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!
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)
- Current mileage
- Optional equipment
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 up front 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.)
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.)
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.
Once you sell your car, make sure you buy your next vehicle the smart way:
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in October 2012. It has been thoroughly updated for relevance and accuracy before republication.