How to Sell Your Car Online and Make Money!

This past weekend I sold my car. Trading cars is no new game to me. In my ten years as a car owner, I have owned seven cars. For one reason or another, I always seem to get a new car every year or two. What was new to me this time around was how I sold it.

In the past, I’ve always either sold my car to a dealer, traded it in as a deposit, or even totaled it in an accident (not your best option). The sale I had yet to make was one with a private party… until now! I posted a few ads, put a sign in the window, and sold my car to a complete stranger I found on Craigslist (don’t think shady). In the end, I sold the car for $14,500, $3,209 more than the offer I got from the dealer!

how to sell your car

How to Research Your Car’s Value

In last week’s budget post, we discussed using websites like Kelley Blue Book and AutoTrader to come up with a value for your car to put in your balance sheet. This is a good place to start for selling your car too.

When you go through the process of getting a value for your car on Kelley Blue Book, you’ll notice two different values: private party and trade in to a dealer. Based on the features of my car, for example, I get a trade in value of $11,291, and $13,838 for private party. The idea behind the two different prices is that a dealer needs to make a profit. Otherwise, they won’t be in business very long.

I have always admired the higher “private party” price. The discouragement that comes with that higher price is the time it takes to post a listing, filter calls, negotiate and worry about loan payoffs, and the time it takes to find a buyer in general.

I’ve always thought the extra work is not worth the extra $1,500-2,000. So, when I made the decision to sell my car a few months ago, my initial thoughts were to sell it to a dealer. However, money is tight right now and I loved my car, so waiting a few extra weeks for it to sell was not the end of the world.

How to Build the Best Online Auto Advertisement

When rummaging through the several car ads online, one will notice most have one thing in common: TERRIBLE PICTURES!

When selling your car on the internet, remember buyers aren’t there in person looking at your car. These ads only have a few photos and a short description to close the deal. Craigslist gives you the opportunity to post 24 photos for free; use them.

Pictures are worth 1,000 words and this is your chance to stand out and shine. My car ended up selling on Craigslist within a few weeks of posting it and I think it’s because I took such good photos. I took 18 of them in all and in the end they made me an extra $3,209.

Try taking at least the following pictures:

  • 3-4 shots of the exterior (front, back, side, at an angle)
  • A close up of your tires, showing how much tread is left
  • A close up of one of your rims
  • 4 pictures of the inside door panels (one for each door)
  • 2-4 pictures of the seats, showing any rips or tears
  • 3-4 pictures of your dash (buyers want to see the features and wear of common buttons)

Remember we’re not only looking for quantity here, but quality. Make sure you take high quality pictures during the daytime. Ideally your car will show best on a cloudy day as the clouds will dissipate the sunlight alleviating any unwanted glare.

Now it’s time to build a rockin’ description. Tell your reader why you’re selling. Are you selling to upgrade to the new year model or to get a bigger car for your growing family?

Tell them about the features and include a few benefits in there as well. Try and be as detailed and comprehensive as possible. Don’t forget what forms of payment you’ll accept. See my description below to give you some inspiration.

Selling to get family car – changed jobs and no longer need a BMW. 83,000 miles and runs great. All scheduled maintenance, including regular oil changes. I have all my maintenance records and CarFax available upon request. Mostly highway miles. Never been in snow. BRAND NEW TIRES. No accidents. No scratches or dents. Always garaged. Interior in excellent shape. Ice cold A/C. Non-smoker. Factory Navigation/GPS. Bluetooth for Phone & Music. Dual-Zone Climate Control. Power Sunroof. Push-Start Ignition. Remote keyless entry. Looks and drives great. High performance vehicle. Sport Model with paddle shifters, sport trim, etc. Second owner, I bought the car from Irvine BMW in 2013 as a Certified Pre-Owned. Factory Warranty until 100,000 miles. Cash, wire transfer, local cashier’s check or local money order only.

