Sell Your Car Yourself? Yes! 11 Easy Tips For a Great Sale

Sell Car Craigslist

Don’t be afraid. This can be very good.

Over the years I’ve bought and sold tons of things on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and other places, including my 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee (which was a great experience). So when my friend Hansen Lukman asked on Facebook if it was a good idea to sell his car on Craigslist, I replied, yes!

For a guy, selling things on an open-source classified site seems less risky (and yet, even Hansen was wary), but for women, it can seem downright scary.

But it shouldn’t be. I’ve learned ways to protect myself from fraud and risk when selling and buying, and we all know that selling a car privately can net you more cash than selling it to a car dealer. So here are my tips for selling a car (or anything) on Craigslist.

Related: We Tried Them All — Carvana, Vroom, TrueCar, CarMax and Wholesale Auctions To Buy a Used Car

1. Prep Your Car for a Buyer to Fall in Love

Make sure your car is in its best, most presentable shape. Get it washed, polished and detailed so it’s clean and smells nice. Think about replacing anything that might need it, such as floor mats, and remove anything unnecessary such as car seats or trunk organizing bins. Be sure any accessories, such as a cargo cover, grocery net or spare tire kit, are clean and stored in the cargo area.

Used Car

A few photography tips can go a long way toward selling your used car. Photo: Desiree Miller

2. Take great photos

I can’t say enough about this. Buyers scour photos for details to know if they want to take the next step and contact you. To help them, take your photos as soon as you’ve detailed your car, take them in an attractive place that is NOT your driveway or in front of your house, and take complete photos (so, don’t cut off the bumper) so the buyer can truly see what the car looks like.

Make sure the light is great so colors and details can be seen. Take photos of all the exterior angles and of important interior details; also photograph any damage that the buyer should be aware of. You can upload a dozen photos and often, buyers ask me to email more photos before they commit to taking a look.

Related: 9 Red Flags to Watch for When Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller

3. Do Your Homework: How much is your car really worth?

This is critical. Research the private party price for your car on sites like Kelley Blue Book or TrueCar or use NADA’s used car value site. And be honest about your car’s condition, the value of its features, and the current marketplace. Look at how many just like it are for sale and the asking prices. You can also look at recent sales at Bring A Trailer (which notes the selling price after a car is sold) or Cars & Bids. You might even take note of a few and email the owners to ask for the final selling price once the car is sold.

Once you know the market value, set your price: asking price, ideal sale price, and lowest minimum price.

Related: Is a used car a better bet than a new car?

4. Write a kickass ad

Sell Car Craigslist

Jeeps for sale on Craigslist run the spectrum from pristine to in need of TLC; prospective buyers can also look at ads from dealers, individuals or both.

Include what would you want to know when looking at used car ads: price, mileage, year, condition, features, damage, any significant repair work, that it has a clean title.

Then include this: cash only, no third parties, no money orders, no shipping, no funny business.

When I first started using Craigslist I had tons of scammers answer my ads with all sorts of crazy offers. Once I added the no-nonsense clause, they stopped.

5. Create a folder for your posting information

Keeping all your information in one place will help you to repost your ad if your car doesn’t sell in the first week. Listings expire or move down the list, so if your car doesn’t sell right away you’ll want to repost it. Keep all your photos, your ad copy and the activation links in a file. This is great for reposting, editing your ad if buyers want to know something you hadn’t originally included, and emailing more photos to potential buyers.

6. Post your ad—and what not to include

This part is pretty easy, but keep a couple of things out of your ad: Your address, your phone number and any personal information. You may want to consider opening an email account just for this sale and use a gender-neutral name. Even if you open an email account with a name like Jeep4Sale, the name on the account still comes up in the recipient’s mailbox. Since my name is Scotty, it’s a nice protection barrier—people don’t expect a woman (unless they Google me first, which most people don’t seem to do).

7. Reply to inquiries—except the crackpots

You can ignore them. Try to filter out the earnest inquiries, some of which can, due to English-as-a-second langue issues, sound crackpot-y even when they are earnest. Reply promptly, answer questions honestly and send more photos if requested. This is where you should know what price you’ll accept, a location for meeting a prospective buyer and what payment process you’ll require for the transaction. For more on that keep reading.

8. Meeting your prospective buyer

Of course bring a friend, though it’s probably most helpful if that person stays in his car so that the buyer knows you’re protected but doesn’t feel outnumbered. Let the buyer look the car over and answer her questions. If she wants to take a test drive, great! Take a photo of her drivers license and be sure your insurance will protect you in case of an accident (do this ahead of time of course).

9. The pre-sale inspection

You wouldn’t buy a used car that hadn’t been inspected by a mechanic, right? Don’t expect your perspective buyer to, either. If she’s interested, ask her to make an appointment with a mechanic (you might give her some dates/times that are convenient for you) and meet her there. Ideally the mechanic is right next door to her bank so that when all goes well, you can complete the transaction there.

I bought my car with my cell phone. Really!

10. The transaction: Get your money!

You want cash right? The best place to get it is the buyer’s bank. She can either have the bank cut a cashier’s check—which you can watch being prepared so you know it’s good—or finalize her loan and write you a check. You’ll also probably need to have the title transfer notarized, which her bank can also do.

With check in hand, remove the license plates from your car and call for your Lyft.

11. What else to keep in mind

  • Make sure the car’s title is clean, free of liens, loans or ex-husband’s names.
  • The buyer’s bank may also be able to wire transfer the cash to your account, typically for a small fee.
  • Be sure to cancel the insurance on the car as soon as it’s sold
  • You may need to return your license plates and a provide a bill of sale to your Department of Motor Vehicles; check your local laws
  • Be sure to clean all your items out of the car before the final transaction; you don’t need her enjoying your EZPass or Outerbanks overland permit.

What was my own Jeep sale experience like?

Excellent. Our Jeep had a blown engine, and while it ran, it barely did. I researched its value and listed it on Craigslist. I was upfront about its condition and immediately a fellow from Long Island emailed me. It was EXACTLY what he was looking for.

Turned out that he buys old Jeeps and fixes them. He made a good offer and came to get it the next day, bringing his girlfriend and a tow bar. He hooked it to his truck and I sadly waved goodbye to the Bat-Mo-Jeep as it rolled out of the driveway. It was the car that brought our babies home from the hospital, that moved us more than a few times, that took us up and down the East Coast visiting family. But they were happy tears, too; our Jeep was going to a good new home, thanks to Craigslist.

See Hansen’s tips for selling a car on Craigslist; his are pretty good too!

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Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss