Deciding Between Selling Your Car Online or Privately: What You Need to Know

“Should I sell my car online or privately?” It’s the question many used car owners ask themselves when it’s time to cash in their current ride. Most of us want the best price when selling our car. But there are other considerations besides price: secure payment, hassle-free process, quick turnaround, and smooth paperwork.

Depending on your circumstances, some (or all) of these might be important to you (it’s safe to say payment is always a crucial concern!). How you sell your car will determine the benefits you can expect. For example, selling privately may yield a better price but payment is often riskier. Selling to an online dealer may pay less but the company handles the paperwork and ensures safe payment to you.

With dozens of years of experience in the automotive industry, the Sell My Car Online team knows some things about buying and selling vehicles. In this insider guide, we’ll discuss the choice between selling your car privately or online. We break down the various options, the pros and cons of each, and provide expert tips to help you make an informed decision about how to sell your car.

Selling Your Car Online

Online sales platforms, marketplaces, and auctions are the most popular online channels.

Online sales platforms

Online car-selling platforms, like Sell My Car Online, have become increasingly popular in recent years. These platforms have access to a national market of potential used car buyers. Using customized technology, they attract competitive bids for your car from this vast network in double-quick time.

To receive an offer for your car, you simply input your vehicle information on the company’s site, such as make, model, license plate number, VIN, mileage, and condition. Within minutes, you will receive a quote.

Once you’ve accepted the offer, the company will handle most aspects of the transaction, including paperwork, payment, and vehicle transfer. These platforms deliver a streamlined, simplified process compared to traditional online marketplaces.


  • Online car-buying businesses allow you to sell your car quickly and conveniently without leaving your home. 
  • The process is incredibly streamlined. You can expect a free, no-obligation quote within minutes and receive payment within 24-72 hours.
  • Since the offer is based on competitive prices, it is usually pretty fair.
  • Paperwork and transfer are handled for you and your vehicle is often collected free of charge.


  • You may receive less money than selling your car yourself.
  • There is usually little room for negotiation over price. If you have information that motivates for a higher price, such as expensive modifications, be sure to advise the online dealer.

Online marketplaces

Online marketplaces provide a virtual show floor where you can advertise your used vehicle to a broad audience. AutoTrader and are among the best-known of these platforms. These popular sites are a great way of connecting sellers with buyers.

When listing on sites like AutoTrader you have control over your posting. It’s important to present your car in the best possible light – you want to use clear, appealing photographs and ensure your ride looks clean and polished. List the key details including price, description, and customized information that will attract a buyer’s attention.

When you sell your car online in a marketplace, you should expect to engage directly with interested parties to arrange test drives and inspections and to negotiate the terms. When listing your price, set it a little higher than your bottom line to allow negotiating room.


  • The huge number of visitors that sites like AutoTrader attract usually means you have a greater chance of finding the right buyer.
  • As you negotiate with buyers directly, you are better placed to achieve the price you want.
  • AutoTrader and other platforms offer a temporary phone number as part of the service. This temporary contact allows you to communicate without sharing personal information initially. When a buyer contacts you through the platform, their communication is routed through this temporary number.


  • As the seller, you are responsible for managing the sales process. This includes handling the necessary documentation, payment, and vehicle transfer. Of course, some people are happy to handle these aspects; to others, it is a burden they’d rather hand over.
  • These platforms do attract scammers and fraudulent buyers so you have to be vigilant.
  • Some platforms may charge a listing fee or take a commission following a successful sale.

Online auction platforms

Online auction sites like eBay Motors and Cars & Bids offer a slightly different option to marketplaces like AutoTrader. They carry a vehicle listing/advert of your car and include it in an auction. The idea is that the competitive bidding of the auction will drive up the price.

You can set the duration of your auction from 1, 3, 5, 7, or 10 days. eBay Motors also offers a ‘Buy It Now’ option where you can set a fixed price to hopefully secure a quick sale without entering the auction.

Be aware that the buyer normally has a few days before they must settle the payment.


