A guide to selling your used car private party (craisglist, ebay, cars.com, etc.)
Earlier this year, I made my first car purchase for myself. I bought a used car that someone was selling on Craigslist. I had spent hours upon hours watching ChrisFix videos on inspecting used cars, reading articles about negotiation, how to find a good deal, whether to buy from a dealer, etc. When it came time to sell my own car, there were a surprisingly lacking number of articles to help. Hopefully this will help you sell your car and get way more value than you would if you traded it in to a dealer. For the record: I am NOT a “car guy” and I think if I could do this well then you could too.
Step 1. Find your car’s value.
Yes KBB is good for this. It’s even better if you use multiple sources, like NADA and Edmunds, and then take the average of all three. BE HONEST TO YOURSELF ABOUT YOUR CAR’S CONDITION. Take the KBB car condition quiz to determine what your car’s condition is. At first, my car was likely in “Fair” condition, but after doing work on it, it was definitely in “Good” condition. If you think (honestly) that your car might be in between two conditions, as was the case for me, use those conditions in the KBB, NADA, and Edmunds values to try and create a range where your car might sell in. For me, this range was about $2900-$4000. ChrisFix tells used car buyers to aim for the “trade-in value” for vehicles they are looking to buy. For my car this was about $1800. This is probably even more than a dealership would have given me for this vehicle.
Tip from /u/GVIrish: Know the market for your car. You start out by finding the value via KBB, Edmunds, etc., but search used car classified sites to see what other cars like yours are advertised for and where. Knowing that information will help you in negotiations. When someone tries to talk you down on price because they can get ‘blah blah’ car for whatever made up price, you’ll already know whether they’re bullshitting and can counter them immediately.
Step 2. Figure out everything wrong with your car and fix everything possible.
For my car (a 2009 Saturn Vue), there were a host of problems: the sun visors no longer stayed up and had become floppy, the car intermittently stalled, the RPM was hunting, the TPMS was shot, the driver’s side interior handle had a pokey part sticking out of it, the brakes were near the end of their life, the interior was dirty as hell, and while storing my car in the driveway, ants infested the engine bay and a brick fell on the windshield, sending a major crack through it.
A combination of junkyard used parts/DIY installation (youtube videos are your friend), a mechanic (remember, not a car guy), a professional interior detailing, a windshield/wiper replacement, and leaving some issues (the TPMS issue, the door handle covered by duct tape, some minor electrical changes) left me in the hole on this car by about $2000.
Tip: Absolutely, absolutely detail your car, either yourself or professionally. Getting a professional interior detail cost about $300 dollars but made my car look brand new. People don’t want to buy a dirty/stained car, even used. I also got some Goo Gone to remove parking stickers, bumper stickers, etc. that I had in/on the car.
Another tip: Also run your car’s Carfax. I used this site and had zero problems. You can present this to people who will be asking for your vehicles’ maintenance records. If you have physical copies of maintenance records, sort them chronologically and provide them as well.
Yet another tip: To figure out what engine codes your car is putting out if your check engine light is on, you can use a bluetooth OBD2 scanner and the Torque Pro app. Then you can google the codes and see what fixes people have found for the problem, including youtube videos.
Step 3. Take pictures.
After a detailing, find a nice place to take pictures. You can use your phone, it really doesn’t matter that much. General advice is to do it when the sun is not beaming down, so around dawn or dusk. You’re going to want A LOT of pictures Here is a list of pictures you want, mostly taken from this Carfax guide:
- Front fascia (make sure the angle is not dead on, but from the corner of the car, like this).
- Rear fascia (use the same angle rule as the front fascia).
- A shot where you’re sitting in the backseat in the middle seat and facing the camera toward the steering wheel, sort of like this.
- Side of the car, both if either has any damage or distinctive marks.
- An angle from the front and back that shows the trunk and hood.
- Front and rear wheels, all four if any are damaged.
- Tire tread, if any are worn or older post pictures of all four.
- Front seats, particularly the driver’s seat which often shows the most wear.
- Rear seats.
- Audio or Infotainment system.
- Steering wheel.
- Gear shift mechanism. Not only is this a great way to help people envision themselves driving the car, but it will alert the buyer to whether it is a manual or automatic transmission car.
- Gauge cluster/odometer to reveal the mileage.
- Engine bay.
- Close-up photos of any damage, with a reference if necessary.
- Any special features that add value to the car like a sunroof, graphics or special badging.
Step 4. Post your car!
When posting your car, be cognizant of the audiences that each site attracts. As recommended by /u/Fallingsky44, Facebook Marketplace is the path to go without a doubt; you get to see exactly who you’re buying from and communicate with them through Messenger. I don’t have an FB account, and the restrictions are weird about using the FB Marketplace, so I used other sites. I easily got the most responses from craigslist, followed by ebay, followed by cars.com. My car wasn’t high enough value to list it on a place like AutoTrader, although yours might be. I also did not put a sign in the window like others sometimes do, but you can consider doing that if you want. The benefit of a sign in the window (from /u/verdegrrl) is this: potential buyers can perform a partial inspection right away. Cuts way down on flakes and especially opportunistic lowballers.
In your posting, BE AS DETAILED AS POSSIBLE. In the title, I listed the year, make, model, and trim of the car, I listed the engine, the mileage, and two things that I thought made the car unique (“One owner, heated seats!). In the body, I spent a couple sentences talking about the car’s history, including reason for selling and how the car tended to be used throughout its life (commuter car? delivery driver? highway or city?). After this I put a sentence: “If the posting is still up the vehicle is still available.” Then I had three more sections that were each bulleted lists: “What’s Brand New”, “Features”, and “Known Problems.” Here is what my craigslist posting looked like.
At this point you’ll have to set your price. What you should know going into selling your car is that PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS GOING TO HAGGLE YOU. NO EXCEPTIONS. Don’t list in your ad “firm on price.” What you’re going to do instead is put your price higher than you expect to get and look for people to haggle you down. This technique is called “anchoring” and is highly effective. As a buyer, haggling down a seller is a much better feeling than simply paying what is asked. People love discounts. I mentioned earlier that my target price was between $2900 and $4000. Taking into account my car’s mileage and known problems, I set my bare minimum that I would take (in my head) at $3000. Accordingly, I set my car’s craigslist price at $4250, above my preferred price range. After gauging the market for my car at that price for about a week, I subsequently lowered the asking price to $3600. I think some people that had looked at my car previously got excited and I got a lot more contacts after doing this.
The #1 compliment I got during this process was how much detail I had put into the posting. People were super appreciative of that.
Step 5. Be patient. Seriously, BE PATIENT.
This is probably the worst part of the whole process. You will get lots of spam emails, people trying to scam you, etc. Be wary of these. They tend to go away after the first couple days. If it seems fishy, it probably is. People also like to ask, “what’s your bottom price?” Don’t indulge them. Instead turn it around and ask them, “what’s your budget looking like? I am negotiable on price.” Or you could lie and say your bottom price is actually well above your real bottom price. Up to you how you decide to negotiate. I knew my bottom price was $3000, and someone actually offered me $2900. I agreed with them to sell it for that much, but they ended up not coming out to see the car (luckily for me). Lots of people will ask some questions and just totally ghost you.
People are generally very flaky in this process. In fact, I had four total individuals set up a time to come see my car. The first three all ghosted me with little to no warning, wasting my entire night. Now I’m usually the guy that people comment on how patient I am and how things don’t really bother me, but I was pretty livid after the third time. Based on this, never hold a vehicle for anyone, except if they put down a deposit (credit: /u/GVIrish). From there on out, I decided to only invite people to come see the car if we scheduled the time over a phone call rather than over text. I think for people it just seems more real when there’s an actual person on the other end whose time you are wasting. This was ultimately tough for me because I hate talking on the phone, but it was ultimately worth it. Even the fourth visitor ended up showing up an hour after our scheduled time, but I called them 15 minutes after they were supposed to show up to see where they were (they had finished eating dinner later than anticipated). You have to hold your buyers accountable.
Another tip from /u/GVIrish: Don’t drive out to meet someone to close the deal unless they’ve given you some sort of delivery fee to be worth your time. Set a time limit to the interaction as well. Some shrewd buyers know that once you’ve committed to driving out somewhere for a few hours, you’re far more likely to cave in negotiations. And some people will sit there and haggle with you for an hour or more because they know the longer it goes, the more likely you are to give up. And again, people often flake, so don’t drive somewhere for nothing.
Beware that on ebay, you can give people the option to make offers on your vehicle through ebay. If you accept these offers on ebay, they are contractually binding. If you provide a counteroffer, and they accept, that is also binding. Someone had made an offer to me on ebay for $3000 earlier in the same day that I had scheduled my fourth potential visitor. Instead of accepting it, I texted them to see if they wanted to inspect the vehicle first. The visitor that day ended up buying the vehicle, so I was very glad that I didn’t accept their offer through ebay’s system.
Step 6. Make the deal!
The fourth visitor had asked me if I was negotiable on price. I told them I was. They came to inspect the vehicle, took it on a 10 minute test drive, asked me some questions, and informed me they’d like to buy it. They didn’t try to negotiate, which they had asked about, so I asked them if they wanted it at the listing price. Ended up knocking down the price by $200 for a grand total of $3400 for the car. This is why it is so important to be patient: if I had accepted those earlier offers, I would have missed out on around $500!
Most people on the internet will tell you to take cash or nothing. Personally, when I was buying my car, I had the seller come with me into the bank to get him a cashier’s check. Felt way safer that way, and my bank didn’t have the funds on hand to give me $6k in cash anyway. That said, as a seller, I was not going to accept a personal check, money order, or cashier’s check that I had not seen a bank teller produce with my own eyes. The buyers offered cash, but what they did was smart: they put a $100 deposit down and then returned with $3300 cash (which I counted on the spot). I would recommend a cash deposit and then do your preferred transaction, cash, cashier’s check, wire transfer, whatever. But actually go do it in the bank. Don’t trust anyone.
We also signed a receipt/bill of sale in order to create some sort of formal contract that included contact information, car details, and an “as is” disclaimer which is hugely beneficial for you as a seller. Other final items that you need to take care of, in order:
- Remove your license plate (this may vary depending on your state’s laws) using a Phillips (usually) screwdriver, but put the screws back in!
- Take the cash/cashier’s check and verify it’s the correct, agreed upon amount
- Sign the receipt/bill of sale
- Sign the title over to them. Make sure if your title is co-owned by two people, that BOTH of them sign the form. This made me take an extra trip after having already gone to the DMV. Any mistakes on this will lead to a headache later on, trust me. Look up your state’s laws/requirements about signing the title over as well. This is also more complicated if the vehicle you’re selling has a lien, in which case you’ll have to work with the titleholder (bank, credit union, etc.).
- Make sure you remove all your vehicle listings, on each website, and inform potential buyers that the car has been sold.
- Remove the car from your insurance.
And there you have it! This is how I sold my vehicle with great success. Happy to answer any questions about the process and such if you have them!
Edits: Put in additional information recommended from the comments.