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Gone are the days of placing an ad for your car in the newspaper and waiting anxiously for the phone to ring with a potential buyer on the other end. You can now list your vehicle on the internet and potentially sell it that same day, almost as easily as you can sell your smartphone.
To be successful doing this, you’ll need to know what goes into a compelling car ad that people want to read and act on. Simply stating, “Here’s my car, please buy it” won’t net you top-dollar for your vehicle, no matter what a good deal you think it is.
Just like anything else they buy on the internet, people want to picture themselves in the car. They want to feel confident that they’re spending their money the right way, so it’s up to you to make that happen.
Use these tips to create a winning online car listing, and you can be on your way to getting what your car’s worth from the right buyer.
1. Get Your Car Ready to Sell
There are several necessary steps you’ll want to take instead of haphazardly listing your car on the web with no real work behind it or selling strategy. Here’s what to do first:
Learn Its Value
You probably already have an idea of what you’d like to get out of your car, but that doesn’t mean that your idea is anything close to what it’s worth. You could be pricing it way too high, scaring away potential buyers, or you could even underestimate its worth, leaving you with less than you could be making.
The most accurate way to value your car is with Kelley Blue Book. Use its car worth estimator to input the details of your car and get its estimated value based on your car’s condition and mileage and where you live (your vehicle might be worth more or less across the country).
KBB gives you a price range for your car, a trade-in value, and a private party value, which is the one you’ll need for private sales. Since you won’t be going through a dealer, you can potentially land a higher sale, so this number should be higher than the trade-in value. Pricing your vehicle just a tad higher than this figure gives you a little wiggle room for negotiations.
Gather All Your Paperwork
Hopefully, you kept all your vehicle’s paperwork in one spot, and you know right where that spot is because you’ll need it all when you are ready to sell. If not, you’ll need to find your:
- Registration (this is usually in your car, so check to make sure it’s there and keep it there for now)
- Title (this might be a lien title if you still owe money on your car)
- Any service paperwork and receipts for work done on the car
- Receipts for any accessories/additions to the car since owning it
- Paperwork for any accidents the car’s been involved in
Other paperwork requirements may vary by state, including inspection reports, an odometer disclosure statement, and a release of ownership statement that’s been notarized. You can find out your state’s requirements here.
Understand the Legalities
Every state also has requirements regarding the sale of your car, which you can learn more about on the DMV’s website. All states require you to have the title switched in the buyer’s name at the time of the sale. You and the buyer can go to your local DMV together and follow its instructions for transferring the title. Be sure to have your vehicle’s current odometer reading available when you go, as you’ll need it for the title transfer.
If your car isn’t under warranty, you’ll also need to make sure you’re selling it “As Is,” which means that the buyer is responsible, upon the finalized sale, for anything that happens with or to the car.
Be sure you’re completely honest about anything you know to be an issue with the car. You can even create a document signed by you and the buyer that details everything you’ve told him or her, just to protect yourself in case something goes wrong later. If you’re concerned about any potential issues, you can always find a lawyer who offers free consultations and ask for a few minutes of time to discuss everything.
Wash and Detail
You’d probably be less likely to buy a car that looked dirty and unkempt over one that has been washed and detailed. You should expect that buyers for your car will probably want the same.
For a full washing and detailing, you can typically spend less than $100, which can be well worth the cost to attract more potential buyers. If you can do it yourself, you’ll easily slash that price in half.
Don’t just worry about what the car looks like, though. You’ll also need to get rid of funky smells that could deter a potential buyer and remove your personal items from the car. The key is to let buyers see themselves in your vehicle; keeping your things in there could be a turnoff for some.
Check the Essentials
Next, you’ll need to give your car a thorough inspection or take it to an expert who can do it for you. You’ll want to know anything that might be an issue now, or could be soon, so you can explain it all to prospects and be 100% transparent.
Check all fluids, like windshield wiper fluid, oil, brake fluid, and coolant. Top off any that need it and keep an eye out on any possible leaks. You should also keep the gas tank at least half full for test drives, and just because it’s a nice gesture for your future buyer.
