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When is it time to sell your car?

20 December 2018

Whether you bought a car fresh from the showroom or picked up an older beater off your uncle, there comes a time that every auto-owner must face – selling. The question is, when is the best time to hand over the keys now that the year has just begun?

There are many factors to consider as to when is the best time to sell your car. Car expert and all-round automotive guru Ross Vasse explains what you need to consider before deciding that it’s time to sell your car.

“Good timing, a well presented car, and an informative advert with nice photos will usually help sell your car quickly, and for a higher price.”

When to sell newer cars

If you have decided to purchase a brand new car because you want the warranty or that ‘new car’ smell, the simple truth is that as soon as the car hits the road, it will be worth a lot less than what you purchased it for.

The general rule is that except for some classic cars, the older a car gets, the less it will be worth.

Average rate of vehicle depreciation

The value of a car

Source: Casey Research

You can see in the chart above that the first year of a car’s life is the time where it depreciates in value the most, which is why Ross tells us you should replace your car “ideally every 3-5 years, preferably with less than 80,000kms, with around 10%-20% of the new car warranty period remaining.”

By having that warranty still intact, “it will give the next potential buyer peace of mind, and increase the chance of receiving a higher price and a quicker sale”.

“Unless you plan on keeping the vehicle long term and you’re not fussed about depreciation, try to sell your car before it’s warranty ends”.

Along with the vehicle’s warranty, also factor in how long is left on your registration. If your registration is about to run out and you want to sell your car, consider renewing your registration before selling it.

“Longer registration is always preferred by potential buyers”.

When to sell older cars

When selling an older car, remember you’re not just selling a machine. You’re selling the quality, the roadworthiness and the car’s history.

Your car may be starting to show signs of wear and tear, needing regular fixes and maintenance. But is it worth it?

Many people have fallen into the trap of spending thousands of dollars fixing a car that is worth less than the repairs cost. Spending more on a car will usually not improve the car’s value.

Repairing the vehicle can have one of two outcomes: “repairing a vehicle can give a buyer peace of mind which may result in a quicker sale. Or it may hinder a sale with too much information, leaving a buyer to wonder what else is wrong with it?”

There is a golden rule when it comes to deciding whether to keep or sell an older car: Is the car costing more to keep running than it’s worth? If the answer is yes, then it’s time to get rid of it.

Of course, there is always an exception to a rule, and in this case, the only reason you should keep a car that is costing more than it’s worth, is the emotional connection you have with the car.

Weigh up the emotional journey you have had with your car and whether you would rather see your four-wheeled friend passed down or restored.

“If you’re not emotionally connected to your car, and it’s costing you money to repair than what it’s worth, then it’s time to move it on.”

When to cut your losses and sell a lemon

It’s part of consumerism. Sometimes you will buy a great product that does the job perfectly and is faultless, but sometimes you will buy an absolute dud.

So, what do you do? If you have bought a lemon, do you get rid of it immediately and pass the problem on to someone else?

“No. Make lemonade!”

“If a car is a lemon because repair bills are mounting up, then it may be in your best interest to cut your losses and sell the car.”   

 “If it’s a lemon because of the vehicle’s negative accident damage history, then either keep the car for its intended use (knowing it’ll be worth much less down the track), or trade-it in. You could also resell it through an auction.”

Keep in mind that you cannot mislead a buyer about issues with a car when selling, so be honest.

“If you’re selling a lemon privately, you should always be truthful.”

Best time to sell a car

“Sports cars should be sold in the warmer months, and family cars before the holiday season, or at the beginning of the year, between February and May”, according to Ross.

This may sound a little strange at first, but what time of year you sell your car can make a big difference, especially depending on what kind of car you have.

When selling your car, put yourself in the buyer’s shoes: If you were a mum or dad needing to transport kids around a lot, what time of year would you need to do that? If you wanted a sports car to let the top down and cruise the open road, would you do that in the middle of winter? No.

“Ideally, a luxury car should be onsold every 3-5 years, Classic cars can be sold anytime, although Spring and Autumn usually perform best. The worst time to sell a car is after the Christmas holidays and in July, the beginning of the new financial year.”

Given this, it may be worth holding onto your car for a couple of months for the weather to change and there are more buyers in the market for your type of vehicle.

Best way to sell your car

How to sell your car is also important – whether you want to sell it privately or trade it in  at a dealership. According to Ross, there are pros and cons to both methods.

“Trading-in is easier, less of a hassle, but you’ll often get a lower price. Selling a car privately can be more of a headache, but a higher price can be achieved if you prepare the car right, and present it well.”

There is also a third option available to you, though it is the least common method of selling a vehicle. Consider visting car auctioneers, where they will give you a valuation, then sell your vehicle at their next auction day.

“Selling your car via auction, is a simple way of disposing of your vehicle in ‘as is’ condition, however, the price received at auction will usually be between 30-40% less than the car is worth.”

If you're a Suncorp Insurance customer and you've recently sold your car and replaced it, you'll need to update your policy so it reflects your car's details accurately.

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Ross Vasse is the author of Car Hunters: The Best Trade Secrets Revealed and compiles the Complete Classic Car Value Guide annually. He is a founding partner of Survivor Car Australia magazine, and performs duties as an ‘expert witness’ in appraising and valuing motor vehicles Australia wide. He’s has had a lifetime of experience around cars, learning the trade secrets that others in the car industry do not want you to know.

Read more from Ross:

The information is intended to be of a general nature only. We do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss incurred as a result of reliance upon it – please make your own enquiries.