more major repairs, leave that for the dealer. Any serious issues will lower the value of the car, but the dealer can do the repairs for less than it would cost you.


  • Make sure to have all the important documents with you. These include your car’s title, service records, registration, and anything else you can think of that you think a buyer might want to see.


  • Gather any extras. Make sure to bring extra sets of keys or other accessories along with your car. If your navigation system has a DVD or SD card that comes with it, bring these pieces of stuff, too. Because if you fail to bring these accessories, dealers won’t give you credit for them. Extras allow you to negotiate a better deal.


  • Perform your own inspection. Conduct a test drive to see if there are any problems that need taken care of. On the outside, note any exterior dents and dings that cannot be buffed out with a little elbow grease. 


  • Know your car’s actual value. Do this after inspecting your car since by doing so you already know the blemishes of your car and can use this information to get a more accurate idea of what to expect to get from the dealership. 

Step 2. Get your car to the dealership and inform the salesperson who greets you of your purpose. They’ll get the necessary information and inspect your car’s condition. 


  • The person who is assigned to accommodate you, as a seller, will get your information, check your car, get your vehicle identification number, run it through a vehicle history database to check for accidents, damage, and the like. 


  • You will be asked if you are trading in the car for a new vehicle, or you want to sell it for cash. Expect to get a higher offer on paper for a trade-in. 


  • While the salesperson is gathering information about the vehicle, the dealership may have its service department inspect your car’s condition — particularly the condition of the tires, brakes, mechanical parts, and fluids. They may also take the car for a test drive. After that, you will get an offer. 

Step 3. The dealership will give you an offer. 

  • The offer you get will depend on a number of factors, but it will mostly depend on the price being paid for similar cars at auction. Other influencing factors are the condition of your car, whether or not they have similar vehicles for sale, and whether your car requires any repairs to make it fit for selling. 


If you still owe money on the vehicle, this may also influence your offer. In most cases, you can sell a vehicle back to a dealership before paying it off, but the amount you get will need to be enough to pay it off. 


  • Most dealers make it a point that the transaction has full transparency. Thanks to the internet, consumers can now access tools to help them get an estimate of their car’s value even before they step on a dealer’s lot. Do not hesitate to ask offer-related questions if you have any, dealers will show you current auction prices or other online sites and tools. 


  • Keep in mind that you may get a lower offer than what you expect because the dealer has too many cars similar to yours that they are trying to sell. 


  • It is best to shop around first before deciding on one dealer. This way you can compare different offers and find the best one. Also, remember that you can negotiate a little. But be quick about it since the offer of the dealer could change as the market changes so you might miss out if you take too long to act.


Step 4. Close the deal.

Once you accept the offer, the paperwork will start. If you have the title and other necessary documents with you, you could walk with a check the same day, though some dealerships take as long as 48 hours. 


If you don’t have the title or you owe more than the car’s worth, dealers will say that will not affect the offer, but it will take more time. It can take more than a week or more. For example, if you still owe money on the car, the dealership will have to wait until the title is received from the lender and send a check for the balance owed. If you owe more than the car’s worth, you will have to pay for the amount you owe that is not covered by the offer. 

Can I sell my car back to the dealership if I still owe?

Yes, you can. But expect it not to be a simple process. Here’s what you should do if you want to sell a car that still has a loan on it.

Contact Your Lender

Contact your car’s lender, and ask for the payoff balance. Do note that this will be slightly different than your last statement’s balance since interest accrues daily. Compare the loan balance to the car’s estimated value. You can obtain this estimate using several online tools or from a website like Kelley Blue Book


You can now tell if your car has enough value to pay off the loan and let you walk away with some cash. Or, you need to write a check upon the sale of the car for you to pay off the loan.


This is an essential step in order for you to know if the likely sale price of the car will not be enough to pay off the loan and/or provide you with sufficient cash for a down payment on the next car you want to buy. If not, you will have to find a way to come up with that cash or you can’t sell your car.


Even if your car’s value is enough to make the sale worth it, it will be more difficult than it would be otherwise since the lender is the one holding the actual title. 

Enlist Your Lender in the Sale

If you have made the decision to sell your car, you should get your lender involved in the selling process. They have your car’s title, and you can’t sell the car without it.


Ask the lender what’s the best route to take so that you can pay off the loan and get the title to the buyer in the quickest time possible. This commonly happens, so the lender most likely has procedures for this case. 

How do you return a car you can't afford?

It easy to go for a car that is above and beyond your transportation needs. Most people are willing to pay more for luxuries such as navigation systems, a more potent engine, automatic features, and better sound systems. Traditional financial wisdom tells you that you should not pay more than 10 to 15 percent of your income for car loans. The rule of thumb is to purchase a car that you are able to pay off within 36 months. 


Going for a car that is beyond your basic needs is okay as long as you can afford it. But life is full of surprises, and not every surprise is a pleasant one. You may have gotten laid off or any kind of unfortunate financial situation where you can no longer keep up with your monthly expenses. You suddenly have to face repossession or black marks on your credit report.


The sooner you deal with the issue, the better it is. Here are options you can do if you can no longer afford your car:


  1. Return to your car dealer. You can go back to your dealer and talk about trading in your car for a cheaper one. Most dealers would want you to stick with the brand and will have options to help you out. For instance, Hyundai has a very friendly return policy.


This option is ideal if you just recently purchase your car. A car’s value depreciates really fast though. In just a few months of ownership, you might owe more on the vehicle than its current value. For example, your vehicle has depreciated to $25,000 and you still owe $30,000 on it, you will have to pay $5,000 for the difference. This is true even if your car dealer is okay with the trade-in. 


  1. Refinance the car loan. The second option is to consider refinancing your car loan. The best thing to do is to get a lower interest rate, but you can also go for smaller monthly payments by asking for a longer loan period. Some lending companies will extend the loan period for a lot longer but for a higher interest rate. This is not the wisest financial move, but it could help you out of your problem.


  1. Sell your car. You can also choose to sell your car and pay off the debt. If the car’s value is less than you owe, you might want to get a personal loan to cover the difference when you pay back the lender. You don’t want to use a credit card to finance the difference unless the card has a very low-interest rate.


  1. Sell your car and your loan. Lastly, you can try to look for someone that will be willing to assume your loan payments along with the vehicle. You can put an ad in market places like eBay Motors to find potential buyers. 




In need of extra money? Looking to upgrade your car? It doesn’t matter what your reason is, you should know the steps to take when selling your used car back to the dealership. This is the easiest way to sell your used car, but you cannot simply go directly to the dealership unprepared.


You would want to get the best offer for your car. This is why the very first step is to prep your car. You should also have an idea of what your estimated car value is before stepping into the car dealer’s lot. You should also have the necessary documents with you to make the transaction quick and smooth. 


Things are more complicated if you still owe money on your car, but all you need to do is follow the guideline stated in this article and you’ll be fine. 


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