10 Tips for Selling a Used Car Online

Selling your used car has never been easier (or potentially more lucrative) thanks to the Internet.
Selling your used car has never been easier (or potentially more lucrative) thanks to the Internet.

Your car has been good to you, or maybe it hasn't. Either way, now's the time for you to move on. Sure, you could be emotional and sentimental about it (we won't judge) but no matter how many miles the two of you shared or what you named it, when you're selling it, you want to get the most money you can get. It's nothing personal — just business.

If you take your car to a dealer, they're just going to turn around and sell it. To maximize his profit, he'll offer you less money. Listing your car online exposes it to a wider audience, which means more people who will potentially want to buy it. Selling a car online isn't without pitfalls, however. Here are ten tips that will help you sell your car online like a pro.

10: List it in the Right Places

It used to be that if you wanted to sell a car yourself, your only options were to put a "for sale" sign in the car window and/or take out an ad in the local paper. Now, however, there are numerous websites that are all but begging you to list your car with them.

Deciding which website depends largely on how you want to sell it. If you're comfortable with paying some dough for a site that gets a lot of traffic, a fee-based option may work for you. You might get the best price by going for an online auction site. Or, you may be most comfortable using a free classifieds site. Whatever you choose, make sure you understand and are comfortable with all of the terms and conditions that come along with listing your car there.

9: Know What You Have

Once people start contacting you about the car, they're going to have a lot of questions. You'd better be able to answer them. Even if you're not technically inclined, now is the time to find out what kind of engine it has, how many speeds its transmission has, what kind of gas mileage it gets, all of its safety features and the size of its cargo hold.

Be realistic about the amount of miles on the car and any possible repairs it might need. Worn parts, like tires, are something that car buyers aren't going to want to pay for. Do some research and decide if you want to fix your car up a bit before you sell or if you'd rather just sell it for a lower price.

8: The Price is Right

When you know what you have to sell, setting the right price is the next step. Sure we all want one million dollars for our cars, but you have to be at least somewhat reasonable. Price your car too high and you'll get ignored by buyers. Price it too low and you'll get a lot of responses, but you'll end up making less money on the deal.

To find out the right price for your car, do some research. See what similar cars with a similar mileage and condition are listed for in your area. Pay attention to the features and options those cars have. If your car is missing some of those, you'll want to list it at a lower price. If your car has features that other similar cars don't have, bump the price up a bit. Stay realistic, though — it's Bluetooth, not a Picasso.

One final note on price: Not all the extras you love on your car will appeal to buyers. A crazy paint job or shag carpeting may seem great to you, but they don't have a lot of mass appeal and may actually lower the price you get for your car.

More Tips for Selling a Used Car Online

You'd better get your car in tip-top shape to really woo potential customers.
You'd better get your car in tip-top shape to really woo potential customers.

7: Clean Up Your Act

You take a shower before you go on a date because you want to make a good impression (and because your natural musk is somewhat off-putting). Ditto for selling your car. Before you list it, clean your car out. Buyers have a hard time seeing a beautiful interior if it's buried under a lifetime of Wendy's receipts. Throw out the trash and personal items, vacuum the carpet and throw in some air freshener. Make sure you also get the outside clean. Wash and wax the car, and give the wheels some extra cleaning love. You know your car is more than just a pretty face, but no one wants to buy ugly and stinky. A clean car is plain easier to sell.

6: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – and Dollars

The downside of shopping for something online is that you can't see it. Online used car listings with lots of pictures let buyers see exactly what they're getting. After you get your car all cleaned up, take some pictures of it.

When it comes to taking pictures for a used car listing, be thorough. Don't just take a few shots of the exterior. Show pictures of details like headlights and tires so buyers can see the wear and tear on them. Take lots of interior shots, including pictures of things like the dashboard and radio. Show the backseat and cargo area, as well, so buyers can see if your car has room for all their passengers and stuff. When taking pictures of the interior, make sure the car is on. This allows buyers to see that you don't have any warning lights or indicators, a sign your car is in good condition. Don't forget to take a few shots of what's under the hood, as well.

5: Write it Up

One of the hardest parts about selling a car online is actually writing the ad. We've all seen hilarious Craigslist used car ads, but don't feel like you need to be Shakespeare to sell your car. Just make sure you cover the basics. Try to anticipate any questions a car buyer might have about your car, and answer them in the listing. At the very least, your ad should include:

  • The year, make and model of the car
  • How many miles it has
  • What kind of gas mileage it gets
  • Whether you have the maintenance records or not
  • The price you're asking for it
  • Any known repair or maintenance issues
  • How to contact you (email or cell phone is probably best, for safety's sake)

4: Have Your Paperwork in Order

Once you list your car online (with plenty of pictures!) potential buyers will start to contact you. Before you can go through with selling the car, however, you'll need to have all your paperwork in order. You'll need the car's title to prove that you're legally able to sell the car. You'll also need a bill of sale for the buyer, so they can prove that they've bought it from you (the bill of sale also proves to your state and insurance company that you no longer own the car). Your car registration also needs to be up-to-date. If you have questions about the paperwork you need to sell your car, contact your state's motor vehicle department and get the answers you need before you have a buyer standing in front of you.

Even More Tips for Selling a Used Car Online

Being explicit about the payment forms you'll accept is key to a speedy and effective sale.
Being explicit about the payment forms you'll accept is key to a speedy and effective sale.

3: Know the Kinds of Payment You'll Accept

Selling a car can net you several thousand dollars. Most car buyers don't have that kind of cash on hand, so as a seller, you need to be comfortable with the kind of payment you'll accept for your car. You also need to protect yourself from fraudulent payments.

Some online sites handle the payment for you, which can offer you some protection, but the sites usually take a percentage of the money, which leaves less for you. Other online car sites don't handle payment, so you're on your own. Don't accept personal checks from buyers, and if one wants to pay you with a bank or cashier's check, do not hand over the keys until you've contacted the financial institution the check is from and determined that it's real. Beware of people who want to overpay you by check and then have you give them the difference in cash — that's a common scam.

2: Do it in Public

One of the more stressful parts of selling a car online is dealing with people you don't know. While most people aren't out to hurt or scam you, there are crooks out there. The last thing you want is to have those people at your house. Meet all potential buyers in a public place and bring a friend with you. If the buyer wants a test drive, make sure they leave something with you that ensures they'll return. It's also a good idea to make sure you have a good description of the buyer, as well as, any other identifying information, like their license tag or phone number, just in case something goes wrong.

1: Take Your Ad Down

Once your car is sold and your wallet is stuffed full of the buyer's money, you need to take your online ad down. Nothing is worse than having your phone blow up at 3 a.m. with inquiries about the car you sold last week. You'll also need to make sure that you cancel your car insurance on the car right away — there's no sense in paying for insurance on a car you don't own. Do all this, and you'll be able to sit back and relax on the massive pile of cash you earned by selling your car online.


Is the Car Dealership Model Outdated?

Is the Car Dealership Model Outdated?

Automakers are changing the way consumers buy and drive their cars. Find out more at HowStuffWorks.

Author's Note: 10 Tips for Selling a Used Car Online

I've written about cars for online sources for nearly a decade, and during that time I have learned one thing, both from editors and from user behavior: photos sell cars. Outside of that adult activity much Internet use is dedicated to, car buying is one of the most visual experiences you can have online. Car shoppers want to see what they're getting. If there's one tip you should take to heart when it comes to selling a used car online, it's that you should have as many photos as possible. Cars with photos just sell faster.

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