Should You Trade In Your Car or Sell It Yourself?

How to drive up the price with tune-ups and effective promotion.

Closeup view of blank red and white paper for sale sign in window of white car.
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• Take photos in the early morning or late afternoon to get the best natural light.

• For transparency, snap photos of the odometer, engine and tires.

• If you're photographing on an asphalt surface, hose the blacktop down; this washes away dirt and mud, and the reflection will make your car shine.

For added exposure, consider leaving your car in a well-lit, public place (with good traffic) and taping an advertisement to the windshield. Weliver says to use large type and include your asking price, contact information and perhaps a URL to the car's online advertisement, so interested passersby have somewhere to go for more information.

Keep the ad's car description short, since prospective buyers tend to cycle through listings quickly and a big block of text may make them glance past your car. Of course, you should highlight the car's best features, but it can also be beneficial to disclose any problems with the car that could be a potential deal-breaker. For instance, if the trunk has a large dent, Wiesenfelder suggests mentioning it in the description and showing a photo of it, so buyers will see that you're transparent. You should also be upfront if you smoke regularly in the car. And if your car is old or somewhat beaten up, "Call it 'reliable, affordable transportation,'" Goldfein says.

[See 50 Smart Money Moves.]

To make your advertisement stand out, you can go a step further and use a smartphone to tape a video guiding the prospective buyer around the car, then upload it to Youtube and include the link in the description.

Proceed with caution. Goldfein advises against showing the car to prospective buyers at your home. Instead, he says it's best to meet at a public, centralized area (like a mall parking lot) during business hours to ensure you're not alone and your home address remains private. If an interested buyer would like a test drive, ride along as a passenger and have a pre-determined route so you know where you're going at all times, Goldfein says.

Seal the bargain. When emphasizing the car's finest features, avoid over-sharing. "You may like that the car has a tight steering wheel, but someone else may have experienced that before and they don't like it," Weliver says. "It's OK to stay neutral sometimes."

When it comes time to negotiate, be flexible; sometimes you have to be willing to lower the purchase price to come to an agreement. Still, Weliver says it's important to determine ahead of time the lowest offer you will accept. "Know what your walk-away point is," he says.

Once you've settled on the terms—and have been paid in cash or with a cashier's check (Reed of Edmunds.com says other forms of payment pose risks)—the closing is simple. Fill out a bill of sale (you can find a template at DMV.org), sign over the title and say goodbye to your old set of wheels.