You see, I am the son of a car dealer. I’ve seen my Dad buy and sell hundreds of automobiles, and I’ve learned a thing or two about getting top dollar for a car, no matter what the condition (Dad, I know it seemed like I never paid attention, but some of those handy life lessons you taught me actually did sink in).
This past Saturday, my sister-in-law was getting desperate. Their 2003 Intrepid basically had no trade-in value, so they decided to sell it themselves…. Only, they were getting no phone calls, and dropping the price repeatedly seemed to entice no one. By the time she reached out to me, the price they had it listed for was far lower than they wanted to go and absolutely no one was coming to take a look at it.
I agreed to help her out – somewhat out of the goodness of my own heart, but also because it sounded like a fun game…“How much money can I get for this seemingly worthless car?” Who wants to play? I do I do!
So the game began this past Sunday. I drove the car home (P.S. The muffler fell off on the way. I re-attached it with a tin can and hose clamps), cleaned it up in my driveway, took some pictures, listed it on Craigslist, and sold it for $1,100 the next day.
How to Sell Your Car For More Money
It all sounds simple, but someone taking the exact same steps as I did could struggle for months before selling their car. So what are the real keys to sell your car for more money? Follow the steps that I outline below, and I’m confident that you’ll sell your car faster and for more money than you thought possible.
1) Don’t Trade It In
I couldn’t quite believe it when I read it, but 47% of those that buy new cars trade in their old ones to the dealership. You might think that you’re getting a great deal on that new car, but it’s only because the dealership is going to make thousands of dollars on your trade-in that they gave you practically nothing for! If you want to guarantee that you get a crappy price for your car, trade it in to the dealer.
In the case of my sister-in-law, she would have received just $165 for their used car trade-in. She decided it wasn’t worth it (good for her!) and instead set out to sell the car herself. By going this route, she pocketed an extra $935.
2) Clean It
Alright, so you’ve decided not to trade in your car (good for you!). It’s now time to take the necessary steps to sell it and pocket thousands of dollars.
First, you’ve got to clean the car. Sure, it might be a hunk of junk, but a filthy hunk-o-junk is still way worse than a freshly cleaned car.
This car wasn’t great, but look at how nice it looked when it was all cleaned up!
Here’s what you should do to make it appealing, both inside and out:
- Rinse the outside of the car, scrub it with clean soapy water (with a sponge), spray it off thoroughly, dry it off with a fine towel or shammy.
- Clean the inside of the car. Get rid of all food, wrappers, paper, and garbage. Vacuum out the stones and smaller items. If there is a prominent stain, use a can of spray foam carpet cleaner to take it out.
- Buy touch-up paint at your local auto store (they’ll help you find the right color – cost is about $15 per tube) and paint over all the stone chips and rust spots. This might seem like a waste of time, but it makes a HUGE difference!
- Put an air freshener in it to make it smell pleasing for the prospective buyer
All of the items above (aside from the touch-up paint) can be purchased from the Dollar Tree (one of my favorite stores – everything is $1 or less). Your total all-in cost at this point is about $20.
3) Take Quality Photos
It’s perplexing to me, but some people still expect to sell their car for top dollar without even including a photo. Do you know what a non-photo ad tells the public? “My car is so ugly that I’m too embarrassed to even provide a picture of it.” If you want to sell your car for more money than you initially expected, take your time and snap those quality pictures.
Here’s how you should do it. Wait until the sun comes out, drive your car to a nice background area (I typically head for the beach with the blue skies), and take a 4 exterior photos:
Here’s my sampling:
And then take two interior photos:
- Close-up of the dash board (mileage and gauges)
- A photo from the back seat to show both front seats, the upholstery, and the entire dash
Be sure the front-right picture is set as your featured image. This is the one that people most want to see when they’re car shopping online.
4) Write Up a Can’t Miss Post
Where should you list your car? Craigslist. It’s free and everyone looks there for cars.
What should you write? Keep it simple. Let them know why you’re selling (hint: it’s not because the car is a lemon and you can’t wait to get rid of it before it has another issue) and then note the major features:
- Year, make, and model
- engine type, transmission type, drivetrain (ie. front wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive)
- tire condition (no one wants to buy new tires immediately after buying a car)
And here are some features that car buyers like to see when they’re searching – list any of these if they’re true:
- One-owner car (or two-owner, that works too)
- Highway miles (these are much more forgiving than city miles)
- Highly reliable car
- Newly replaced _______ at XX,XXX miles (transmission, timing belt, etc.)
- Strong engine, shifts solid
- Clean interior and exterior
Be honest about the faults, but do so tastefully:
- service engine light is on, but does not impact the performance of the car
- exterior has some rust, but only in these small areas
Believe that your car will sell fast, and express that in the post: “This car isn’t perfect, but it’s a great value for the price! I expect that this car will sell fast, so shoot me a text or give me a call if you’re interested.”
Here’s my write-up that sold the very next day:
5) Dress Nice
Car salesman wear ties. Do you know why? Because if they look reputable and honest, then you feel a little more warm and fuzzy about them – and the chances are better that they’ll sell you a car. The same goes for you when you sell your car. If you look like a slob, then that probably means you didn’t take very good care of your car and the buyer won’t want anything to do with it.
Wear nice jeans and a dressy shirt at minimum. It might just earn you a few more Benjamins.
6) Talk to Them About Them, Not the Car
Ever see the TED talk by Simon Sinek (if no, check out the video below)? If you truly want to inspire people to action, you can’t just tell them about all the great features of the car. Nope. You first have to learn why the buyers are looking for a vehicle. THEN you can explain why this car is perfect for them.
My buyer just experienced a blown timing belt, which destroyed his entire motor. “Well you know what? This car just had the timing belt checked and confirmed that it would last for many more miles. Looking for a dependable car that isn’t going to leave you on the side of the road? This is it.”
7) Be Honest
So many people try to hide every flaw. I’m honest all around. It makes the buyer feel more confident in their purchase…and they won’t ever come back at you with a flaming pitchfork of hate. Surprisingly enough, in knowing the faults, people still offer nearly top dollar because they like you and don’t want to offend you, their newfound friend.
8) Let Them Counter Themselves
If the buyer really wants the car, they’ll pay full price for it and they know it. Be slow to respond to their negotiations.
“Will you take $1,100?” I paused, acted like I was thinking about it, and then said, “Well, I was asking $1,200”. I then stopped talking. Without hesitation, he offered me the rest of the money he had in his wallet, totaling $1,160.
But…I then remembered the honesty part of this equation (see point #7 if you somehow missed that) and realized that I didn’t tell him about the muffler. It was rusting out and I made that quick fix (you know…the one with the tin can) that could have lasted a while, but I really had no idea.
I then let him know that because of this lapse in my summary of the car, that I would accept his original $1,100 offer.
He was happy I told him, thrilled that he could keep $60 in his wallet, and he was satisfied that he was getting a good car because of my transparent honesty.
9) Fill Out The Title
This is the part that freaks out most people because they’ve never sold a car by themselves before. It’s incredibly easy. As the seller, all you have to do is sign the title in the “Seller’s signature” line, print your name and address, write the date of the sale, and the amount you sold it for. The buyer can fill in the rest.
Boom, you just sold your car – and now you know how to sell your car for more money than you ever thought possible. It’s a pretty simple science, and once you have it down you’ll be selling all of your cars like a pro.
Are you ready to sell your car for more money than you imagined? Follow the steps above and be sure to let me know about your success!!
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.