1. Know the Market
Is your car going to be easy to sell? Is it a hot commodity? Or will you have to drop your price and search out additional avenues to sell it?
Here are a few general rules to answer these questions:
- SUVs are in high demand right now and will likely command higher prices than sedans.
- Family sedans will always be in demand by people who need basic inexpensive transportation.
- The sale of convertibles and sports cars is seasonal. Sunny weather brings out the buyers. Fall and winter months will be slow.
- Trucks and vans used for work are steady sellers and command competitive prices. Don’t underestimate their value.
- Collector cars will take longer to sell and are often difficult to price. However, these cars can have unexpected value if you find the right buyer.
Your first step is to check classified ads to see how much other sellers are asking for your type of car. Keep in mind that dealers will have different prices than private-party listings. Make sure to sort by your year, make, model and trim level of your car to see how many similar vehicles are currently on the market. These are what your vehicle will be competing with, so take note of their condition, mileage, geographic location and selling price so you can list your car at a price that will sell it quickly.
2. Price Your Vehicle Competitively
To come up with an effective asking price, you’ll first need to find out what the car is worth and how much other people are asking for similar cars. Appraise your vehicle on Edmunds and pay attention to the “Private Party” price. This figure is adjusted for a number of factors including mileage, condition, options, and the region in which the vehicle is being sold.
An alternate method would be to get an instant offer from Edmunds. All you need to do is enter the details of your vehicle and you’ll get a firm trade-in offer, good at participating dealerships for seven days. Use this offer as a baseline for your asking price, or if you’re comfortable with the offer, you can accept it and skip the rest of the steps below.
There are always some exceptions to the rules of pricing, so you should follow your intuition. And be sure to leave a little wiggle room in your asking price. Ask for slightly more money than you are actually willing to accept. If you want to get $12,000 for the car, you should list the car at $13,500. People tend to negotiate in big chunks ($500-$1,000) rather than small increments ($100-$200). That way, when a person makes you a lower offer, it will be closer to your actual price rather than below it.
You may have noticed how creative used car dealers get in pricing cars. Their prices usually end in “995,” as in $12,995. Are we not supposed to notice that the car basically costs $13,000? There is a lot of psychology in setting prices. A product that doesn’t sell well at $20 might jump off the shelf at $19.95.
On the other hand, as a private-party seller, you don’t want to look like a car dealer. You might want to take a simple approach and set your price at a round figure such as $14,000 or $13,500.
3. Give Your Vehicle ‘Curb Appeal’
When people come to look at your car, they will probably make up their minds to buy it or not within the first few minutes. This is based on their first look at the car. So you want this first look to be positive. You want your car to have “curb appeal.”
Before you advertise your car for sale, make sure it looks clean and attractive. This goes beyond just taking it to the car wash. Here is a to-do list to help you get organized:
- Wash and vacuum the car and consider having it detailed.
- Make sure your car is both mechanically sound and free from dents, dings and scrapes.
- Consider making low-cost repairs yourself rather than selling it as-is.
- Remove all unnecessary items from inside the car. That way, when prospective buyers take a test drive, they can visualize the car as theirs.
- Wipe the brake dust off the wheel covers and treat the tires with a tire gloss product.
- Thoroughly clean the windows inside and out and all the mirrored surfaces.
- Wipe down the dashboard and empty the ashtrays.
- Have all your maintenance records ready to show prospective buyers.
- If the car needs servicing or even a routine oil change, take care of that before putting it up for sale.
- Have your mechanic check out the car and issue a report about its condition. You can use this to motivate a buyer who’s on the fence.
- Order a vehicle history report and show it to the buyer to prove the car’s title is clean and the odometer reading is accurate.
4. Where to Advertise Your Vehicle
Now that your car is looking great and running well, it’s time to advertise it for sale. Classified ads are the preferred method, not only for convenience but also for their wider geographical reach.
Here are the main markets for advertising used cars:
- Online classifieds: AutoTrader, Cars.com and CarGurus are effective and cast a wide net but can cost roughly $45 for a fully featured listing. Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and eBay classifieds are free, but you’ll have to deal with a number of random callers — more than those on the paid sites.
- Social media: Use Facebook and Twitter to let your circle know you are selling your car. Ask your contacts to spread the word.
- Peer-to-peer sites: Companies such as Carvana, Tred and Zipflip connect buyers and sellers and are a growing presence in the used-car marketplace online. Each operates a little differently, so check the sites for details of their services. These can include car inspections, warranties and return policies for buyers.
- Message boards: Many online car forums have classified sections in which you can list your car.
- Word-of-mouth: Tell your friends, co-workers and family.
- The car itself: It’s old-fashioned, but putting a “For Sale” sign in the car window can still be an effective way to sell it.
One last word of advice about advertising: If you run a classified ad, be sure you are available to take phone calls — and texts — from possible buyers. Many people won’t leave a message for a return call. So answer the phone or reply quickly to a text — and be polite. Creating a good first impression is the first step in getting buyers to see the car in person.
5. Create Ads That Sell
Think about what you are telling people when you write your ad. Little words convey a lot. Besides the price, your ad should also include the year, make, model and trim level of the car you are selling along with the mileage, color, condition and popular options. It also helps to state why you’re selling the car since it gives the ad a more personal feel.
When creating “For Sale” signs or putting an ad online, you have an opportunity to show how eager you are to sell the car. Do this with the following abbreviations and phrases:
Must sell!: This term often means the seller is leaving town and needs to dump the car at a fire sale price.
OBO: This stands for “or best offer” and it indicates that you are willing to entertain offers below the stated price. This usually conveys you are eager to sell the car.
Asking price: This phrase also communicates the feeling that you will negotiate, but it is one notch below OBO on the eagerness scale.
Firm: This word is used to rebuff attempts to negotiate. It indicates that you aren’t in a hurry to sell the car — you are most interested in getting your price.
6. Showing Your Vehicle
Many unexpected bumps in the road can arise while selling a used car. These can be handled easily if you are dealing with a reasonable person. So, as you are contacted by prospective buyers, use your intuition to evaluate them. If they seem difficult, pushy or even shady, wait for another buyer. With the right person, selling a used car should be simple.
Some sellers feel uncomfortable having buyers come to their house to see the car. However, you can generally screen buyers on the phone. If they sound suspicious, don’t do business with them. If you don’t want people knowing where you live, arrange to show the car at a park or shopping center near your home. But keep in mind that people will eventually see your address when you sign the title over to them. Read this article on How to Safely Sell Your Car for more detailed safety tips.
Keep in mind that when you sell your car, people will also be evaluating you. They will be thinking, “Here’s the person who’s owned this car for the past few years. Do I trust him or her?” Buyers will probably be uneasy about making a big decision and spending money. Put them at ease and answer their questions openly.