This article was originally published in Issue 11 of EuroBerge and has been converted into a post on the site for your enjoyment. It was originally published on April 15th, 2011.
The time has come. You’re tired of your current car, you want something new, or you just want to downsize your 20-Volkswagen collection. Whatever the reason, there are several times in all of our lives when we have to sell a car, our prized possession, and the Internet is one of your most powerful tools for selling your vehicle. I have bought and sold many cars in my short few years in the Euro car world, (5 to be exact) and every single one of them was found or sold through automotive forums or Craigslist.
It can be hard to navigate through all of the spammers, people who want to waste your time, and just horribly maintained cars out there, so to help you along , we are here to provide some tips and hints for buying and selling your baby on the Internet.
One of the single most important things to consider before buying OR selling a car is time. You need time to properly price, research, find the right buyer/seller or walk away if necessary. If you’re selling, you want people who need to get in a car at that exact moment and have no options. If you’re buying, you want a seller who really needs some cash on the spot. In either situation, you have time and they don’t, and that’s a very powerful bargaining chip. You don’t want to ever be pressured into a deal when buying and selling; it will almost always end badly.
When selling your car online, one of the biggest things that you can do to help your luck in selling is presentation. This is huge. For instance, if “mkIII Jetta FS – it’s badass!” is your entire post, no body is going to pay attention to you, not to mention buy your car. Here are some solid aspects to include in a solid, informational post:
- Eye-catching title: ie; FS: 2001.5 Casablanca White S4 w/sport trim – 50,000 mi, $10,000. It’s enough info with some important key points to a potential buyer. You want to give just enough info that they click-through to check out the rest.
- Year/make/model & and special trim ie: S-line or Wolfsburg Edition
- Price – Remember that online, any price stated is the starting point for a negotiation. Price accordingly to get your achieved price.
- Location (where the vehicle is currently located)
- A short history of the car; enough info that a potential buyer will feel comfortable with where it’s been
- Mods – If any that were installed by you or if applicable any previous owners
- Recent and large maintenance items completed – This is a big one, people will want to know how particular you are with maintenance.
- Pros & cons – People like honesty, and they know that EVERY car has SOME issue(s). Be upfront and they’ll be more likely to trust and engage you.
- Contact info – Make it clear how you want to be contacted and open up the channels for communication. You’d be surprised how many cars I’ve wanted to buy but the seller was just too lazy to call back or post any way to get ahold of them
Photos are especially important. Photos and presentation are just as important in depicting your car as facts and words are. If the person you want to buy your car can’t see half of it because you were too lazy to turn your camera, they’re less likely to even consider it. Try to get a photo of the car from both sides, and front and back as well as selling features such as the numbering badge or special edition trim pieces to validate authenticity. For some more tips, check out our past issues’ photo articles and features for some tips on getting some winner photos that will catch your buyer’s eye.
It’s also a solid idea to gather all of your maintenance records together and bind them in a nice, pretty package to show off to your potential buyer. After I’ve identified if the vehicle is the model/options I want, the next this I look at is how complete the maintenance records are; this alone tells me almost everything I need to know about the owner and whether I want to buy the car or not. Even if they’re just basic notes on when you changed the oil, the more detailed and organized, the better owner you depict yourself.
When the buyer comes around to view the car, it’s important to have your vehicle ready for show. First off, detail it like you were heading to the biggest car show of your life. How clean and well kept the vehicle is for presentation is one of the best indications the buyer-to-be has of how well you’ve taken care of your vehicle. So clean out your trash, engine bay, wheels, clay, polish, wax, you get the point. Second, have all of your paperwork ready for the buyer to see. They will likely want to see a clean title (or lien paperwork), full maintenance history, prepared bill of sale (if necessary), and smog certifications (if in a testing county).
Make sure that you are knowledgeable about the vehicle, and up-to-date on what maintenance and modifications have been done. Expect the buyer to hit you with questions, especially about any scratches, scrapes and dents, so be able to explain what/when/how. Also expect them to want to take the vehicle for a test drive, so consider whether you’re comfortable with them driving away with your baby for a test drive or whether you want to ride with them.
- Buying a car can be even trickier. If you’re selling a vehicle, you have the advantage of knowing everything about your car: where it’s been, how it’s been maintained, etc. But if you’re buying, you have no idea how honest the seller is, what maintenance has really been done to the car, or how well it’s been driven/treated. Here are some ways to get past a lack of insight on the seller and vehicle:
- Get a Carfax report – Yes, they’ve changed to a non-consumer friendly system, but it can be a very powerful tool in helping you identify potential red flags such as gaps in mileage, previous accidents, or flood vehicles.
- Look for a solid, organized maintenance history – Organized individuals and those who keep great records are not only generally easier to work with, but also tend to be the nit-picky, change the oil at regular intervals kind of gear-heads. These sellers have generally taken excruciating care of their car and this makes a huge difference in the kind of maintenance you will have to perform down the road.
- Look for a power user on a forum – These individuals tend to leave their “digital footprint” all over the web and forums, which makes it particularly easy to do some search engine fact-finding and figure out their character.
- Give it time – It can get really frustrating when you’ve looked at hundreds of cars online and none of them are just right; but give it time to find what you really want. You’ll be stuck driving the thing for at least another year or two in most circumstances so you’ll want to be completely happy with your decision every day driving to work.
- Get a pre-purchase inspection – Only in rare, low value circumstances will I not have a certified mechanic that I trust thoroughly look over the vehicle. They do often cost ~$100, but it can easily save you several thousand dollars in repair on that car that you thought was a cherry. I recently looked at an E30 325i and while it was a very nice car, I felt that something was wrong and took it to a local mechanic. It turned out that there was over $6,000 in work that would have had to be done to bring it to a reliable state.
- Blast them with questions upfront – This helps you feel them out for how badly they want to sell the car and how honest they are. It also helps to avoid wasting each other’s time if there are some details that don’t match up. Here are some good questions to ask upfront on the phone or over PM.