Sell It Yourself or Trade It In?

“Should I sell my car myself?” I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard that question. Or its opposite number, “Should I trade my car in?” I wish I could give you a simple answer, but the fact of the matter is, there is no simple answer.

For some, selling their car on their own makes more economic sense than trading it in for a new ride. For others, taking the time and effort to market their current car is a losing proposition. Much of the issue revolves around how much you value your own time. If you don't figure out what your time is worth, you might well spend costly hour upon hour engaging in amateur salesmanship only to find you would have been better off trading the old boat in to the dealer where you purchased your new car. Or conversely, you might discover that selling your car yourself is more than worth your while -- perhaps in these days of tough economic times, it makes more sense than ever to try to wrest the most from the value of your vehicle.

To find the answer, we recommend doing a little math. What are night and weekend hours -- when you'll most likely be collecting phone calls and giving prospective buyers impromptu walk-arounds -- worth to you? Only you can determine that value, and once you've figured out the dollars-per-hour figure, then multiply it by, say, eight hours, as a reasonable estimate of how long it will take you to complete the requisite steps to selling a vehicle yourself. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that your weekend hours are worth $50 to you; in that case, selling your car yourself will cost you $400 (8 times $50). But the return from that $400 expenditure of time and effort can be substantial.

Look at it this way: Let’s assume your goal is to sell your current 2005 model-year full-size car so you can buy another vehicle. If you trade it in and are astute about the negotiation process, the dealer will allow you $15,000 as the wholesale value of your vehicle. But if you sell the car on the open market, you may well reap $17,300 for the selfsame vehicle, or $2,300 more. So spending eight hours ($400) of your time to collect $2,300 seems like a good investment. Sure, you might further spend $100 or so in Internet listings, classified ads and signage, but after accounting for everything -- your costs and your time -- you still may be up by $1,800. Not bad at all.

Of course, knowing your vehicle’s worth before you decide to sell it on your own is a capital idea. The good news is that these days you can easily visit Web sites that can help you establish the value of your car. With that information in hand, you can negotiate a sales price that will be significantly above your target profit.