How to Get the Most Money from Your Car

With your online ad live, you’ll hopefully begin getting phone calls. Most calls will be about dealers trying to consign your car. A few will even go as far as providing some low-ball offer. Don’t give in. If you can, wait it out. Hold firm.

I listed my car for $14,995 expecting to get $14,000-14,500. After holding firm for 3 weeks I finally got someone willing to pay $14,500.

Don’t be discouraged by a high price point. I was worried that not many people had $15,000 cash lying around and if that person was in the market for a new car, chances are they’d go to the dealer so that they could obtain financing. I was right on the cash part, but the guy who ended up buying my car went to his credit union and got a loan taken out. He paid me in a cashier’s check and I deposited this into my account. I wasn’t inconvenienced one bit.

My next concern was that anyone wanting to buy a (semi-luxury) BMW may just go to the dealer themselves and wouldn’t want to be bothered by looking around a discount site like Craigslist which is why I paid almost $100 for an AutoTrader ad. Wrong again! My buyer came from Craigslist. Apparently, he had spent several weeks looking for a car with the same features as mine.

Another word of advice. I received many calls from “advertisers” that were pretty good with their sales pitch. They told me my car was very well priced (one even said I could get more) and that for a few dollars, they could list my car on AutoTrader, craigslist, and a dozen other websites. They would do all the work and my car would be sold by the end of the week.

After a quick google search of their company I found them listed on “rip-off report” and other scam websites. Buyer Beware of these so called ad agencies. You’re way better off listing it yourself and not giving your credit card info to some scam.

Finally, if you do decide to list your car on AutoTrader, be sure to pay for a “premium” ad. The free ad is buried below the premium and featured ads. Do a quick search to test it. Search something specific so that there’s only 30 or so listings. Sort by price to fully illustrate my point. You’ll notice up top there are dealer ads. These cost BIG bucks and are ads paid for by the respective dealer.

Then come premium ads, which start at the lowest and go to highest priced just like you sorted. After this comes the featured ads. You’ll notice the sorting you chose just started over. Now it’s back down cheapest to most expensive again.

After the paid ads comes the standard ads. These are free. Buried way down deep you’ll again notice a new sorting.

What this means is that if someone is searching for a car and sorts by price, chances are they’ll stop once their max budget is met the first time bypassing all other ads. You want to make sure your ad is getting seen by being in that top “premium tier.”

How to Sell your Car Online

There you have it! A dynamite description (do people still say dynamite?), stellar photos (how old am I?) and a bitchin’ advertisement (the 80’s called, they want my adjectives back). If you are in the market for a new car and want to get the most out of your old car, sell it to a private party. I am proof it can be done!

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5 thoughts on “How to Sell Your Car Online and Make Money!

  1. Ralph Woolbright

    How did you handled the title transfer and where did you close the sale? So many scam artist today, so I would like to know what precautions you took?

  2. SmartMoneyMaker Post author

    Safety is always a major concern. Personally, when I do sell things online via CraigsList, I typically offer to meet up at a populated neutral area, such as a mall. I asked the eventual buyer to meet me at my house. I live in an apartment building and the car is behind a gated garage. I felt safe knowing there were several cameras in the garage that was well lit and gated. Although the gentlemen who came over to see the car knew what building I lived in, he didn’t know what unit. It’s a good point you make regarding safety and if you are considering selling your car, I would be sure to think about how best to protect yourself from both physical and financial harm.

    As it relates to the title transfer, I live in the Sate of California which has very specific laws regarding the transfer of ownership. Here, you must notify the Department of Motor Vehicles within five days and you must mail certain documents, etc. I would encourage you to do a little research with your State’s requirements, all of which can be found online, before you hand over title to a stranger.

    Finally, when it came time for me to physically give him the car, I made sure we were at the bank where I could deposit his cashiers check right away. We then signed the paperwork and that was it!

    I hope this helps and happy selling!

  3. Callie Anitok

    Hey! Would you mind if I share your blog with my zynga group? There’s a lot of people that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Thank you