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Private Used Car Sales

Updated on March 1, 2013

How-To Sell A Car Online

The days of putting a "For Sale" sign on your used car and parking it on the street corner to sell it are over. Likewise, who wants to deal with a character like this guy on the left? In between there are savvy car owners who know what it takes to make a sale and reputable car dealers that properly recondition used cars and professionally market them to generate good profit margins.

In this article we'll discuss exactly what it takes to sell your own used car and get top dollar.

Change Of Ownership

Learn To Think Like A Buyer, Not A Seller

When it comes time to sell your used car, don't assume that anyone will be able to see the beauty that lies beneath the filth, clutter or deferred maintenance. The fact is that most used car buyers are turned off by a used car that's dirty or messy, or one that needs maintenance and repairs. Most people don't want a "project car", and they don't expect to spend a day cleaning and shining something they just paid good money for. That work is the seller's job. It's your job!

Used car shoppers expect the vehicle you are offering for sale to be neat and 100% in order. If it isn't, they won't even consider getting out their checkbook. When it comes to making a decision about buying your car or a comparable, tidy, used car down the street for the same money, buyers almost always choose the cleaner car with documented maintenance. In short, to have a successful sale, you need to make your car the cleanest example available.

Get Your Used Car Ready to Sell

These Are The Basics.

The best time to start preparing your car to sell is the day you get the keys. I know, it's a little late to be telling you that now, so follow these tips with your next new car:

  • Keep all maintenance records and inspection reports with your owner's manual so your car has a paper trail when it comes time to sell;
  • Do all of the maintenance required by the manufacturer (on time) so you can sell your vehicle in "excellent condition". If you slack on the maintenance, you will pay for it in the end;
  • Drive the car as if you are ready to sell it now. This does not mean you have to completely baby it (unless you want to). It simply mean you should keep it clean, polished and waxed, and stay on top of routine maintenance. It also helps if you treat your car with some respect when driving and parking.
When it comes time to sell your used car, preparation is nothing more than putting everything in order for inspection. If you fail a used car shopper's inspection, you don't get the sale.

On the other hand, if your used car is properly prepared, it will be easier to advertise, it will sell faster, and it will command a higher resale value. If you don't care about the value of your used car at resale, slacking on maintenance and care is okay. After all, it's only money.

If you are among the majority of people who don't meticulously maintain their car, don't fret. It's not difficult to recondition (as dealers would say) your vehicle. The benefits of doing the reconditioning work are many, and the drawbacks are few (a few hours of time and a few dollars).

It's important to understand how the used car buying and selling industry valuates used cars. In most cases, buyers and sellers alike use the information published by Kelly Blue Book (KBB). The "Blue Book" value of any automobile is based on a condition grade of poor, fair, good or excellent.

The value difference between a car (less than five years old) in fair condition, and the same automobile in good condition is typically $1,000 or more. So, a good rule of thumb is to spend $100 so you can make $1,000, plus you'll make it sell faster. Right now we are in a buyers market, not a sellers market, so you need to make your used car as perfect as possible without spending more money than you can get back.

Here's how Kelly Blue Book defines used car condition:

Excellent (less than 5% of all used cars fall into this category)

  • Looks new, is in excellent mechanical condition and needs no reconditioning.
  • Never had any paint or body work and is free of rust.
  • Clean title history and will pass a smog and safety inspection.
  • Engine compartment is clean, with no fluid leaks and is free of any wear or visible defects.
  • Complete and verifiable service records.
Good (most consumer owned vehicles fall into this category)

  • Free of any major defects.
  • Clean title history, the paints, body, and interior have only minor (if any) blemishes, and there are no major mechanical problems.
  • Little or no rust on this vehicle.
  • Tires match and have substantial tread wear left.
  • A "good" vehicle will need some reconditioning to be sold at retail.
Fair

  • Some mechanical or cosmetic defects and needs servicing but is still in reasonable running condition.
  • Clean title history, the paint, body and/or interior need work performed by a professional.
  • Tires may need to be replaced.
  • There may be some repairable rust damage.
Poor

  • Severe mechanical and/or cosmetic defects and is in poor running condition.
  • May have problems that cannot be readily fixed such as a damaged frame or a rusted-through body.
  • Branded title (salvage, flood, etc.) or unsubstantiated mileage.

You Might Be Confident, But... - Don't Over Do It When Making Your Pitch!

The Used Car Seller's Check List

Even if you have not planned ahead to the day when you will selling your used car, it's not a lost cause. The following used car preparation check lists will help you get your car ready to sell for the most money possible:

