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Make Money By Flipping Cars?

Have you ever found a great deal on a car by accident? Have you then thought about purchasing the car just to sell it and make a quick buck? If I had to venture a guess, I would bet that there are quite a few of you out there that have considered flipping cars, but there’s probably only a handful of you that have actually pulled the trigger and tried to earn a quick buck with a car flip.

When you first hear the word, “flipping”, what immediately comes to mind? That’s right, houses. We all know a friend of a friend that finds piece of junk houses, fixes them up, and then sells them for an overall profit. Flipping houses can work, but it takes hard work and it requires a ton of capital. So, rather than plunking $50,000+ on a house, why not take this concept to a smaller scale and flip some cars for a few bucks?

You Must Know Your Cars

In order to find a deal on a car, you have to know the average prices of your vehicles as well as the demand of those vehicles in your area. In order to find that awesome deal, you don’t have to know the value of every car out there, just get familiar with a few of the popular ones.

About a month ago, I mentioned that I was looking for a more fuel-efficient vehicle. And, what’s one of the most dependable fuel efficient cars out there? The Honda Civic. So, for about a solid month, I watched the ads on Craigslist for this exact car. Since I’m not looking to spend my life savings on this car, I’ve really been looking for something that’s $4,000 or under, which lead me to browse all Honda Civics between the years 2001 and 2005. After looking at Civics every day for an entire month, you get pretty good at knowing what’s a good value when you see one.

Find The Perfect Scenario

When you find that car that you think is a deal, it’s time to ask yourself the scenario of the sale. Typically, if people don’t have much of a reason to sell other than “they just don’t use it that often anymore”, your “deal” is not a deal. When people don’t have a pressing reason to sell their vehicle, they typically do their homework and start out by pricing their car at a medium-high price, and then come down until somebody bites on their price.

So what’s the best scenario when you’re sniffing out a deal? To be honest, most of the deals you find could be due to sad situations. The car might have been willed to them by their father that recently passed away, someone may need the money to pay their mortgage or electric bills, or maybe a non-citizen is being evicted from the country. If the seller needs to sell the car quickly and can’t wait around for the perfect buyer who will pay their price, you could definitely have a deal on your hands.

After my month of searching for that perfect Honda Civic, I saw one that fit all of my criteria. It had no rust, was regularly serviced, had no dents, and was running perfectly as is. It needed absolutely nothing, and they had it listed for $3,000. Typically, a car like this would be listed for at least $4,000, so I was ready to jump on this deal before someone else did. When I called the number and asked why they were selling the car, they explained that they were leaving the country in 2 weeks and they weren’t coming back. Now this was a pressing reason that could lead to a deal!

Be Sure To Know the Difference Between a Deal and a Lemon

Before you purchase a vehicle, it’s always a good idea to take it to a mechanic and have it checked out. If you aren’t able to take the car to a mechanic (or if you simply don’t want to), here’s a few things that you can do to be sure you’re not buying a lemon:

  1. Check the oil level. If it’s dry as a cork, you might want to steer clear of this purchase. Without oil, the motor could have experienced some serious damage.
  2. Check the transmission fluid – the color of the fluid should be pink and should not have any metal shavings in it. If there are shavings, the transmission could lead to improper shifting, and would soon require a rebuild or an entirely new transmission.
  3. Listen to the engine – there should not be any knocking or shrills. If there are, this is most certainly a lemon.
  4. Feel the shifting – as you accelerate, pay careful attention to how the car shifts. If it seems to slide into gear to late, there may be transmission issues. This is a costly expense and should be avoided.
  5. Ask about the timing belt – for 2005 and earlier model cars, timing belts were used. These need to be changed every 100,000 miles or so, and if they’re not, they could snap and cause serious damage to your engine. If they don’t know if the timing belt had been changed, be very careful with your purchase.
  6. Check the title – make sure they have a clean title. If it is a rebuilt title, that means that the car has been in a serious wreck and was totalled. It’s a good rule of thumb to just avoid these cars all together.

Making The Flip

If you are convinced that you’ve found a solid car for an unbeatable price, it’s time to make the purchase and get it ready for resale. Here’s how you turn that deal into a money-maker:

  1. Clean it up! Treat that car as if you were selling your house. Clean it inside and out and you’ll see a better return on your investment.
  2. Take a few quality pictures – show the prospective buyers what a great looking car you have by taking a quality photo.
  3. Find the average listing price for your car – use either or take a look at other cars for sale that are similar to yours
  4. Post it on – there are so many people looking at Craigslist every day it’s crazy. If you have a quality vehicle for a reasonable price, you will definitely get some responses.
  5. Be available – when your phone rings, answer it. That call could be the buyer you’re looking for. Then make sure you’re available for them to look at it.
  6. Make the deal – Never assume that you’re going to get full asking price for your car. The buyer wants to feel like they’re getting a deal. Let them talk you down a couple hundred bucks (as long as you still made a reasonable profit) and sell them the car on the spot.

