Preparing your trade-in for sale

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While most people are excited by the prospect of driving home in a new car, they are typically less enthusiastic about their options on what to do with their current vehicle. One of the most common questions clients ask us is what they should do in advance to get their trade-in ready and ensure they get a fair price with a minimum of effort and expense. 

We’ve compiled a list of guidelines and things to consider before selling your car to make sure that it’s in the right condition and you have everything you need to make the process go smoothly.

For a PDF Checklist of this article, click here.


Cartelligent can manage the entire trade-in process and give you a great value for your vehicle. Our Trade-In Service is included at no additional charge as part of our Premium package. It is also available as a stand-alone service for $295. If you would like to take advantage of this service, all you will need to do is give us some basic information about the vehicle, bring the following with you when you drop off the vehicle and we’ll take care of everything:

  • Vehicle Title: If you own the vehicle outright, the DMV will have sent you the vehicle's title. If you do not know where this is, just let us know and we can obtain a duplicate copy. If you still have a loan or lease on the vehicle, we can help arrange for the balance to be paid in full.
  • Vehicle Registration: Bring the most recent vehicle registration you have. If this has expired, you will need to pay any late fees or penalties due but you will not need to pay for the next year’s registration. 
  • Service Records: Bring any service records you have available to document the vehicle’s history.
  • Owner’s Manual: For your current vehicle (if available).

We make trading-in your new vehicle as simple and enjoyable as buying a new car with us. To learn more, call us at 888.427.4270 or get started today.


Alternatively, if you would prefer to sell the vehicle yourself, the following guidelines will help walk you through the process of selling the vehicle on your own and help you determine what should be done in preparation.


You should locate the following paperwork in advance of selling the vehicle:

  • Vehicle Title: If you do not know where this is, you will need to request a duplicate copy from the DMV before you can sell the car. If you still have a loan or a lease on the vehicle, you should arrange to pay off the balance and request the title before you offer it for private sale.
  • Vehicle Registration:  You will need a current copy of the car's registration. If this has expired, you will need to pay the next year’s registration and any outstanding late fees and/or penalties before you can sell it yourself.
  • Smog-Inspection: It is the seller's responsibility to get the car smog-inspected and ensure that it passes.
  • Vehicle History Report: You can obtain a vehicle history report through CarFax for $39.99 to prove that the car has not been in any accidents.
  • Bill of Sale: Bills of Sale are available from the DMW. You and the buyer should fill it out completely when the sale is final.


Market Research

We recommend taking the time to research the vehicle’s value so that you know what to expect and can weigh the potential gain of investing additional funds in repairs prior to sale. Websites like and can help you estimate the value range for your make and model. It can also be a good idea to look at similar vehicles online to get a sense for the local market value. Be aware that the asking price is often higher than the actual price the car will sell for.


A thorough detailing can make the car look more attractive and can add perceived value. Potential buyers will perceive a clean car as a well-maintained car and assume the rest of the vehicle is also in top condition. Additionally you may want to consider repairing minor cosmetic damage such as:

  • Minor dings or other body damage
  • Windshield cracks (these may be covered by your insurance)
  • Minor scratches and paint repairs
  • Missing hubcaps or scratched wheels
  • Headlight or taillight bulbs that have burned out

It can be a good idea to get an estimate on the cost of more extensive damage or needed repairs and then decide if the potential resale value of these will offset their upfront costs.


A mechanical check-up can let you know if there are any issues with the vehicle and get you an estimate as to what it will cost to repair them. We recommend that the following are taken care of:

  • Windshield Wipers: Putting a new pair of windshield wipers on the vehicle tells potential buyers that you look after the little things and builds confidence that the car is in good condition.
  • Tires: Ensure that tires are in new or good condition. Replacing worn tires can add value to the vehicle.
  • Warning Lights: We recommend repairing any underlying issues causing a lighted warning indicator before you put the car up for sale.
  • Noises: We also recommend repairing any mechanical problems that are causing the vehicle to make noises when driven such as suspension squeaks and belt noises.
  • Safety: We strongly advise that you repair any and all issues that could make the vehicle unsafe to drive such as faulty brakes, airbags or seatbelts.


Selling the Vehicle

Once the vehicle is in good shape and you’re ready to put it up for sale, you should consider the following:

  • Ad Copy: Be as honest as possible in the body of your ad but use words that will be compelling to potential buyers and make them want to see the vehicle in person. Avoid abbreviations, first-person references to the vehicle and short-hand that may come across as unprofessional and detract from the perceived value.
  • Photos: Take high-quality photos of the vehicle that will show it to its best advantage in your ad. Low quality camera phone photos can make the vehicle look less appealing to potential buyers.
  • Online Ads: If you decide to list the vehicle online, we recommend you:
    • Consider using a disposable cell phone rather than providing your personal number.
    • Find a public, well-lit place for test-drives and the financial exchange.
    • Request a cashier’s check or cash for the final payment.

Once the sale has been finalized, you will want to inform the DMV that you are no longer financially or legally responsible for the vehicle. You can fill out a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form once the sale is complete – it’s important to follow up in a few weeks to ensure that this went through.

Selling your current vehicle can be time-consuming and confusing. Cartelligent’s Trade-In Service can help simplify the process either as part of your new car search or as a stand-alone service. Give us a call at 888-427-4270 or get started today.