For the majority of people trying to sell a car, it’s impossible to predict when the right buyer will come along or when you’ll get the best deal on a trade-in. Even if you’ve immaculately maintained your car, priced it right and placed a great ad, a responsible buyer who wants a car like yours is no guarantee. But while there is undoubtedly a little luck involved, timing is a much more important factor when selling a used car.
Here are five questions to ask if you’re not sure that now is the right time to sell.
Are you still paying your car off? If so, find out whether you’re “upside down” on your loan. Being upside down simply means that you owe more on your car than it’s worth—an unfortunate reality for many vehicle owners. Selling your car while upside down will result in a financial hit that may be difficult to absorb. Refinancing your loan may help you close the gap more quickly, but the best advice if you’re upside down on your loan is to hang on to the car as long as possible.
To repair, or not to repair? Your old car may have some mechanical or cosmetic issues that would probably make it less attractive to potential buyers. However, don’t assume that you need to get everything fixed before selling your car, especially if you plan to trade in.
“If you sell privately, I would recommend taking the time to get minor things taken care of, like new tires or brakes – anything that doesn’t cost too much,” says Tye Frazier, AutoTrader.com’s Customer Adviser. “For major repairs consider dropping your asking price, then find out the average cost of repairs in advance and use that to your advantage to let the buyer know that they are getting a good deal.”
So be prepared to do some math if you own an older car, and ask yourself if the cost of a repair will be equal to its value in the eye of a potential buyer.
How’s the weather? Your used car, like anything else for sale, is subject to many economical factors, including the simple laws of supply and demand. Understanding the market can help you pinpoint the right time to list or trade in your car. This can be as simple as taking a look out the window. Your convertible or sports car won’t be as appealing when the roads are iced over, but those conditions will be a huge selling point for your all-wheel drive SUV.
On the other hand, “you never know who is searching for a vehicle,” Frazier says, “If you’re in New York in winter and someone in California likes your convertible, he may buy it.” In this case, however, you may want to consider a Run ‘til It Sells ad if you’re privately selling since your car may take a little longer to sell.
What’s the price of gas? On a similar note, gas prices go a long way toward governing the latest automotive trends. A major consequence of the 2008 gas crisis was a drastic spike in demand for hybrids and fuel-sipping subcompacts. Many used SUV and truck sellers who waited for gas prices to return to normal levels were rewarded for their patience.
What’s hot in your area? To get the best sense of your local used car market, do some research right here on AutoTrader.com. The information you acquire from your AutoTrader.com search results can help you determine when to list, and it can also help you set some realistic expectations for what kind of return you’ll get.
The easiest way to gather useful data is to save a search on MyAutoTrader. Signing up is free, and it’s the best way to track what’s going on in your area. For example, repeating a search in your area over the span of a few weeks can tell you how long cars like yours are staying up on the site, how much they’re listed for, and how much competition you’ll have when you try to sell. MyAutoTrader can even send you an email to alert you when a car matching a certain description goes up on the site.
Though luck plays a role, there are many factors that can help you figure out the best time to sell your car. There’s no way to predict when the right buyer will call, but if you answer the questions above and use that information to your advantage, you can certainly help sway the odds in your favor.
Andrew Golaszewski is a staff writer at AutoTrader.com.