Inspect the vehicle’s wheels, tires, and brakes, too. Nearly-balding tires are likely going to push buyers away, so you should consider getting new ones (or lowering your price tag to accommodate the inevitable cost) before you sell.
Consider Minor Repairs
If it’s within your budget and will add considerable value to your car, you should try to take care of minor repairs before listing it. It’s never fun shelling out money for something you want to get rid of but think of it like home renovating. When you put money into a house before selling it, you’ll likely get a better return than you would if you had left it rundown and outdated.
Some things that could boost your sale include:
- Replacing worn-out spark plugs and wires
- Replacing worn-out tires
- Touching up scratches and dents
- Replacing any burnt-out bulbs
- Adding new windshield wipers
- Getting a fresh oil change
- Replacing worn brakes, pads, or rotors
- Fixing any worn-out power systems (locks, windows, etc.)
2. Create the Perfect Listing
You’ve inspected your car and fixed up the necessities. Now, it’s time to sell! Use these helpful tips to create a listing that makes people want to buy your car.
What to Include
When it comes to having a description that attracts buyers and convinces them to contact you about your vehicle, including too much information is almost impossible. The more information you can give, the better, not only because it tells people everything they need to know, but it can also pull more people in using keywords they might be searching for.
In your listing, you’ll need the following:
- A catchy title that includes the year, make, and model of the car and entices people to read the full description
- A listing of any work that’s been completed on the car and any known issues
- Keywords that potential buyers might be searching for (look for reviews of your vehicle to get some ideas of common phrases used to describe it or cars in its class)
- Answers for any questions potential buyers might have (think about what you’d want to know about a car you’d consider buying)
- Your contact information
- Your vehicle’s value, your asking price, and whether that price is negotiable
Writing Your Description
Start with an outline before you write your full description. Include headings and sub-headings for each section, like:
- Basic Information (current mileage, make and model, trim specifications, etc.)
- Repairs and Modifications
- Known Issues
- Vehicle History (number of past owners, accidents, etc.)
Add a few sentences to each heading and break large paragraphs into easier-to-read smaller ones.
Try to stick to 1,000 words or less (the sweet spot is in the 600 to 800 range) to avoid being overly wordy with your description but still detailed enough to pack in all necessary information.
When you’re done writing, treat that description as a draft. Go back and read it again to catch any grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. Believe it or not, a description filled with errors could be a turnoff to some buyers who don’t want to bother fixing everything in their heads to make sense of what you wrote.
The photos you add to your listing are potentially more important than your description. Along with the headline, they’re the first things buyers see, so bad photos can make people move to a different listing immediately.
You’ve already completed your vehicle’s maintenance, washing, and detailing, so it should be ready for its closeup. The next most important factor to consider is where your car will be parked for the photos.
Busy, cluttered backgrounds won’t make for an appealing photo. Neither will a dark garage or a rainy day. Wait until the sun’s out and park your car somewhere with an eye-catching background (given that it’s drivable, of course).
There’s no need to use anything but your smartphone’s camera if it’s a good one. Take several shots from different angles and include photos of the interior. Avoid adding a bunch of filters, which could make a clear photo look grainy and overdone.
Depending on where you list your car, you might be able to upload several photos, so try to get at least 20 good ones that you can sift through and pull favorites.
3. Screen Buyers
Finding the perfect buyer is as important to a successful car sale as having detailed listings and getting your car ready to sell. Here’s how to screen potential buyers to find the perfect fit:
You might want to list a few ways that potential buyers can get a hold of you, to make it easier on them and you. Not everyone loves to chat on the phone, so offering email or text might be an excellent way to make initial contact and to set up a time for the person to see the vehicle. Make sure that whatever contact methods you choose, you can respond via those methods within 24 hours.
Be sure to get the full name, phone number, and email address of the interested buyer, just in case you have to contact them to reschedule or ask any further questions.
Questions to Ask
Did you get someone on the phone but they’re doing all the talking? There are some important questions you’ll want to ask, too, like:
- Are they interested in a test drive? If so, do they have a valid driver’s license?
- What’s their budget look like?
- Do they understand that you’re selling the car “as is,” if you are?
- If they’re interested in buying, will they be available during business hours to get the title switched over?