  1. Have the oil and other mechanical fluids serviced. They should all look clean (smart buyers will check these service points).
  2. Clean the battery. If the battery is more than a few years old, replace it (selling point).
  3. If the car was not regularly serviced, have the belts replaced and the hoses inspected.
  4. Service the tires and replace if worn (selling point).
  5. Replace the windshield wiper blades if they are more than 6 months old.
  6. Replace burned out lights (interior and exterior).
  7. Replace cracked and damaged headlight and tail lights lenses.
  8. Get all of the trash out, including the greasy French Fries between the seats.
  9. Remove everything from the glove box except the owner's manual, insurance papers and the registration (buy a replacement owner's manual if it's missing).
  10. Remove ALL devices that did not come with the car from the factory (radar detectors, GPS, MP3 players, cell phones). They make the car look cluttered and they may walk away while a "buyer" is inspecting the car.
  11. Fix all switches, knobs, handles, etc. that do not work properly (a clear sign the car was not maintained).
  12. If the parking brake does not set firmly, have it adjusted.
  13. Make sure the A/C blows cold. If not, have it serviced. Also, if the A/C smells bad, have it treated.
  14. Lubricate door hinges and trunk hinges.
  15. Clean and treat door, hood and trunk seals and treat with a vinyl & rubber protectant.
  16. Clean the engine compartment and treat all plastic and rubber surfaces.
  17. Clean out the trunk. There should be nothing in the trunk that did not originally come with the car. Make sure the spare tire and jack are clean and stowed where they belong. A rusty jack should be cleaned and repainted or replaced. Remove any moisture from the trunk.
  18. Vacuum the interior until every last crumb is gone.
  19. Shampoo cloth seats, carpets and floor mats.
  20. Clean and condition all vinyl surfaces and leather seats.
  21. Make sure the dashboard, console, arm rests, cup holder, ash trays and steering wheel are spotless.
  22. Clean the interior glass until there are no streaks or smudges.
  23. Scrub the exterior, paying extra attention to the bumpers, area around the gas cap, door jambs and other soiled areas.
  24. Make the tires and wheels look like new.
  25. If your alloy wheels are damaged, have them repaired.
  26. Remove all bumper stickers and personalized license plate frames.
  27. Repair all minor nicks, chips, scratches and dings.
  28. Make your paint perfectly smooth and clean by using a detailing clay bar.
  29. Polish the paint until it is free of swirl marks, water spots and fine scratches.
  30. After polishing, wax the paint to protect the shine and dress all of the trim.

Now that your car is back in pristine condition, take lots of digital photos for your advertisement. Be sure to take pictures of the engine, interior, and trunk, as well as multiple angles of the exterior.

Does all of the cleaning, polishing and waxing sound like a lot of work? It can be if you're not familiar with car detailing.

Selling Your Used Car Online

It's A Jungle Out There!

If you followed all of my recommendations above, you're now ready to advertise your car for selling. The first thing you have got to realize is that the typical strategy of slapping a sign in the car's window, running a classified ad in the local paper, and crossing your fingers is not going to work. Those days are over.

According to J.D. Power and Associates, nearly 60% of people who buy used cars and trucks surf the Internet during the shopping process. So, if you want to sell your car quickly and for a good price, you'll need to list it on some of the more popular selling sites. Here are my tips on how to do it right.

Choosing a Used Car Selling Site

Most Web sites that list used cars charge the seller a small fee, but not all. Pick the classified ad site you use carefully to avoid wasting time and money.

EBay Motors is the largest of all the online automotive market places. Their fee is $90 per listing. As with other sales on eBay, you sell you car auction style (buyers make bids), but don't worry, you have control over pricing. An an eBay seller, you can reserve levels, or minimum sales prices.

The next two large selling sites, AutoTrader.com and CarsDirect.com, offer a more traditional sales processes. On these sites, you advertise your vehicle with a full-page ad and multiple photographs. AutoTrader.com charges a base $25 for a simple classified with a single picture, and up to $79 for a more elaborate listing thumbnail photos, a highlighted status to make your ad stand out, and up to 18 photos. I like AutoTrader.com a lot because the syndicate their ads out to other large sites, including Edmunds.com, AOL, and Yahoo! Autos. CarsDirect.com charges between $25 for a listing with one photo for 30 days to $37.50 for a listing with six pics that stays up until the car sells.

As I mentioned above, not all classified site charge a fee. Craigslist.org, one of the largest Internet marketplaces, is one site that does not charge a fee, but you pay a big price for listing goods for sale. Claigslist ads are not structured, so you're left to create your own format. If you're an HTML whiz, you can create an okay looking ad. Also, a Craigslist ad only lasts a few days, so you will need to post it again and again until your used car sells. However, the biggest problem is that Craigslist is home to a growing number of spammers, scammers and extremely cheap-minded buyers.

Setting The Right Price For Your Used Car

Once you've found the right place to list your used car, you'll need to establish the right selling price. For this, pay a visit to the Kelley Blue Book site and use their used car valuation tool. It spells out what a used car's value should be by zip code. Edmunds.com also offers a used vehicle appraisal tool, which I have used several times to get a second opinion.

Your Used Car Won't Sell Online Without Pictures!

As I said before, take plenty of pictures. Pictures help establish a value in the buyer's mind before they ever see the car in person. A used car listing without photos will be completely overlooked.

Your car will attract more potential buyers and sell faster if you have lots of clear photos. I highly recommend showing both interior and exterior pictures. Take pictures that show your used car's true condition. It's even a good idea to take a picture of the odometer to confirm the miles. It shows buyers that you are honestly disclosing everything. If you have a car with special options, take pictures and highlight them. The more detailed your listing is, the better your ad will perform.

Selling a used car is still mostly a face-to-face deal. That means you must be willing to meet with prospects and engage in negotiation. All potential buyers will want to take a test drive and get the car inspected. When you speak with your prospect by telephone or email, ask that they arrive with their driver's license and proof of insurance.

I was able to sell my used car online and so can you! Selling your used car yourself on the Internet offers you and the buyer a win-win opportunity. Chances are you will make a little more and the buyer will save a little (and save the stress of dealing with a used car lot!). Be willing to negotiate on price a little; just don't be a pushover.

About the Author

When David Bynon is not on Squidoo you will find him blogging about health care and senior's issues on his MedicareWire.com blog.

What Was Your Last Used Car Selling Experience? - Haven't Tried Selling a Car Yourself? Please Sign My Guest Book and Tell Me Why!

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    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 6 years ago from East Central Florida

      I always iust trade mine in to s dealership I know and trust.