Used-car Web sites expose listings to millions of potential buyers. Here's how to close the deal.
Selling a used car on your own is about as much fun as a burned-out transmission. The typical strategy: Slap a sign in the car's window, run a few classifieds and cross your fingers.
No wonder so many folks trade in their cars at dealerships. Doing so is high on the convenience scale, although it can come at a steep cost. Consumers typically walk away from $500 to $1,500 (depending on the model), according to AutoTrader.com, an auto Web site specializing in selling used vehicles.
But here's a way to improve your odds considerably when going it alone: Move your listing online. Millions of consumers are trolling auto Web sites looking for competitively priced used vehicles. According to J.D. Power and Associates, 54% of people looking for used cars and trucks surf the Web. If you want to sell your car quickly and for a good price, it's time to park it on some of the most popular sites. Here's how to do it right.
Clean up Your Act
Even when selling your car online, the old rules still apply. If your car seats are covered with stains or there's a burned-out headlight, it's time to get your car cleaned and fixed. Even when selling online, you need to be honest about the condition of your car. Filthy and broken down are features that rarely command top dollar.
You'll also want to gather your service records detailing oil changes, tune-ups and repairs. And be sure to run a vehicle history report from Carfax or Experian so you're prepared to hand it over to a buyer quickly.
Choosing a Web Site
Most Web sites listing used cars charge a fee to sellers. So pick the sites you use carefully.
EBay Motors is the largest online automotive market place, and charges $80 per listing. As with other products sold on eBay, potential car buyers make bids on vehicles. Don't worry — you have some control over the final price. Sellers can set reserve levels, or minimum sales prices, and don't have to close the deal unless the magic number is reached.
Other sites like Autobytel.com, AutoTrader.com and CarsDirect.com offer more straightforward sales processes. All three let you advertise your vehicle with a full-page ad — a clear advantage to a three-line newspaper listing. The main differences between the sites: price, and the number of pictures allowed. Autobytel.com charges $29.95 for an ad with one photo that runs until the vehicle is sold. AutoTrader.com charges anywhere from $15 for a simple classified with one picture to $79 for an elaborate write-up, priority status on its Web site and up to nine photos. (Consumers using Web sites such as Edmunds.com and Yahoo!Autos also get to see your listing.) And CarsDirect.com charges $25 for a listing with one photo for 30 days, and $37.50 for a listing with six pics that stays up until the car sells.
Creating a Can't-Resist Marketing Plan
Obviously, nothing sells a car faster than a competitive price, says Michael Rosenberg, senior vice president for Autobytel.com. To figure out the right price, start with the industry standard, Kelley Blue Book. It spells out how much a private owner should be able to fetch, vs. how much a dealer might get, for your make and model.
Another useful tool is Edmunds.com's used vehicle appraiser. It allows you to enter specific data, including a car's mileage and condition, and then spits out a price. It's also a good idea to see what others in your area are asking for the same car, says Autobytel.com's Rosenberg. That's your competition, and you can be sure buyers are comparison shopping.
Not surprisingly, vehicles also move faster when sellers include a picture. Experts recommend displaying both interior and exterior photos that show a car's condition. Some listings even include a snapshot of the odometer to confirm how many miles the vehicle has. Finally, make sure to highlight any special features. "If your car has low mileage or brand new tires, bring it to the forefront," Rosenberg says. The more details you provide, the more of an edge you'll have over the competition.
Selling a used car is still a face-to-face transaction. You must be willing to meet with prospective buyers and negotiate. You should understand that potential buyers will want to take a test drive and get the car inspected. Even with eBay, local buyers are likely to swing by and kick the tires while the auction is ongoing.
That doesn't mean you should be a pushover, mind you. Chances are, a buyer will save a bundle by buying your car rather than one on a used-car lot. In the lingo of sales pitches, that's what's called a win-win situation.