Sell your car yourself versus trading it in
The dealer offered you a low trade in price and you think you can sell your car yourself for more money. Great. Here’s how to do it and avoid the most common private seller mistakes.
Clean your car before listing it
Unless you’re selling your car for scrap value, buyers that are willing to pay close to what you’re asking will expect a clean car. That means a full interior and exterior detail. Pay special attention to the seat upholstery, carpets, door panels and dash. After cleaning, coat all plastic surfaces with a vinyl protectant. Shampoo the seats and carpet. Wipe down the door jambs and door sills—that extra attention to detail really pays off. Next, clean all the junk out of the truck and vacuum it. If your floor mats show wear, toss them and buy a new set. Nobody wants grungy floor mats.
Then move on to clean up the exterior. Wash and wax the exterior, paying attention to the wheels. Check the condition of your headlights. If they’re cloudy, buy a headlight restoration kit and polish them back into shape.
Clean under the hood.
I’ve written an article on how to clean your engine and under hood areas. Find that engine cleaning story here. Buyers expect this.
Fix what needs fixing
Check the condition of the inexpensive wear components like drive belts, wiper blades, engine air filter and cabin filter. They’re cheap and they’re going to get caught during a professional inspection. So replace them now. The same rule applies to coolant, motor oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid and power steering fluid. If you want top dollar, make sure you’re up to date on all those fluid changes and can prove it.
Tires—buy a tire tread depth gauge and measure the tread depth of each tire. Most new tires measure around 10/32” and minimum depth is 2/32.” If yours are 4/32” or less, you’re probably going to get some price resistance to your asking price. You may be better off throwing on a cheap set of tires so you can advertise that as a selling feature—BRAND NEW TIRES goes a long way towards closing the deal.
Gather all your repair and maintenance receipts and put them in order
Buyers are willing to pay more for a car that’s been maintained. If you’ve got your receipts, gather them up and put in them in chronological order. When you list the car, state that you’ve maintained it well and have the receipts to prove it!
Then shoot pictures of your car
Park the car on or near grass. Shoot images from each corner with the doors closed. Then shoot interior images showing clean seats and clean carpet. Get a shot of the clean trunk. If you’ve got good tread, shot one image of a tire. Finish with an underhood shot (if you’ve cleaned it).
Get a Carfax
Buyers will want to know if the vehicle has been in an accident. You must tell the truth. A Carfax report is a selling point, so pay the $15 and list the report in your ad.
Where to list your car for sale
You have nothing to lose by starting off with Craigslist since it’s free. Just be prepared for lots of creepy phone calls or texts. If Craigslist doesn’t work well for you, try specialty sites and papers like CarSoup or AutoTrader. I’ve even sold cars by putting signs in the windows and parking it in a shopping center parking lot for several hours during peak shopping times.
Here are the kinds of calls you can expect:
“I saw your car (listing), will you take $2,000 less?”
“How low will you go?” (You haven’t even seen the car. You might not even want it, so what why do you care what my bottom line is?)
“What color is it?” (even though you listed the color in the post
“Does it run?” (even though you said it’s in excellent condition)
Some of those calls are from real buyers and others are from car dealers that are just looking to flip your car. Here’s how to deal with the calls. First, ask if the caller is a buyer or a dealer. If they’re a real buyer, recite all the pertinent data for them; like, year, make, model, engine, mileage, color and condition. Then finish by telling them how well you’ve maintained it, that you have all the receipts, that it has no problems that you know of (that’s last part is really important), and that you’d be happy to let them test drive it. Then arrange a time and meeting location—not at your house. Arrange to meet at a police station or busy shopping center.
Allow the buyer to test drive the car with you in the passenger seat or back seat. Never let them take the car on a test drive without you.
How to set the price and negotiate the sale
If you want to sell your car yourself and make more money than you’ll get on a trade in, you’ll have to do some homework. Check the retail price of your car at NADA.com, KBB.com, Edmunds.com and compare the full retail price to current vehicles on nearby car lots. Then check out the asking price of like vehicles on Craiglist so you know what your competition is selling for. Make sure you compare prices based on all the seller’s options, mileage, and condition.
Since you’re not a car dealer, you’ll never get the full retail price. Private party sales usually go for about halfway between trade in price and retail price. However, if you list it at that price, the buyer will try to negotiate an even lower price. So I recommend listing the vehicle for full retail price minus $300, with a bottom price at the halfway mark between trade in and your listing price.
Rule #1: Never negotiate the price of the car on the phone before the buyer has seen it. NEVER. If you come down in price on the phone, you’re signaling that you’re desperate. Once the buyer shows up in person and test drives the car, they’ll start the negotiations at that phone price and try to drive you down even more. If a caller offers you a price on the phone before seeing the vehicle, just stay, “I’d be happy to discuss your offer once you’ve seen and test driven the vehicle.” Don’t back down from that.
Rule #2: Negotiate from the top down, not bottom up. You list the car for $15,500 and the buyer offers you $13,000. You counter offer at $15,200. Make the seller raise their offer to come up to your price. Drop your price in only $300 increments.
How to complete the sale of your car
This used to be easy because you’d get paid in cash or cashier’s check. But these days you can’t rely on a cashier’s check unless you’re present when the check was made out at the bank—counterfeit cashier’s checks and counterfeit cash are hard to spot. It takes a bit more time and effort, but if you really want to make sure you’re getting a clean deal, accompany the buyer to their bank and witness the cash withdrawal or the cashier’s check production. Then accompany the buyer to the nearest DMV title office to officially transfer the title.
©, Rick Muscoplat
Posted on by Rick Muscoplat