Do you think you’ll ever try to flip a car? Why or why not?



My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. I’m going to try this on my motorcycle in the spring time. I bought it cheap, a few thousand under kbb and plan to clean it up and sell when bikes are in high demand (spring time). It wasn’t my intention to flip it in a year, but Harley-Davidson’s don’t really depreciate when bought used so I figure why not. This might be a more common practice for me if I make a decent chunk.

    • Sounds like a good plan Ryan! Maybe you should scout yourself another bike just before winter hits to get another good deal, and then sell one of the bikes in the spring. You’re right, motorcycles earn much more money in the springtime.

  2. Great tips, Derek! My dad does a great job finding deals and fixing them up so I’m thankful for his mechanic skills. We’ve saved up $4,500 in case we need a 2nd car next year if we move but it’s good to know we can probably get by for less considering your $3k steal. Nice job!

    • It sounds like your dad is a great resource when it comes to cars! Keep that guy close by for sure – he could save you a ton of money. If you get good at spotting some deals that might just need minor repair work, I bet you could make some pretty sweet money. Do you think you’d ever try it though?

      • Considering I only know where the oil and the antifreeze go, probably not. My phone calls to my dad usually go like this: “Hi dad, my car is making a noise that sounds like this (enter awkward attempt at making a car noise). What’s wrong with it?” Oddly enough my dad usually answers correctly!

  3. I don’t think I have the sales abilty to flip cars, but I bet if you were good at it, you could make some money.

    • I honestly don’t think you need a ton of sales ability to flip cars. If you buy something that you’re excited about and have always wanted to drive, it’s easy to pass that excitement on to the buyer (as long as you’re willing to give up your new ride that is). 🙂

  4. I don’t know if its a federal law. However, I believe if you sell x number of cars you become considered a dealer. Just something to think about before making a habit of it.

    • Yep. I think in my state the magic number is 7. You can only buy and sell 7 cars in one given year. I don’t think I’m about to get that crazy. 🙂 Thanks for the comment Wayne!

  5. Great tips Derek! If you become good at it, flipping cars could be a lucrative source of income. I might give it a try in the future to earn additional income, although I am not very good on delivering a sales pitch.

    • It’s more about finding a good deal up front than being able to sell it for top dollar. I bet you’d be just fine at it! 🙂

  6. Hey Derek just to let you know it is 6 in our state, after that you need the dealership license, this is something I checked out over the summer as yes it is something I definatly would do and am considering.

    Great article!

  7. Derek

    The magic number may not be too magic. Flipping cars can get a person in trouble. Dealer licensing laws were written to protect the consumers. One must investigate the laws in their state. Not just think they can buy and sell X number of cars a year. As an example here is an FAQ on the State of Georgia’s website.


    I thought I could sell up to five vehicles in a year before I had to be licensed?

    The “five cars per year” statement has been misinterpreted by many people. The origin of the “five car” phrase is the Used Motor Vehicle Dealers’ and Used Motor Vehicle Parts Dealers’ Registration Act. O.C.G.A. 43-47-2 (17)(A) states that “…the sale of five or more used motor vehicles in any one calendar year shall be prima-facie evidence that a person is engaged in the business of selling used motor vehicles.” This means that evidence indicating that a person has sold five or more used motor vehicles in any one calendar year can be used to show that the person is engaged in the unlicensed practice of used motor vehicle sales. This statement should be read in its context, and should not be misinterpreted to mean that a person may sell up to five vehicles in a year before becoming licensed.


    • It’s a good comment, but selling 4 cars a year is not going to get a person in trouble. And, if you can make a grand on each sale, plus enjoy driving the car for a bit, then I say it’s entirely worth it!

      • Derek

        I have to kindly disagree with you. The selling of cars for profit in any state without a license is illegal. Yes, people do it who don’t get caught. But, “flying under the radar” in any illegal activity is still an illegal activity.

        Some states have a limit of zero. So how can one justify a generalized comment “selling 4 cars” a year is not going to get a person in trouble?

        The strict laws were written to protect the consumer from cons and of course to protect the car dealers investment in their businesses. I understand most people who want to flip cars are going to do what’s right BUT, it’s still illegal to sell cars for profit without a license.

        And I understand there are all kinds of rationalizations for flipping cars; this is a free country, protection of dealers sucks, screwing the little guy trying to make a buck, but all that said, it doesn’t change the contents of the laws.

        I recommend to anyone considering doing this as a side business to contact the licensing agency in their state.

        I talked to a DMV compliance officer in my state and he said, “It’s illegal to buy and sell cars for profit without a dealer license”. Period.

        The problem that occurs with people flipping cars is they then don’t investigate ANY of the reguations and they start doing things like “open titles” i.e never register the car, just put the next buyers name on the title. That means they are not paying the sales tax and licensing fees on the purchase they made from an individual. Most states require that sales tax on vehicle sales, even between individuals. That’s called tax evasion to “flip the title” and not pay sales tax.

