When you’re selling a car, you’re more likely to get the best price from an individual as opposed to a dealer. When you’re looking for a way to find that individual, remember that Craigslist is a competitive (and still growing) marketplace for car shoppers and sellers.
It’s easy for buyers to search through ads, and you’ll be happy with the free posts to an audience of millions in your area. With pictures and lots of space, you can get more out of the listing than those expensive 20 words you might get in the local paper.
I recently sold my car in four days for a good price, so I’m sharing what I’ve learned with you here.
8 Steps to Selling a Car on Craigslist
1. Take Care of Your Title
Before you do anything else, make sure you work out any kinks with your car title. Resolve any problems early, so that your final sale can go smoothly.
If you have the title, fish it out from whatever extremely safe location (i.e. “lost”) you had used for storage, and keep it handy. If you don’t have the title because you have a car loan, call the bank and find out how much you still have on the loan and how much you would have to give them in order to get the title back. Get detailed instructions from the bank on how they would like to handle the transfer.
If you don’t have your title because you really did lose it, go to your local DMV to start the paperwork for getting a new one. Some buyers will be able to pay in cash, and they’re going to want a quick sale, so get your answers before your car goes on the market.
2. Get Your Car Washed and Vacuumed
I cannot overstate how much better your potential buyers’ first impressions will be (and how much better your final sale price will be) with a spotless car, than with a car that is full of fast food wrappers, old magazines, and smashed crackers.
If you can’t wash and vacuum at home, see if you can find a full-service car wash near you. With a coupon, it won’t cost much to get a wax-and-wash on the exterior and a good vacuuming on the inside. In return, your car will appear more enticing to customers, so they’ll be more willing to buy and more likely to spend.
Once the pros are finished, go over the inside yourself with a wet rag and wipe down every surface that could conceivably collect dust. Trust me, there are a lot of them. If you’ve ever had a pet in the car, take a lint-roller to all the upholstery and the carpet.
When I finished this process with my car, which previously had looked like small animals had created an independent civilization inside it, even I wanted to buy the car.
3. Take a Ton of Pictures
If you don’t take a picture of a certain part of the car, people are probably going to assume there’s something wrong with it. Listings that only have a shot or two don’t get as much interest as those with lots of clear, well-lit pictures showing the car inside and out.
Plus, you’ll waste less time because the people who do contact you will know exactly what the car looks like. You’ll know that they’re legitimately interested if they make the effort to reach out to you.
Things you should capture include:
- Front, back, and both sides
- Driver’s seat area
- Stereo, including capability like music player input, if you have it
- Dashboard while car is on (to show that no service lights are on)
- Trunk while open
- Wheels and tires (showing remaining tread)
- Spare tire and jack (if you have one)
- Roof (if it has a roof rack, sunroof, or moonroof) and bumper (if it has a towing hitch)
- Any extra features you paid for, like a spoiler or body kit
If there’s damage to the car, don’t try to hide it, but don’t take close up pictures of it either. Just make sure it’s visible in the shots you take of the front, back, and sides. If you’re concerned about privacy, blur out your license plate before posting the photos.
4. Set a Good Price
Consult the Kelley Blue Book, and check out some other, similar listings on Craigslist too. When you pick a price, be honest with yourself about your car’s deficits, and keep in mind that the problems you’ve learned to live with will not be so familiar to the buyers. For example, you might need to knock off a few hundred dollars for that trunk-release valve that sometimes sticks or the window that never quite goes all the way down.
If time is of the essence, you can specify that you will only take cash offers, but know that you’ll make a little less in a cash-only deal. Feel free to use your best negotiation strategies and tactics. You can list the car for a little more than you are willing to accept, since people will definitely try to offer less and sometimes severely lowball you.
If you already know what you’re willing to take, and what other similar cars are going for, you’ll know when to jump on a good offer. Always negotiate up as far as you can. You’d be surprised how far saying something like, “Can you do $X?” will get you.
5. Describe the Heck Out of the Car
Write your description offline so you can proofread and review before you post it. You’ll want to get every detail in the description, but also be clear and concise. Spelling mistakes are not allowed. Generally, you’re trying to paint the picture that you are being honest and forthright about the car. You also need to include a phone number in your listing, even if you’re also providing an email contact.
- If your car has some damage – especially body damage – you must mention it. If damage is visible in the pictures and you don’t comment on it, people will be suspicious.
- If you know the car has problems that will be immediately apparent upon a test drive, describe those briefly.
- If you have any maintenance records, summarize them.
- Definitely include the current mileage of the car.
6. Create Your Post’s Title and Submit the Ad
Your subject line should be concise yet informative, and it should fit a simple format like: “2002 Chevrolet Malibu – Great commuter car – 93K.” Put the year first, then the make and model, and mention the miles if they’re low. Most listings match a structure like this, so you’ll miss potential buyers with something less genuine like “Wow! Terrific car! Low miles. Chevrolet Malibu.”
Craigslist will host pictures for you, but only four of them. I recommend getting a Photobucket account (or a similar photo-hosting site), uploading your pictures there, and then inserting them in the body of the listing so you can include as many as you want. Make sure your pictures are a reasonable file size, however, as heavy downloads or oversized images can turn away impatient searchers. Plus, your Photobucket account will run out of space quickly.
7. Set Up Test Drive Appointments
Figure out ahead of time when you can host some test drives. I usually allotted about 45 minutes for each person. If you write out a schedule ahead of time, you’ll be better prepared for when calls and emails start coming in.
When you assign times, make sure you get each person’s name and phone number (in case they are late or forget). Don’t hold spots for people if you think they’re not serious. You can’t waste valuable schedule space on people you can’t get a hold of.
Additionally, decide ahead of time where you will meet them. I met people at a church parking lot, and met sellers at the grocery store. Don’t meet anyone at your house or theirs. It’s just not worth the risk of some of the dangerous and unpredictable things that could happen.
8. Make Sure to Re-post Your Ad
You’ll notice the frequency of calls dropping off after the first couple days, since new ads are getting more views than your old one and most people don’t go beyond the first few pages of search results. Delete and re-post your ad after two or three days, and you’ll be back on top.
If you don’t re-post, your ad basically becomes useless after a few days as no one will view it anymore. Lastly, if you followed all these steps and still haven’t gotten any calls, your price is probably too high. Don’t hesitate to reconsider your price or rewrite your description when you re-submit your post.
Always keep your guard up when receiving emails from “prospective buyers.” Craigslist has plenty of potential buyers, but the marketplace is also full of scammers, especially when it comes to buying and selling cars (i.e. common Craigslist scams). If someone offers you more money than you asked for, that’s a tell-tale sign of a scammer. Also, never do any transactions through a money wire service and don’t deal with anyone claiming that they’re international. Remember, “If it sounds too good to be true, then it is too good to be true.” Keep that in mind and stay on guard, and you’ll be fine. Good luck!
Do you have any firsthand experience selling a car on Craigslist? What was the experience like?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)