What's the Best Way to Sell a Car?
Driving down the road, I often see cars with “for sale” signs out on front lawns. As a kid, I remember how when my dad wanted to sell a car, he parked it on our front lawn. So recently when I decided to sell my car, I was a bit worried since I don’t have a front lawn. I live in an apartment community up on a secluded hill. How would I sell my car when I live in a place where only my immediate neighbors would see it? I didn’t want to drive around with a “for sale” sign in my window, and I didn't know any local businesses well enough to ask if I could park in their lot, and although I have sold a few things on eBay, selling a car there didn’t seem feasible.
Then my husband pointed out the obvious. “Why don’t we list it on Craigslist?” he asked. I decided to give it a shot.
Below, you'll find a glimpse at my Craigslist car-selling experience and tips for what to do if you want to sell your car online, as quickly as possible.
How to Sell Your Car Fast, Online
- Do your homework and be realistic. List the car for a fair, realistic price. Pricing it too high will likely lead to a long wait for a sale. Below, you'll find instructions about how to research and check the blue book value of your vehicle.
- Make the best first impression possible. Clean your car inside and out before you show it to prospective buyers. Make sure it smells clean, too.
- List the item on Craigslist, or some other site. See instructions below for posting strategically and protecting yourself from online predators.
- Post and handle offers strategically. Below, I share my negotiation stories and offer tips for protecting yourself from online predators.
- Remember: Honesty is the best policy. Be up-front with prospective buyers about the car's history, condition, and maintenance.
- Take the best offer. That means you have to be patient. Even if you get a full-price offer, don't take it on the spot if other buyers are showing interest. Keep track of the offers and tell each buyer that you plan to take the best offer. Just don't make them wait too long for your decision.
- Close the deal. Below, you'll find tips for handing the vehicle over and transferring the title.
1. Do Your Homework
Before you list your car for sale, it is important to do your homework. How much is it worth? How much can you sell it for? These are important questions to answer before posting your car for sale.
I started this process by checking out the Kelly Blue Book value. On the website, it is easy to find the make and model of your vehicle and a range of values for trading it in or selling it yourself, in your area. Knowing that my car had gone quite a few miles, I looked at the value on the site for “fair condition” and “selling by owner,” and Kelly Blue Book told me that my car was worth just over $3,000. I was shocked by that amount, as I wouldn’t pay that price for my car if I were the buyer!
With that number in mind, I continued to do my homework. I went to look at other listings on Craigslist in order to understand my competition. Since I was selling a 2004 Hyundai Elantra, I did a search for other Hyundai Elantras for sale on the site. I compared age, mileage, and condition of the cars for sale. I thought some were overpriced, and it gave me hope that I could get a good price for my own car.
With all of the information compiled, I decided on a final listing price of $2,500. Never having sold a car before and completely unsure of what I was doing, I decided to add the idea of “or best offer” to my listing price, and this turned out to be smart. More on that gem later.
2. Make a Good First Impression
When you show the car, make sure it is presentable. Before I took pictures, I gave it a good vacuum and wiped down all the surfaces in the car. I removed all of my personal items and hung up a new car freshener. Nice smells put people in a good mood. On the morning that I listed the car, I gave the car another wash. Every person who came to look at the car commented on how clean it looked. Remember that first impressions count.
3. Create a Listing on Craigslist
The next step was to create a listing on Craigslist.com. It couldn’t have been easier. After logging into my account, I was only a few clicks away from having a posted ad. When creating an ad listing, keep it simple and to the point. For a car, here is what to include:
- the year, make, and model of your car
- mileage (how many miles are listed on the odometer)
- a brief note describing the car’s condition (i.e. “excellent condition,” or “needs work”)
- your asking price
- contact information (I included my name and phone number, but Craigslist gives the option of an anonymous contact email or text if you prefer)
- good photographs: Craigslist allows you to upload several photos of your car for free. Make sure that you show both the interior and exterior of the car. I didn’t like the idea of having my license plate visible in the photo, so I took the photo at an angle to hide the number.
After you have confirmed your listing, your ad will be visible for buyers to see.
4. Post Strategically
I posted my Craigslist ad for my car on a Sunday morning. In hindsight, that was a brilliant plan, as people are often off on Sunday and able to car shop at their leisure. When I listed the car, I thought it might take weeks to sell it. I assumed I would spend a few evenings over the course of a few weeks showing the car to prospective buyers. I was not prepared for what actually occurred.