        My point is that if anyone wants to make some extra money buying and selling cars, they need to check with their state agencies for the facts before depending on what they read on well meaning blog postings.


        • Thanks for the clarification KKG.

  8. I highly advise anyone to flip cars, but as you said, only if you know what you’re doing. You don’t need sales experience, but it helps.

    I’m 17 and I’ve done 12 cars in 12 months. I was making thousands, made 1 hiccup because I was impatient, and lost everything. I had to start over from scratch.

    Keep your contacts and make sure your customers are happy. Text them every once in awhile. If you’ve sold a car, and someone calls about it, keep their number anyway and stay in contact with them too. Repeat sales are better than you might know. Right now I’m in the process of getting a truck for a prev. customer, projected net will be appx. $3,850 which is an INSANE profit for a kid my age.

    Extremely lucrative, but you gotta be patient and careful. Cheers!

    • Sounds like you’re quite the entrepreneur, and you’ve already learned some great lessons! Sounds like I might want to keep in touch with you! 😉

  9. Derek,

    Great primer on flipping cars! I totally agree with your emphasis on finding the right deal. As you mention, clear title is crucial, and I recommend Autocheck as it offers an unlimited plan. Happy Flipping!


    • I absolutely love flipping cars, and if done right, it can be pretty lucrative! After a year, I could easily clear $5,000, and who wouldn’t love an extra five grand? Happy flipping to you too! 🙂

  10. I love flipping cars!! I started with a very small amount, like under a thousand without knowledge and experience about cars as I am a woman, and when I sold my first car, I got addicted! I have so much fun and such a high from it…I built networks with other dealers and car flippers, now my cars move just as fast as I get them and my best customer is 17 years old also flipping cars…Its so easy!! all I do is buy..not all are good deals but I ALWAYS make profit it the end!! Try it!!

    • Thanks for the testimony Sarai! Glad you found something that you can make money at, and have a good time doing it!

  11. Hi There!

    I had been thinking about trying this in the future as I will be coming into a little extra cash. Not enough to invest in the stock market or buy a house, but enough to try out a few flipping experiences. I thought if I start investigating about all of this now I might be more prepared for this experience. So any advice(I have heard some great advice so far) will be carefully considered. I am looking forward to trying this out. I have a great Lexus mechanic that I know so I believe that will be a handy asset to add to my list!

    Looking forward to more stories!

    My Best,

    Donna Richey

    • Hi Donna. Flipping cars is definitely not easy. If I were you, I would look into one particular type of car (ie. Lexus, or Honda, etc.) and get to know the prices. Then, once you see something that is well below the price, you will be certain that you are finding a deal. I would definitely take your mechanic friend along to be sure everything is sound. Then clean it up and post your price!

  12. I’ve found that location also plays a huge part in how much profit you can make. I have a very good friend in Arizona and I live in the Midwest. I buy motorcycles in Iowa and he buys 4×4 trucks in Tucson. We meet 1/2 way once a week and swap vehicles. We both purchased trucks and trailers so we dont put unwanted miles on our “flip vehicles”. 4×4 trucks sell (on average) for about $2500 more in the Midwest as they do in Arizona. Motorcycles fetch about $1000 more each in Tucson. We have recently both got our dealers license because this has been so lucrative for us. We quit our jobs and do it full time. We spend 24 hours on the road every week so it’s not for everybody but we absolutely love doing it.

    I bring 3-4 motorcycles and he brings two 4×4 trucks and we just swap trailers.

    • That is awesome Ryan! You’ve got me kind of jealous now. I sell one car every few months or so. It would be so fun to transport cars and sell them for a living like you do. Thanks so much for the comment!

  13. I have heard of people buying a car and not transferring the title to their name if they are going to resell right away. What can you tell me about this?

    • I’d say that’s pretty sketchy, because that means they aren’t paying the tax on the car that they bought. Sounds like they could get into some hot water over that and I wouldn’t advise it.

  14. Great site! I’ve flipped cars for the past few years and made at least 1k each time. I do register the car under my name so I get to enjoy them too while selling. I need to do more 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment Jonjon. Sounds like we basically do the same thing. I buy a vehicle that I would enjoy driving, and then sell it for more than I bought it for after a couple of months. Love it! Best of luck to you in your next flip!

  15. Question … If you don’t Title a vehicle then resell with the title “open” ,what do you do about the bill of sale ? I mean , I for one wouldn’t buy a car for $3,000 -$5 or $6000 without a bill of sale at least…

    • I wouldn’t recommend this Howard. Pretty sure it’s illegal because you’re basically trying to make a profit without ever having to pay the tax on the vehicle. What I do is buy a vehicle I like, title it, pay the tax, then drive it for a few months. Once I get a little tired of it, that’s when I sell it for a profit. And, I never have to feel guilty about it.

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