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Car Dealer Secrets: How to Maximize Profit When Selling Your car on the Private Market

There are a couple of key items that will improve the quality of your car’s listing and hopefully increase what you’re able to sell it for.

Want to maximize the money you get from your used car? Forget trading it in. Sell it yourself.

In my experience, there are a couple of key items that will improve the quality of your car’s listing and hopefully increase what you’re able to sell it for.

Clean, uncluttered photos

You don’t need an expensive camera to take good photos. You just need a smartphone, a clean car, and an uncluttered background.

Take your time. Get the entire car in the frame. Look at a few auctions on eBay motors to get an idea of what types of shots and angles the professionals are using. The more photos the better. A picture is worth a thousand words!

Good description

Again, eBay motors is a great place to read some impressive write-ups on cars for sale. See what the pros are including in their descriptions. You need to include the basics like:

  • Year, make, and model
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • Color
  • Current mileage
  • Optional equipment

Research sites like edmunds.com and kbb.com can help you out if you’re not sure what options your car has or the factory name of the color.

Then, just tell a story: When you bought it, how many miles you put on it, how reliable it’s been, what services you have performed, etc.

Don’t forget the flaws! Be upfront with the issues the vehicle has and take photos of those items if applicable. To give you a sense of what makes a good listing, here’s one I found on eBay that includes good photos and a lot of detail. (Click the image to view the entire listing.)

Example of a good eBay car listing with photos and descriptions.

By contrast, here’s one that has some description, but no features list and only a couple not-so-hot photos. (Did this guy steal this ride, hit a fire hydrant, and then immediately decide he needs to unload the car on eBay? Who knows.)

This is an example of a poor eBay car listing.

Spread the word

Don’t bother with print ads. They’re not cost effective in my opinion. The first place to list your car is on Craigslist. It’s free, and it will get tons of views. But if you’re serious, don’t stop with one site.

Next, I would recommend eBay. You will need to sign up for an account and it will cost you to list your car, but eBay is a well-respected trading community. There is protection for both the buyer and seller (something you don’t have with Craigslist). The format also gives you more room for pictures, details and description.

Run the auction for seven to 10 days. Don’t worry if it doesn’t sell during the actual auction. The real point of eBay is to advertise your vehicle. You’re just looking for interested parties. The majority of cars I’ve sold on eBay sell after the auction ends!

Facebook is another free place you can mention your car for sale or link to any site where your car is listed. Autotrader.com and Cars.com are two more paid sites, but it’s sometimes harder to get your private sale noticed on those sites. Dealers pay those sites bigger bucks for their inventory to stand out and be seen first.

Finally, depending on how unique your car is, there might be a forum dedicated to just that model. You would be surprised what types of everyday cars have an Internet community following them. These forums generally have classified sections and are usually free to join. It’s all about reaching as many buyers as possible.

Pricing your car for private sale

Not sure what to ask for your vehicle? It’s time to go fishing. Always start high.

If you’ve tried to trade your car, you already know what the dealer will pay you, so start with a number well north of the trade-in offer. Gauge the interest at different price levels and lower it accordingly.

Although we Americans rarely negotiate prices on everything else, almost all of us will expect to negotiate on the price of a car, so don’t be surprised if you start getting lowball offers.

There’s no guarantee your car will sell, but if you touch on all these points, odds are you’ll sell your vehicle for a good deal more than somebody who lists the same car with a couple crappy photos and a two-sentence description.

What questions do you have about selling your car on the private market or maximizing its value in trade? Fire away in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer.

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About Tom Niejadlik

Tom Niejadlik has over 15 years of experience in the auto sales industry and is eager to help us understand his industry and save money on one of our biggest expenses: our cars. He lives in Portland, Maine with his wife, sons, and golden retriever, Barkley.

Comments

  1. My parents have sold cars before on Craigslist with a lot of success! Definitely worth seeing how much you can get, who knows you might start a bidding war :)

  2. Tom, what’s your specific suggestion for Ebay? Set a reserve or list starting at your lowest price?

    • Thomas Niejadlik says:

      Philip,
      Keeping in mind that I fully expect NOT to sell the car during the eBay auction I would start the auction at an extremely low figure ($1.00 for the fun of it) and set your reserve at the lowest you would take for it. The low starting price gets more people to look at your auction and creates more “buzz” than just starting the auction at the lowest price you will take. eBay will also allow you to lower your reserve during the auction and when you do all the folks watching or bidding will be notified creating even more bidding frenzy. At the end of the auction you either have reached your reserve or have a list of prospective buyers. It’s a win/win. You can always relist the auction for a low fee and lower your reserve or add a “buy it now” depending on the response. Bidders will tell you what they want to pay. It’s a game of cat and mouse.

