In the past few years, I’ve become a huge fan of using Craigslist and eBay to sell items that I no longer need to folks who do, while earning some extra cash on the side.

But, when it came to selling cars, I had been afraid to do it myself.  After all, it was a huge transaction that required a transfer of title deed.  What if I messed it up?  I was also afraid of meeting strangers for such a huge transaction.  Fear and the unknown kept me from doing it myself, despite the thousands of extra dollars I could have made compared to selling to a dealer.

Well, I finally overcame my fears and helped my parents sell their pickup truck online.  Since they are retired, they needed to get the most value from the sale.  Selling to a dealer would have been throwing away some of their retirement money.

I want to share everything I learned about the experience with you, and encourage you to try selling your car online yourself rather than selling to a dealer.  It’s not that hard and you’ll make thousands of extra dollars!  It was much less hassle than I thought and the car was sold in less than 24 hours!

My Fears of Selling a Car Myself

As I mentioned, I had lots of fears and reservations about selling my car by myself.  Here are some of them:

  • It’s too much hassle
  • It will take too long
  • I don’t know how to find a fair sale price
  • I don’t know how to find buyers
  • I don’t want to screen buyers
  • I am afraid of showing strangers my car, going for a test drive with a stranger, and so forth
  • I hate negotiating
  • I don’t know how to do the DMV paperwork
  • I don’t want to get scammed when I get paid

I want to address each of these issues below and point out the huge benefit of selling yourself:  In my parents’ case, we made thousands of dollars more than we would have by selling to a dealer for less than one day of work. Would you turn down two thousand dollars for less than one day of work? 

Now I feel totally stupid for throwing away thousands by always selling my used cars to dealers.

So, I share with you my killer tips to sell your car online quickly and for way more than what you’d get from a dealer!

Determine the Correct Value of Your Car

Proper pricing is probably the most important part of getting your car sold fast. To find the fair market value for my parents’ truck, I went to Kelley Blue Book and entered the info for the car, or in this case, the truck.

From that, I got a fair market price for my parents’ truck.  It’s also a good idea to check the online listings for similar cars (at cars.com or other used car site).  I then subtracted some amount for the defects: the dent in the bumper, a few dings and scratches, and other cosmetic imperfections.

Then, I added back in some amount to the price to give myself some negotiating room.  Buyers love to negotiate and feel like they’ve knocked the price down, so give them that chance!

If you want to move the car fast, price low.  If you want to get top dollar, and don’t mind waiting longer, price higher.  Be realistic about the cost of your car, especially if it has defects.  The higher you price, the longer it will take to sell, and your time is worth something.

I chose to add “or best offer” to my ad.  It meant more responses, but also more haggling, but since I allowed some room for that in my price, that was okay.

Check the Requirements for Your State

Next, you should go online to your local DMV website and check the requirements for selling a car in your state.  For example, California requires that you get a smog check for the car if you haven’t done so in the last 90 days.  How many people actually do that, I don’t know, but that’s what the DMV says to do.

Other than that, all of the forms we needed to sell the car were attached to the car’s title or “pink slip”!  It couldn’t be easier!

If you still have payments on your car and don’t have the title, call your lending institution and request it from them, with a lien release.

Decide Where to Post Your Car Online

I had no idea which website was best to sell a car at.  Cars.com seemed to come up very high in Google searches, so I chose that.  I’m glad I did, because it worked great!  It was really easy to create the profile, and the ad was free for 30 days (it turns out, I only needed one!)

Prepare Your Car

We wanted to sell our truck really fast, so we didn’t bother to fix the dings and dents it had.  You may or may not choose to do so.  The higher the value of your car, the more you might want to fix things before the sale.

But, you should definitely give your car a good wash and wax. Remove all of the junk and your personal items from the inside, and vacuum it thoroughly.  Make it showroom-ready!

Then, gather any maintenance records and receipts for any parts/accessories for the car that you might have. This will help bolster the value of the car.

Create a Killer Ad

The cars.com website prompts you to enter most of the necessary information about the vehicle, like model, mileage, and so forth.

But, it is up to you to upload good photos (up to five for free at this time).  Good photos are probably the most important aspect of your ad!  Definitely upload photos!!!  Get the front and rear, as well as a shot of the interior.

