Selling Your Car: The Nuts and Bolts

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Selling that 1998 Buick Skylark is an art form, and the real winners know stuff that the rest of the car-selling population doesn’t.

That’s a problem, especially when the market for used cars is hot and growing hotter. According to Edmunds.com, used car sales comprised 49.7% of all dealer sales in the U.S. in 2008 – that’s up from 47.3% for the same period in 2007.

Meanwhile, Edmunds reports that new car sales through November 2008 had fallen by 16% compared to 2007.

That’s no surprise. In a recession, car consumers usually set their sights lower, and value and affordability take on a greater prominence.

To add your car to the list of used cars sold in America, you’ve got to do your homework, expend some elbow grease, be creative and follow these key action steps:

Set a fair price. Car auction sites like Edmunds.com or Cars.com can be especially useful in setting a price for your car. Look for cars that have the same model, the same mileage (roughly) and the same age as your vehicle. Don’t count on car dealerships, they skew prices upward and add “extras” like warranties to the sticker price. That won’t give you a realistic price on your car.

Pass inspection
. Many states require an inspection before granting a title transfer. That’s actually a good selling point – people are more likely to buy your car if they know it’s in good mechanical health. So even if your state doesn’t require an inspection, get a fresh one anyway. It could tip a browser into a buyer.


Clean up. This might sound obvious, but the biggest turnoff for a potential car buyer is a dirty vehicle – and you can expect some customers to be real sticklers about it. To get your car gleaming, take your car to a valet cleaning service – it costs about $60 or so for a thorough cleaning, inside and out (make sure they get to the trunk – a professional cleaner might not unless you ask). If you clean the vehicle yourself, don’t forget the seats and wheel rims. Otherwise, they’ll look drab and could ruin a sale.

Take a picture. After you was your car, wait until late in the day on a sunny afternoon, and take some good photos. Remember, to potential customers, your photo is like the cover of a book – it’s the first thing they see. In addition, a photo is one of the biggest influences in a car-buyer’s decision-making process.

Don’t take a personal check. Taking payment in the form of a personal check – especially a check that's from another state or another country, is an easy scam opportunity for a fraud artist. Better to use a secured online site like Paypal.com or Escrow.com to handle the transaction. If the buyer balks – take a walk.

Another good idea is to save all work orders on the car and present them to buyers. They’ll be impressed with your honesty and give buyers a better fell for the condition of your vehicle.

Selling your car is a lot like selling soap. As long as its packaged correctly, and have all the requisite benefits laid out for the buyer, chances are you used car will wind up in someone else’s driveway sooner than you think.

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