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12 Tips For Selling Your Used Car Online

9 minute read

By Devon Taylor

Your car has been good to you. (Or maybe it hasn’t.) Either way, it’s now time for you to move on. Sure, you could be emotional and sentimental about it (we won’t judge). However, no matter how many miles the two of you shared (or what you named your ride), 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 their own profit, you’ll be offered much less money than selling it privately. 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, though. Here are some tips that will help you sell your car online like a pro.

12. List 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.


11. 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.


10. The Price is Right

When you know what you have to sell, setting the right price is the next step. Sure, we all want top dollar 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.


9. 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.


8. Depersonalize Your Car

This step aligns closely with giving your vehicle a thorough cleaning, but it’s worth a separate mention. You should take steps to remove any personal items or decorations from your car. Yes, it’s time to peel off that OBAMA ’12 or COEXIST bumper stick. Same with your stick figure family. Remove any license plate border that reveals your sports fandom.

Same goes for the interior. Take down the fuzzy dice from the rear view mirror, ditch the vent-mounted air freshener, and remove the seat covers. You want your car to look like it just came off the assembly line at the factory, or at least at close as possible. You want prospective buyers to be able to see a “blank slate,” so to speak. That way, they can easily envision making the car their own. No one wants to drive your around a car with your “My Other Ride is a Millennium Falcon” sticker on the back.


7. A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words – and Dollars

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

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.


6. 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:


5. Avoid Scams

Unfortunately, there are a ton of shady characters floating around in cyberspace. There’s a decent chance that at least one scammer will try to contact you about your car. They offer all sorts of somewhat-logical sounding explanations to convince you, but their end goal is always the same: to rob you of your money.

One common scam is to sign over a check to you, for more than the asking price of the vehicle. Then they ask you to refund the difference in cash. By the time the check bounces, they’ve disappeared with your money. Another popular scam asks you to “verify your identity” with some sort of text message verification code. But they are really just trying to hack into your Google, Apple, email, or banking accounts.

In short, be very careful about how you interact with prospective buyers. The only thing you should be agreeing to is an in-person meet, where the buyer can check out the vehicle with their own eyes.


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.


3. Know What Kind 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. However, these sites usually take a percentage of the money too, which leaves less for you. Other online car sites don’t handle payment, so you’re on your own.

Never accept personal checks from buyers. Your best bet is probably a cashier’s check, which are guaranteed by the issuing bank. However, don’t hand over the keys until you’ve contacted the issuing bank to determine it’s real. Same thing if your buyer happens to be paying by cash.

In fact, many experienced car sellers offer to complete the deal in the parking lot of their local bank branch. The bank can verify to cashier’s check (or the cash) and put it directly into your account. Once payment is safely verified, you can hand over the keys and ownership. There’s also likely to be surveillance cameras near a bank.


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 (a wallet or smartphone is common collateral). 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 3:00 a.m. with inquiries about the car you sold last week. So do everyone a favor and delete the ad from every place you may have posted it.

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. Make sure the transfer of ownership was done correctly and completely, and then you’re done. You’ll be able to sit back and relax on the massive pile of cash you earned by selling your car online. Or use the money to fund your next ride.


Devon Taylor

Managing Editor

Devon is an experienced writer and a father of three young children. He's simultaneously trying to build college funds and plan for an eventual retirement. He's been in online publishing since 2013 and has a degree from the University of Guelph. In his free time, he loves fanatically following the Blue Jays and Toronto FC, running, camping with his family, and playing video games.



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