Take the photos in good daylight. An overcast day works well too. An iPhone or Galaxy camera is capable of taking great photos if in the correct conditions.  If you have a better camera, then great.  Get close up to the car so it fills the whole frame.

Rather than hiding defects, highlight them!  Show cosmetic flaws in the photos. Buyers will appreciate your honesty and you’re less likely to have them back out of the deal when they show up to buy.

Photo of our truck showing dent in rear bumper and scratches

Photo of our truck showing dent in rear bumper and scratches

In the written description, say why you’re selling the vehicle.  People love to know that, and it reassures them that you’re not just trying to unload a lemon.  In my case, I said my parents were retired and no longer needed the truck for their business.

Be honest about the vehicle’s flaws in the written description.  In our case, the truck ran great, but had some dents and dings.  I pointed these out in the description even though the photos showed them.  If the vehicle needs repairs, be honest and disclose that. Again, people will appreciate your honesty and they won’t be unpleasantly surprised when they show up and see it in person. This makes the actual sale much easier!

You should also praise the vehicle’s good points.  Maybe it runs really well and hasn’t had any major problems.  Maybe you just got new tires or brakes.  Maybe it has a great stereo.  Mention any positives about the car that may not be apparent from the photos!

Once you’re done with the ad, carefully proofread it, then go ahead and activate it!  On cars.com it took a few hours for it to appear on the site.

In our case, we chose not to purchase the Carfax vehicle history report.  This is up to you.  We did fine without it.  If you are selling a very expensive car, folks might want to see it though.

Screen Potential Buyers

I activated the ad in the afternoon.  By nightfall, I had only gotten one interested inquiry.  Hmmm…  I was wondering if maybe cars.com was not the right choice.  But, by the next morning (a Saturday morning), I had gotten three more inquiries.

I chose one where the seller identified himself as a mechanic and said he’d bring cash.  I called him on the phone, and he seemed very eager to buy immediately, so we set up the meeting that morning!

Here are some things to look for in prospective buyers:

  • They seem very eager to buy now, rather than being wishy-washy or just looking
  • They offer to bring cash
  • They say something about themselves and/or why they want the vehicle

Where to Meet Potential Buyers for Convenience and Safety

My parents chose to meet the buyer at the local AAA office.  That turned out to be a great idea, because after the sale, they were able to submit the forms right there.  If you’re a member of the AAA, they will send the forms to the DMV for you!  They were done in one stop!

If your buyer is going to pay with cashier’s check, you might want to meet near their bank, so you can go in with them to get the check.  Only accept cash, cashier’s check, or some combination of the two.  Don’t accept checks unless the buyer is willing to let you hold onto the car until the check clears!

If your buyer wants a mechanic to check it out, you might want to meet there.

For safety, always meet in a well-trafficked public place during daylight hours.  Don’t meet with buyers alone!  Bring a friend or family member.  If the buyer wants to take the car for a test drive, have one person stay and one go with the buyer.

Negotiate and Get the Best Deal

If you’ve priced the car correctly, and made a good, honest profile, then negotiating shouldn’t be as bad as you might fear.

One thing we had going for us is that we had multiple interested buyers. I made sure to mention this. Although we did come down from our asking price, we basically said we couldn’t go much lower because we had other interested parties who wanted the car.  If that is the case for you, be sure to mention it!

People love to feel like they negotiated the price down, so allow some room to lower the price!!!  Studies have shown that people who have negotiated the price down are more satisfied with the transaction than those who were not able to haggle but paid a lower price!  So, allowing the person to haggle actually can get you a higher price, if you allow room for it in your initial price!

Afterwards

After you’re done with the sale, remember to mail your Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability to your DMV.  Or, in the case of my parents, they simply turned it into the AAA, which took care of it for them.

Then, enjoy the additional cash you’ve earned from doing it yourself!

Conclusion

So, selling my parents’ truck was way easier, and took much less time than I had feared.  I would have never dreamed we’d have it sold in 24 hours.  While that is probably faster than usual, I was impressed by how painless the process was.  I’ll never sell my old car to a dealer again! 

How did your used car sale go?  Please leave any questions or stories about your experience below! – Brian

For More Information

%d bloggers like this: