9 Steps to Selling Your Car On Craigslist
I sold a car on Craigslist and didn't get murdered
I just sold my BMW 335i on Craigslist and didn't get murdered! #success. However, your mileage may vary depending on what, where, when you're selling, and ESPECIALLY who you're selling to. Despite the nightmares I imagined moments leading up to when I posted the ad, when I received offers, and when I finally showed the car, the transaction went off without a hitch! Just beware that the road to a successful deal can be filled with scams, but don't let that fear deter you from potentially making a lot more money, when compared to selling to a dealership.
Below are the nine steps you need to follow, from start to finish, to ensure you attract the best buyers and get the most money you can from a Craigslist deal.
***Steps Before You Post Your Ad***
Step 1: This is A Date. Appearances Matter. Clean your car And Your Title right
You might be beautiful on the inside, but if you want to land that first date you're going to have to spruce yourself up before getting swiped left into oblivion. You are, after all, selling yourself. Chances are you wouldn't use a picture of your current state and condition as your dating profile pic. You'd first shower, groom yourself, tidy up, and frame yourself in interesting locations to show how you're the ultimate choice. You should follow the same mentality when trying to sell your car.
Years of ownership takes a toll on the exterior of the car. To maximize the interest and the dollars you can extract from your car, you should give it a wash and maybe a nice wax. Have some dents and missing parts? Who cares! Get it clean! Get yourself about $30 worth of car care cleaning products and go to town. If you're the sentimental type, just think about how this would be the last time you clean your car and make it an extra special moment.
The amount of crud generated from hundreds to thousands of days you spend driving your car can also be terrifyingly disturbing. Nooks and crevices, like the space beneath window switches and your cupholders, will naturally find themselves filled up with dust, debris, lint, crumbs, and miscellaneous sticky stuff. Floor mats and the areas around your seats might be inundated with pebbles, dead nature things, mud, and God forbid, some food. Set that vacuum cleaner to maximum suckage and do some work, you filthy animal.
If you wonder just how clean is clean enough, just ask yourself this one question: "Would I buy this car as it currently stands?"
In terms of cleanliness, it's also important to ensure that your title is "clear." This means that the title of the car clearly lists you as the owner, and not your creditors or lienholders. You can't exactly sell a car that doesn't belong to you.
Step 2: Work Your Photography Skills and take these 10 critical photos
Look at any car news stories and blog posts and you'll find that main featured image that catches your attention, well before the enticing headline like "9 steps to selling your car on Craigslist." That one image is typically the 3/4 front view shot, and it's the most popular and attractive type of shot. It captures the overall design, the face, the body, and a little bit of the rear end, and it's the one picture used to get your buyer's attention.
Once they're in your Craigslist ad, you can keep their attention longer by showing them more attractive pictures of your car. Since Craigslist allows more than a dozen photos to be uploaded, you'll need to have at least the 10 pictures on this shot list and include it in your ad. To see the shot list hit the link below:
I successfully sold a BMW 335i through Craigslist and I've written up a nine step tutorial in how to do it. Part of that nine step tutorial
Step 3: Brush Up On your Writing and Create your ad
You don't have to be an author, poet, or blogger to write your Craigslist ad, but you do need to have a good grasp of the English language and have decent spelling skills. Your car ad, in a big way, is your contract/seller's disclosure that you provide to your buyer. You need to be concise, honest, and upfront about what you're selling. It's also important to note that you're selling your car "AS-IS," meaning that you're selling the car in its present condition, and the buyer is accepting "with all faults" whether or not it's immediately apparent. If you need a starting point for creating your ad, you can use something like what I've provided below:
"year, make, model, main features - $X,XXX (location)"
"Selling my [INSERT CAR'S YEAR, MAKE, AND MODEL]. I'm selling it because [INSERT REASONS FOR SELLING CAR]. The car runs [CAR'S RUNNING CONDITION] and has a [TITLE CONDITION] title. The car has [INSERT GOOD THINGS ABOUT THE CAR]. The car also has [INSERT ANY DRAWBACKS THE BUYER SHOULD KNOW UP FRONT]. The car is being sold as-is.
The car has the following packages: [INSERT PACKAGES AND OPTIONS THAT CAME WITH THE CAR, SPORTS, NAVIGATION, COMFORT, ETC. AND LIST IN BULLET FORM]
Here's a history of the car: [INSERT HISTORY OF THE CAR, WHEN YOU BOUGHT IT, WHEN YOU HAD MAJOR MAINTENANCE DONE AND AT WHAT MILES]
I only accept [INSERT ACCEPTABLE TYPES OF OFFERS: CASH, CERTIFIED CHECK, CASHIER'S CHECK, ETC.] type of payment
The best way to contact me is via [PHONE, TEXT, EMAIL, OR ALL OF THE ABOVE]"
Craigslist also provides the space to put in your VIN, mileage, make, model, title status, transmission, number of cylinders, paint, etc. to help the buyer sort it out based on their preferences. Make sure you fill these fields out as accurately as possible. As for the price you're willing to part with, that comes after the next step.
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Step 4: Research The Used Market and apply a factor.
The price of your car might be the most important aspect that turns people from looking into your ad to completely avoiding it. This is where your minutes/hours of research will literally pay off. Sites like Kelley Blue Book and NADA are great starting places to get a ballpark figure, but you shouldn't stop there. Research other Craigslist postings, dealer websites, Carmax and Autotrader listings of your car and get an understanding between the relationship of mileage and price.
Keep in mind that values from KBB, NADA, and other listings may not accurately capture the worth/rarity of a car, especially if that car appeals to the enthusiast base. For instance, my BMW 335i has a twin turbo engine (that has been fixed under warranty) with a manual transmission: a car that attracts enthusiasts because of its powerful motor, rear-wheel drive nature, and correct type of transmission. If you can recognize the important elements of the sale then you should definitely apply some sort of fudge factor that will help you in the end.
Just remember that everyone thinks their car is a special version out of the hundreds of thousands that was sold that year. I can assure you that it isn't unless it has the serial number of 00001 displayed prominently in the interior. Price your car fairly and wisely and it will sell.
***Steps after you post your ad***
Step 5: Respond to offers
The moment you post your ad on Craigslist, depending on how well you've crafted your ad, you will get inquiries. Since I've listed email or text as the preferred form of communication, it was easier to sit and think about the offers prior to committing to anything in your response. Here are some of the opening lines of communication that I received from buyers:
"Do you still have the 335i for sale? I have been looking for a manual 4 door, not the easiest to find. How set are you on the price?"
"Hi, I am interested in your BMW for sale on Craigslist. How negotiable are you on the price?"
"What's the lowest you'd take for the 335i?"
"Car still for sale? Your ad speaks for itself. Do you have the title in hand? And when are you available to show it?"
Most of the inquiries directly asked how much I was willing to part the car with or how negotiable I was. Because I'm not one to fully disclose my hand in negotiations, I responded with something that wasn't too far off the asking price and above the absolute price floor I was willing to live with. My response in this fashion typically ends the conversation as that price was above what those buyers were looking for.
The important thing here is to respond to those offers immediately and as professionally and as honestly as you can. These are your customers after all, and without them you cannot sell your car.
Step 6: Arrange A Meeting and prepare the paperwork
If you've landed a potential customer, it's time to set up a meeting location for the sale. Logic and self-preservation suggests that you should meet up in a safe public place to do any sort of Craigslist transaction, and when it comes to cars it's no different. Malls, shopping complexes, post offices, police stations, are all great public places to hold a transaction with a complete stranger. It's also advisable to ask a buddy to come along, preferably with their own car so you can hitch a ride after you sell yours.
To complete the sale you also need to bring your one and only title paperwork. This is the paper that lists you as the rightful owner of the car and is the same exact paperwork needed to transfer ownership to your seller. The title cannot have any errors on it so before writing anything ensure any existing and new information is correct.
In addition to the title paperwork and depending on your local laws, you may need to file a bill of sale and it may need to be notarized. This means the transfer of ownership has to happen in front of a witness and possibly during business hours. The bill of sale is an additional paperwork, like a receipt, that proves the lists the buyers and sellers, the exact item, and the agreed upon price.
Step 7: Meeting Up, Test Driving And Haggling
Once you've met up and talked about the car, it's a completely reasonable request for the buyer to ask for a test drive. Simply refusing it would be a big red flag and might just kill the sale before it gets off the ground. Would you buy a car that you couldn't test drive? I didn't think so. Let the buyer test drive it.
To best equip yourself in this situation review your insurance policy and make sure it will cover other drivers in the event of an accident. You should also take a photograph of their driver's license so that you have a record should anything go sour. If they provide any resistance to providing their identification during this step, then they're probably not the type of people you should be doing legitimate business with.
The test drive is the opportunity where your ad and car can speak for itself, but in the event the buyer have any questions you should be there to answer them. This is why I'm a big proponent of tagging along during the test drive. Not only do you provide supervision ensuring no funny stuff happens without your knowledge, but it also provides more facetime for you to close the deal. #ABC #AlwaysBeClosing
This is also the time where pricing discussion usually comes in, and when it comes to haggling some people are more gifted at it than others. If you're good at this, consider yourself blessed and enjoy the additional dollars in your wallet. If you're not good at it, then you should just have complete faith in the numbers that you've researched and what you're comfortable with selling the car. In case you need a point of reference as to how a traditional deal goes down, here it is:
You: "I am selling this for X"
Buyer: "I'll buy it for X minus Y"
You: "Ok. I will sell it for X - Y + Compromise"
If you're wise then you would have accounted some buffer in your original listing to account for some downward price movement. However, if you're firmly set on the original price and are confident that it reflects the true cost of the car, then you shouldn't back down as there will be other buyers in the market. Just keep in mind that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
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***Steps After Closing The Deal***
Step 8: Transfer the Funds THEN the Transfer the title
You're now not just an ex car owner but also a dealmaster at this point. You've successfully negotiated giving away your car at a satisfactory price and you should be proud of yourself. This is also the scariest part of the transaction that turns some people off from selling cars on Craigslist or private party in general. The scam stories, from the buyer's perspective, usually lie in depositing checks that bounce, leaving you stranded without a car and without any cash, days after the transaction.
The easy way of completing the transaction is to do a cash deal. "Cash is King" is the phrase often thrown around as it's the most straightforward. But there are risks inherent to holding vast sums of cash from your transaction. The best way to determine what transaction vehicle you should use is to use your best judgement and understand your surroundings.
The safest method of doing the transaction is to physically go to the buyer's bank and stand right next to them as the cashier issues a certified bank/cashier's check for the EXACT amount of the transaction. This way you witness that the check is legitimate and will not "bounce" days after you transfer it into your bank account.
Once the funds have been transferred, either via cash or certified check, now is the time to sign over the title, signifying the transfer of ownership to the buyer. If you require a notary for your bill of sale, the bank where you deposited your check should also have a notary on staff to provide witness to the sale.
Step 9: The REst Of it. Bring a Big screwdriver
Once the vehicle is no longer yours it's time to take off your plates (This might be hard because the screws might be seized on) so you can surrender them to the DMV. At this point it's the buyer's responsibility to setup their own insurance and figure out how to properly plate their car. Depending on the state, the buyer may be required to obtain an In-Transit or temporary registrations, usually good for 30 days.
You also need to remember canceling recurring expenses like your insurance on the car and other subscription items like satellite radio. Additionally, it's wise to delete any sort of personal information that may be stored in the car's internal hard drive like addresses, phone numbers, and any bluetooth connections with any of your devices.
If you've made it this far...
Thank you so much for making it down this far on the list. I hope you've found these tips to be helpful and will encourage you into converting your old car into cash. Have you sold a car from Craigslist? Have you heard of any horror stories from Craigslist transactions? Please share it with everyone in the comments, I think everyone would love to hear about them!