  • If several buyers are interested in your car, the competitive bidding process may get you a better-than-expected price.
  • With the vast reach of eBay Motors, you can attract buyers from across the country or even internationally. The platform is long-established and has facilitated millions of sales. It is convenient and user-friendly.


  • There’s no guarantee that your car will sell on auction. If it does, the final sale price may disappoint.
  • You are responsible for concluding the sale with the winning bidder. You will have to be on top of the paperwork, payment, and transfer.
  • There is usually a fee to list on these auction platforms.
  • There is a risk of fraud and buyers sometimes back out after committing to a purchase.


Selling Your Car Privately

The main alternatives to selling your used car via online platforms or online car sales listings are:

Selling to a private buyer

Selling privately usually leverages a better price.

However, this option often takes more effort because you may have to advertise in several places and platforms. Private sellers often find themselves fielding numerous inquiries – many of which will be a waste of time.

How do you find private buyers? Here are some of the many routes you can follow:

  • Friends, family, and colleagues.
  • Word of mouth.
  • Classified or community board ads.
  • A local business with good passing traffic may let you park your ‘For Sale’ car in their lot.
  • Craigslist – Craigslist is very widely used for private vehicle sales. While Craigslist is an online channel, we highlight it here because it is so strongly associated with private sales and because it is not a specialized vehicle site like AutoTrader.
  • Social media – Facebook is a useful option, particularly Facebook Marketplace. Facebook Marketplace is a dedicated market that lets you list your car and receive inquiries via Messenger. You are responsible for managing the sale. Being able to view the profile and Marketplace ratings of potential buyers provides some comfort.Many successful private auto sales have been concluded on Facebook Marketplace.


  • If you sell to someone close to you or local, it’s possible to conclude the transaction quickly and conveniently.
  • You should get a higher price compared to selling to a dealer. There’s also more room to negotiate.
  • You can choose a buyer you’re comfortable with.


  • You are exposed to dealing with strangers you know little about.
  • Many sellers have sold a perfectly working vehicle to a friend or family member only to have the car start malfunctioning a week or two later. This can be awkward.
  • You may encounter scams or unreliable buyers during the selling process. Craigslist is notorious for scams.

Car dealership

While you can set your own price when selling privately, selling to a dealership is a different story. Dealers hope to turn a profit by reselling your motor, so the less they pay you, the more profit they stand to gain.

That said, it costs nothing to get a quote from your local dealer(s). Your make and model might be in demand in the area which will prompt a more generous offer.


  • Selling to a dealership is generally quicker and more convenient than selling privately. Established car dealerships are professionally set up to handle paperwork efficiently.
  • There is less payment risk associated with a dealer. A reputable dealer will usually offer one or more secure and acceptable payment options.
  • If you are trading in your old vehicle and buying a new (replacement) car from the dealership, you have more room to negotiate a good deal.


  • Dealerships typically offer less money for your car than you’d receive privately. There might not be much room for real negotiation either.

Real-world auction

Many private sellers sell their cars in a real-world auction. If there is a reputable vehicle auction house in your region, this may be a viable option for you. The competitive bidding of the auction may rev up your car’s price. In addition, the auction house helps finalize all the paperwork, including the all-important payment.

Your car must meet the auctioneer’s requirements to be listed in the catalog for the next auction. On auction day, it is displayed alongside other vehicles where potential buyers can inspect it before bidding commences.


  • Auctions attract a wide audience of prospective buyers including dealerships, collectors, and individual purchasers.
  • The competitive bidding environment at auctions sometimes yields a higher payout.
  • Auction houses typically handle all aspects of the sale. This includes marketing, presentation, and paperwork. Importantly, you don’t have to worry about dealing with numerous prospective buyers.


  • There’s no guarantee that your car will sell at auction. You normally set a reserve price and if there is no buyer interest at that level, the car is removed from the day’s listing.
  • If you are set on this route, you will have to wait for the next auction date which may be weeks in the future.
  • Auction houses charge fees and commissions for their services which reduces your final payout.