You should also ask any questions that can give you a better idea of what that buyer’s looking for. Your car may not be the perfect fit for everyone, and that’s okay. Your goal is to find the right buyer willing to pay your asking price who will love the vehicle and have the least chance of coming back to you disappointed.
Scams are a severe issue for private vehicle sellers and buyers, so don’t be surprised if your potential buyers are nervous about the process too. There’s a lot that can go wrong for either one of you, but there are several ways to protect yourself.
One of the most important things to consider is what can go wrong with a test drive. Someone could easily take off with your car (or what’s inside), and it could take a while to get it back if you don’t know anything about that person. Not only should you ask if the person has a valid license, but you should also ask to check it yourself to be sure and write down his or her full name and address. You could also take a photo of the person holding their license by their face. Also:
- Remove personal items and anything of value from the car.
- Meet buyers at the police station for test drives and have them leave and return to the station.
- Be clear in how much time the person has for testing. They shouldn’t need any more than 15 minutes or so.
- Consider making the drive with the person if it makes you feel more comfortable.
Money scams are also prevalent when selling used cars. Cash or money orders are best to accept, but it’s not always possible for large purchases. If your buyer pays with a check, you should get it verified by their bank before signing over the title. Escrow services can also be an excellent option to protect both of you, but only if you use one from a trusted bank or lawyer’s office.
4. Find the Best Place to List Your Car
Finding the right place to list your car can be what makes your sale happen as you want it to. Although there are several places online that allow car listings, these are some that stand out as the best options:
Craigslist can be perfect for finding a buyer quickly, and it’s 100% free to list in most areas (some metro areas are different), so you won’t have to spend anything out of pocket to list your car. Believe it or not, you can even sell free stuff on Craigslist! There are also no selling fees; everything you get from the sale is 100% yours.
The downfall with Craigslist is that you may get a lot of people trying to talk you down in price because the site’s a big marketplace for negotiators.
If you do list on Craigslist, you can use the secure email system that covers up your real email address to help you screen potential candidates. You can then give your number to those you think will be a good fit.
Facebook’s Marketplace is similar to Craigslist, but it all goes through Facebook. Again, it’s free to list, and you won’t have to pay anything when you sell.
What I like most about Marketplace is that, after you create a listing, you’ll have several options for who can see your ad. You can publish it to your wall for your friends to see, share it to local buying and selling groups, or just show it to those on the Marketplace. You can also choose whether people outside of Facebook can find it through web searches, which can potentially give your ad more traction.
Autotrader is a trusted resource for all things cars, trucks, SUVs, and other automobiles. The site gives you two options for selling your car:
- Instant cash offer: Using its partnership with Kelley Blue Book, Autotrader can give you an instant cash offer, similar to a trade-in, to use on your next vehicle purchase. You’ll skip the private sale, but you might end up with less cash.
- Private sale: Place an ad on Autotrader, and you’ll also get one on Kelley Blue Book. You’ll have more control over your ad and your pricing this way.
Listing your vehicle on CarGurus is free, but it will take $99 off your selling price once the car sells. The good news is that the site also helps tremendously with the whole process to save you some stress, especially if you’ve never sold privately before.
For this $99 fee, you’ll get access to online payment protection up to $75,000, dedicated support for all the sale paperwork, and a secure messaging system for you and your buyer. The site also has financing for buyers, which can help you get top dollar for your vehicle by making the process more affordable.
eBay has a full section dedicated to auto sales, known as eBay Motors. Just like regular eBay sales, you can choose a starting price, Buy It Now price, and reserve price for your car. You can also choose to open offers for your vehicle, letting potential buyers give you their best price.
Sellers have the option of setting their requirements for a deposit or full payment within a specific period, too, so you’ll have good control over how and when you get paid.
Selling a car online is possible – and may even net you the most money – if you know all the tricks we’ve outlined above. Stick with trusted places to list your car and take precautions to ensure you’re getting the right buyer. When it comes to big-ticket purchases like cars, you can never be too careful.
Have you sold a car online? If so, what website did you use to sell it on, why, and how was your experience? Let us know your thoughts in a comment below.