As you’re probably aware, you can usually get more for your used car if you sell it yourself on Craigslist or in AutoTrader than if you were to trade it in at the dealer. If you’re looking to get rid of your car, the first thing you’ll want to do is to look at the gap between what you could get at trade-in, and what you could get selling it yourself. For a quick and dirty way to compare the two, head over to the handy Cars.com tool. For example, for a 2006 Acura TL it gives a Black Book Trade-in value of $12,680. Most dealers rely heavily on Black Book, so it’s a very good indication of what you’ll actually be able to get at trade-in for your car. Then check out the Expected Sale Price. In this instance, ClearBook (discontinued) has enough data points to have 97% accuracy and gives an average sales price of $14,677. If you determine that this $2,000 difference is worth the hassle of posting your car on Craigslist and continuously showing it to interested parties, then you’re ready to proceed with selling your car on Craigslist.
Research Laws and Prepare Documents
Once you’ve decided to sell your car on Craigslist, then the next step is to research the car sale laws in your state and prepare the necessary paperwork. Good sources for this are your state’s DMV and the office of the tax collector. You’ll want to have the title to the car and current registration statement on-hand.
Compile Your Vehicle’s History
As you prepare to sell your car on Craigslist, you will want to run some type of title check on your car. Ensure that it has clean title and print out this report. Chances are, a prospective buyer will want to at least see this, or run their own check. Also note any major repairs that have been done on the car. If the engine was replaced 40,000 miles ago and the tires only have 10,000 miles of wear, you will want to note this in your ad.
Clean Your Car
You car should be very clean, both when taking pictures and when showing it to prospective buyers. A dirty car can easily knock $500 or more off of the perceived value of a car. Take it to the car wash, vacuum the insides, dust visible surfaces, and wipe down leather with the leather treatment of your choice.
Take Pictures of Your Car
As you probably know, pictures are the most important aspect when it comes to selling a car on Craigslist or anywhere else online. When I browse car ads on Craigslist I don’t even click on the add if it doesn’t have the “img” mark next to the ad. You will want to make sure that the pictures are of good quality and they they show off all areas that someone would be interested in inspecting. I can’t stress this enough. If your pictures are low quality or you just include pictures of the exterior but not the interior, fewer people are going to want to check out your car, and you’re going to waste time showing your car to people who could have known from the pictures that they weren’t interested because the leather is cracked. Don’t think that you’re going to hide some defect by including lower quality pictures. If a side mirror is missing, make sure that’s in the picture. Someone who comes to check out your car is going to see that, so might as well let them know ahead of time instead of potentially wasting their time and yours.
Creating Your Craigslist Listing
The formatting of your ad can go a long way. Your ad should first list all of the positives, and then all the negatives. People will overlook negatives when you’ve told them about all the positives and then you actually tell them about the negatives. Most ads just highlight the positives, and then leave the negatives up to the potential buyer to imagine. This wastes a lot of time. In your writing, you should write in concise statements. Don’t give all of the details in a big block of text.
You should also use html to format your image. This will allow you to show higher quality images and format your text. Check out this guide I wrote on formatting your Craigslist car ad. I provide an example that I created of a stellar ad and I give you the html code so that you can copy and paste it into the ad yourself and just change the wording.
You also want to highlight how you’ve treated the car while you’ve had it. If you performed routine maintenance and had the oil changed every 5,000 miles on the dot, make sure to point this out in the ad. Also, if the title is clean, make sure that you include the words “clean title” in the ad. I get tired of clicking on salvage cars sometimes, so I will occasionally include the words “clean title” in my search. If you don’t mention the status of the title, people will assume it’s salvage title. Also, if you’re the first owner and if you don’t smoke, you should also bring attention to these facts. Nothing says good condition quite like a car that is “clean title, one-owner, smoke-free”.
Pricing Your Car
Always price your car for more than you expect to get, because people will expect to talk you down from the price you list. One time after test driving someone’s Acura TL I had said “I like the car, but I think the $13,500 listing price is a bit more than I was looking to pay for this car, especially since the breaks appear to be quite worn and the leather is cracking.” The guy replied: “Oh, is that what I put it at online? I was thinking more in the $12,000 range.” Which I guess brings up a good point, know what your car is posted at online, and what you expect to get. You shouldn’t be surprised when someone mentions the price you listed it at online. Going back to Clearbook, for that same Acura TL I mentioned earlier, Clearbook recommends a listing price of $15,900. That gives you over $1,000 to negotiate down to its expected average sale price. Now, the value of your car will vary based on your location and the condition of the car, and the price you’re willing to accept will also be affected by your need to sell the car. If you’re not under any time restrictions to sell the car, then you can wait out for the price you want instead of needing to sell it quick because you’re moving next Tuesday.
Posting Your Ad
Once you’ve done everything above, it’s finally time to sell your car on Craigslist. Since most people do their car shopping on weekends, it’s best to post so that your ad shows near the top during the times when people are looking. In my opinion, the best time to post is 6 AM on Saturday. This is before most people wake up to look at cars, but it ensures that you’ll be near the top once they do wake up and start looking. Your title should include the year, make, model, and best main feature. Don’t try to spam your title or the rest of your ad with other models that you think are similar. Most people searching on Craigslist know what they want. Also, if you’re able, try to post your phone number in the ad. You will usually deal with more-serious buyers this way, and it will allow you to answer questions from prospects quickly.
Now go out there and post your ad! If you need help with your actual ad, check out my post on formatting Craigslist car ads.