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Selling Yourself: How to Offload Your Car Online, The Right Way

Selling Yourself: How to Offload Your Car Online, The Right Way
Selling Yourself: How to Offload Your Car Online, The Right Way

We are programmed by nature to acquire, which is one reason selling is so much less fun than buying. But almost all automotive love affairs end, and selling a car online painlessly and for the highest price takes some planning and effort. Look at it this way: The extra hour you spend taking good pictures and writing a thorough description for a sales site may net you another $1000 or more. Not bad for an hour’s labor.

Step 1: Pick the right sales venue.
You’d no more list a ’96 Mustang on Hemmings than you would a Bugatti Veyron on Craigslist—unless you wanted to be called by 15,000 bored teenagers. All online classified sites have their weaknesses: eBay’s relentless countdown clock seems to make idiots out of some bidders, who ultimately back out; Cars.com and AutoTrader.com charge and mix you in with a lot of dealer ads; and Craigslist’s free ads mean you’re lost in a tsunami of daily listings. In general, if you are a gambler who abhors personal contact, eBay is for you. If you don’t live in paranoid fear of the public, then Craigslist is a perfect, no-cost outlet. The other sites lie somewhere in between.

Step 2: Take at least 30 pictures.
Good pictures sell cars. Make sure you get all four sides and the roof, and don’t forget the engine, the interior, the odometer, and even the undercarriage. Nobody wants to buy a car covered in cat prints and gardening crap from a dark garage. Drag it out, clean it, and shoot it. Even better, shoot it in the “sweet light” of a nice evening.

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    Step 3: Write a description.
    “Runs xlnt” won’t cut it. Say how long you’ve had it, what work you’ve done, what’s good about it, and also what’s bad. Be honest; the more flaws you include, the more the buyer will trust that you’re not completely clueless or hiding a disaster.

    Step 4: Set a price.
    eBay’s own research shows that low reserves produce higher sale prices, because once the reserve is met, the bidding takes off. So be brave and don’t use a reserve, or set the reserve at the lowest rock-bottom sum you’ll accept. On a fixed-price site like Craigslist, research what other people are asking for similar cars.

    Step 5: Sell!
    Put your phone number in the ad. The NSA already has it and nobody else cares. If you are fearful of spam bots, spell it out this way: 55five1two1two. If you’re selling on Craigslist, post the ad on Thursday so it’s not lost in a billion other ads when the weekend arrives. If you’re selling through eBay, end the auction on Sunday evening, when people are sitting around with nothing better to do than look at cars online. Be available to answer your phone, and when the sale is done, be kind to your fellow man and pull down the ad immediately. Then start looking for a new car.

    Gettin’ Paid
    Not everybody is willing to carry thousands of dollars into a stranger’s house, so reasonable sellers accept checks, though not personal checks. Demand a certified or cashier’s check. Also be sure to document the transaction. A bill of sale need not be complicated, but it should be dated and signed by both parties. Include the sales price and VIN and keep this with a copy of the check. If you’re signing over a title, fill it out completely and make a copy, or accompany the purchaser to the DMV. This paperwork will be useful if the buyer turns out to be a parking scofflaw, drug dealer, or some other deadbeat who “forgot” to register the vehicle and it later turns up in a police investigation. Yes, you should be this paranoid. Before handing over the keys, at the very least make sure you have the buyer’s full name, address, and a phone number, and make a copy of his or her driver’s license.
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