Deciding Between Selling Online or Privately

Deciding between selling a vehicle online or privately ultimately depends on what’s important to you. If you prioritize convenience and quick turnaround, selling online through services, like Sell My Car Online, promises instant cash offers.

Online platforms like AutoTrader and eBay Motor help you reach a wide audience and offer some support through the sales chain. If you are selling an enthusiast or collectible car, you will find specialist platforms like Cars & Bids that cater to classic car enthusiasts.

If you’re looking for the best price, selling privately might be the way to go.

Ultimately the route you decide comes down to personal preference. You could try more than one approach. For example, listing your car on AutoTrader while also looking for a private buyer in your community.


Best Practice Sales Tips

Here are key pointers that are applicable in most sales scenarios.

  • Know your car’s value: Establishing your car’s approximate value is a crucial first step. Reasearch and check pricing guides like Kelleys and as well as listings at dealers in your area.
  • Paperwork: Proper paperwork is essential to successfully selling your car. Ensure you have your vehicle title and registration together with any lien details, and any maintenance records or vehicle history reports. A Bill of Sale to document the transaction is also advisable, even if it is not required in your state. Remember to cancel your insurance on the car after you’ve handed it over.
  • Professional presentation: When showcasing your used car on the street or online, ensure it is clean and polished and presented in the best possible light. Have at least 7 to 8 good photographs to present it from the back, front, and both sides, as well as pictures of the interior. A video walkaround is a good way to build trust and help you connect with buyers.
  • Be honest: When advertising your vehicle, always be upfront and honest about its condition. Don’t sugarcoat things or conceal damage or missing parts. By being candid upfront, you avoid awkward surprises when the buyer comes to inspect the vehicle.
  • Shop around: Whether you sell through an online or brick-and-mortar dealer, be sure to shop around and get several quotes. Comparing across platforms or different dealerships gives you a better appreciation of your vehicle’s worth. When you receive a quote, ask for it to be held valid for at least three days to give you time to compare and make your decision.
  • Safety: Always be safety conscious. Arrange meetings in public areas during the day for a test drive or transfer. It’s a good idea to have a friend accompany you. When dealing with total strangers, many sellers prefer not to have buyers coming to their homes.
  • Payment: Don’t release your vehicle or sign over the title until you have received valid payment in full. The safest payment methods are cash (though for a large amount, you probably want to deposit it at the bank quickly), certified checks, and validated escrows.One way to safeguard payment is to meet the buyer at their bank where you can confirm their check is guaranteed or the direct deposit is legitimate. Never accept an unguaranteed check or a payment plan.



How do I sell my used vehicle successfully and smoothly?

However you decide to sell your car, it’s important to research and understand the selling process. Describe your car accurately and honestly, set a realistic price, and be prepared for negotiations. Be on your guard against scams and prioritize safety throughout the transaction.

What are some common pitfalls to avoid when selling a car online or privately?

Avoid overpricing your vehicle, neglecting to disclose relevant information, and falling for scams. Be wary about potentially fraudulent buyers, secure payment properly, and finalize all paperwork diligently to avoid complications down the road.

Does eBay Motors provide a free vehicle history report when I sell my car?

To support sales through the platform, eBay Motors provides a free vehicle history report for many of the cars listed.



You will see there are many ways to sell a car – both online and privately, and through a choice of intermediaries. Each method has its pros and cons.

Consider your preferences, priorities, and comfort level with each method before committing to an approach. Be sure to arm yourself with a good understanding of the procedure as well as your car’s worth before proceeding. If you’re ready to get a free, no-obligation quote for your vehicle today, contact Sell My Car Online at any time.


Sell My Car Online | Express Lane to Sell Your Car for Cash

Sell My Car for Cash Online |

Sell Your Used Car Privately | PrivateAuto

12 Best Websites to Sell a Car Online in 2023 For The Most Money (

Best Ways to Sell Your Car Online – NerdWallet

Get your no-hassle appraisal now