      -Tom

  3. What is the lemon law, and if you sell a car “as is” does this protect the seller?

    Can you sell a car “as is” at any amount? Sometimes the sell hasn’t fully gone through their car.

    • Thomas Niejadlik says:

      Good question Randy. This answer could get long winded but bear with me. The “Lemon Law” is slang for a Federal act that was passed to protect consumers. All States participates but each State writes their own rules so you can’t describe what the Lemon Law covers in one blanket statement. In general, the law relates to buyers who purchased a new automobile with a written warranty from a dealer. The term and conditions vary from State to State but again, in general, if you have the same item repaired under warranty multiple times your car might be considered a “lemon” and you could be entitled to a refund or replacement. This coverage usually expires along with the manufacturers warranty. So my short answer is the Lemon Law does not protect the seller. Selling a car AS-IS implies NO WARRANTY and usually is enough to protect the seller in a private sale. Caveat Emptor. A dealer selling a car AS-IS can still held to different standards in some states. For instance, in Maine, If a dealer sells a car to a consumer AS-IS the car still has “implied” warranty in the States eyes. In New Hamphire that’s not the case. If you buy a car in New Hampshire AS-IS you’re on your own whether you bought it from a dealer or private sale. I don’t think price ever comes into play. Doesn’t matter how much the car sells for. It matters what type of warranty it is being sold with. Please refer to your own State’s DMV website for details and call them if you can’t find the answer you are looking for.

      -Tom

  4. I’ve sold a few cars myself and have only used AutoTrader after the my first experiences with Craigslist. I don’t know why, but it seemed as though everyone from Craigslist that contacted me either wasn’t serious in buying the car or would try to low-ball me. I was tired of having my time wasted so I just used AutoTrader.

    The post is right: take good pictures and explain the car in the most detail you can. If there is something wrong, say it. Be honest with the person, it will save you hassle later on. I’ve found that most people understand that it is a used car and there will be things wrong with it.

  5. What do you do when people want to take the car out for a test drive? Do you let them? Do you go with them? How do you protect your car and yourself in that situation?

    • Thomas Niejadlik says:

      Marie,
      Most insurance companies cover your car regardless of who is driving it but you definitley need to double check that with your specific company/policy. Wanting to drive a car before agreeing to buy it is a reasonable request. If you are concerned about what the person will do with your car then just go along with them without asking. You have the right to go with them on a test drive. It’s YOUR car. You also have the right to not let them test drive it although your chances of selling it would probably decrease. I had a young gentleman who worked for me sell his car privately and sure enough a girl who was test driving it crashed it with him in the passenger seat not more than 100 feet down the road. It was only a $5,000 car and the seller had no collision coverage. The buyer was 16 and had no auto insurance at all. The insurance company would not even get involved. The seller eventually got some of his money from the buyer but he had to take her to small claims court and it took close to 6 months to settle. How could he have protected himself and his car? Collision insurance would have paid him fair value for his car. The moral of the story is know what your policy covers and doesn’t. Chances of a test drive going bad aren’t high but it can happen.

      -Tom

  6. These are very good tips. Also, you can buy that “new car smell” spray in a lot of car and automotive shops. I think Walmart might have it in their automotive department.

  7. Thanks for the post! I sold my car successfully on craigslist last fall and would definitely recommend getting a full interior detail for the pictures and showing to potential buyers. You can do this yourself if you have the patience or get a professional to do it for ~$90. I got a lot of positive comments on the cleanliness of my car and I feel it was a good selling point. Trust is key when selling directly. Disclosing any potential repairs or issues will give the buyer confidence that you’re not trying to rip them off. A stack of maintenance records helps as well.

    Also remember to only accept cash or money orders!

  8. We’re in the process of selling our car privately and have a few interested customers. My question is regarding payment. We obviously want to avoid any fraudulent transactions, and have asked for cash. One lady that is interested has said she has bank financing. Is there a way to verify the validity of the bank financing? I just don’t want to get scammed by a fake check. Tips? Thanks!

    • Thomas Niejadlik says:

      Emily,
      It’s smart to be aware of scams like this so you’re headed in the right direction. If the buyer isn’t giving you cold hard cash then they need to understand the transaction grinds to halt until the money has cleared your account. Whether they pay with a personal check, a bank check or a money order I wouldn’t transfer ownership until your bank says the money is in your account AND available for you to withdraw. You can always call the bank listed on the check and verify that the account is real and that there is enough in the account to cover the check. If the person is financing the procedure is the same. Call the bank and check it out. If you have a bad feeling that something isn’t right then cancel the deal. If the person really wants the car they will understand and find an alternative way to pay. Finally, make sure you see and get a copy of their license just to verify they are who they say they are. Hope this helps. -Tom

  9. Yes, I agree. You have shared a valuable post. It seems that your given ideas can help you to enhance car sales. Other than this you can also post advertisement on website for cars for sale.