Two hours after I posted my Craigslist ad, the phone rang. The person on the other end was interested in looking at my car and set up a time for that evening. I was excited that I had a bite so early! Shortly after, the phone rang again, and it kept on ringing. I spent the entire day fielding phone calls for the car and setting up times for people to come to see it. Before noon, I already had several showings set up for that afternoon.
5. Protect Yourself From Online Predators
- Make sure to black out your license plate in your listing photos or take a photo at an angle that hides the plates.
- Don't make any promises to prospective buyers. Tell them you will consider their offer and get back to them. If you tell a person that they won the sale, follow through on that promise.
- Ask for cash or a certified bank check. You don't want to have to deal with a bounced personal check.
- When they come to see the car, consider meeting in a busy public area rather than giving your personal address.
6. Handle Offers Strategically
After the first showing, I had my first offer. The man who took a test drive offered me $1,800. I was honest with him that I wouldn’t even consider such a low offer, especially considering that there was quite a lot of interest in the car. He increased his offer to $2,200. I told him I would think about it and get back to him.
After the second showing, I had another offer for $2,200.
As the day went on, I showed the car three more times, and each showing produced an offer.
By the third showing of the day, I had a full-price offer. Just as that offer came in, my cell phone rang. The next person who was scheduled to take a look was arriving. I had to think fast. At that moment, I was second-guessing myself, wondering if I had priced the car too low. The overwhelming interest and stream of offers coming in made me wonder if I should have listed it for a bit more. At that moment, I decided to take a chance on making just a bit more money.
I explained to the woman who made the full-price offer that the next prospective buyer was about to arrive. She looked at me confused and said, “But I just offered you the full price.” My reply was simple: “I appreciate your offer, but I think it would be unfair not to show the car to this person who drove all the way out here."
I went on: "The ad stated $2,500 or best offer. If this buyer wishes to offer me an amount over my asking price, I will accept the highest offer. If not, then you will be the first one in at full price. I will decide by the end of the day and get back to you tomorrow.”
She was not happy, but she accepted my terms, gave me her contact info, and drove away as the next prospective buyer pulled in.
7. Stay Honest
Throughout the whole negotiation process, I was honest with all prospective buyers. After the first full-price offer, I showed the car twice more and received two more offers, both of which were over the asking price. As I promised to all the prospective buyers, I took the highest offer by the end of the day.
Generally, we interpret “best offer” as a number lower than the asking price. However, there is no reason that the best offer can’t be higher than the asking price. I ended up selling the car for $100 over asking. It was a whirlwind day, and the buyer and I were both happy with the results in the end.
8. Close the Deal
Never having sold a car before, I made a lot of phone calls to my father to make sure I didn’t miss a step. The process was quite easy, however.
- After accepting the offer, I decided to deliver the car the next day to the buyer. Delivering the car made it easier for the buyer, as he didn’t have to worry about how to get the car from my house to his without plates on it. It also eased my mind, as I didn’t want a complete stranger driving the car home under my registration.
- After delivering the car, I removed my plates and my registration sticker from the window.
- I filled out the back of the title and exchanged it for the money. I would suggest accepting only cash or a certified bank check, as there is no guarantee for a personal check.
When I posted my ad on Craigslist, I didn’t dream that the car would sell so fast or that I'd get a higher price than I was asking. In the end, I am grateful that I got a good price for my car and that the process went so smoothly and quickly. I have had positive experiences both buying and selling cars on Craigslist, and I would recommend posting or answering an ad there if you need to buy or sell a car.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who pays the sales tax?
The buyer always pays sales tax. In New York State, there is a DMV form called a "Statement of Transaction" that both the buyer and seller fill out to facilitate the sales tax.
Do I have to remove the license plate when I sell my car?
Every state has its own rules, so you need to research your state's policy.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why would you block out your plate number on Craigslist?
Answer: Privacy, I suppose. I was advised to do so.
Question: Where does the sales tax come in when selling your car on Craigslist? Who is responsible for it?
Answer: When an item is purchased, the buyer always pays sales tax. In NYS there is a dmv form that both the buyer and seller fill out called the statement of transaction. It facilitates the sales tax.
Question: Do I have to remove the current license plate if selling on Craigslist?
Answer: Yes, at least in NY you do.