Expensive Car-Selling Mistakes

When it comes to selling your car privately, there’s one question AutoTrader.com Spokesperson Mark Scott says you need to answer: “Is it really worth your time?”

After all, selling a car is a process that requires patience, as well as a lot of people- and sales skills -- especially if you’re going to get a fair price. Unfortunately, mistakes along the way can cost you dearly. Reports of low-ball sales and even buyer fraud are all too common.

So why not trade your car or sell it to a third party dealer instead?

Because you can make more money selling a vehicle on your own. In fact, Kelley Blue Book, one of the leaders in used car appraisal services, reports that the owner of a 2007 Honda Accord EX with 60,000 miles can lose as much as $2,000 by trading to a dealer instead of selling directly to a buyer. However, not all cars will command such a significant price difference, so you may want to research your car before committing to the effort of a private sale.

If you’ve got the time and believe that a private sale is worth it, then you’ll need to go about the process wisely. Below are the costliest car-selling mistakes that you should avoid when selling a car on your own.

Choosing the Wrong Source for Your Sale

A mistake many sellers make is choosing the wrong place to advertise their car. As the seller, you need to first figure out how much money you are willing to spend on an ad and how much time you think it will take to sell your car.

While purchasing a print ad in your local newspaper may seem like a thing of the past, most major market newspapers are keeping up with the times by including an online ad with the purchase of a print ad. However, many sellers will find purchasing only an online ad from sources such as Cars.com or AutoTrader.com a better fit.

Why? Because all print ads have a limited lifespan and most of the online ads that come with them have short shelf lives. For example, The Miami Herald sells classified listings for $37.99. This includes both a print and web ad, but the print ad only lasts two full weekends and the web ad lasts 14 days. Cars.com, though, will sell you an ad that lasts 30 days, but can be renewed for free until your car sells, for $40.

There are also free options, such as Craigslist. Relying solely on Craigslist to sell your car is entirely possible, “but augmenting [your Craigslist ad] with other on-line assets that allow you to tell a better story, post more pictures and get in front of serious shoppers is a better strategy,” says Scott. To get the most exposure and to sell your car as quickly as possible you will want to utilize as many free and paid sites as possible that manage to fit both your budget and time constraints.

Constructing an Incomplete Ad

Your car may be a great buy, but if you don’t properly convey that in your ad no one will ever know. Forgetting to include information that’s important to prospective buyers can raise concerns about the condition of your car or -- even worse -- discourage shoppers from contacting you.

To get the most for your ride, you’ll need to be as detailed and transparent as possible. Be sure to note your car's mileage and condition, as well as any accidents, modifications or recent repairs. It’s also a good idea to list its vehicle identification number (VIN) so that interested shoppers can order a vehicle history report. You can find your car's VIN on the vehicle’s title or registration.

Mispricing Your Car

Choosing to sell your car privately can net you more money than a trade-in or selling to a third party dealer. However, pricing your car too high can dissuade shoppers; and pricing your car too low can cost you money.

To determine a selling price that’s fair to both you and shoppers, consult a credible source that tracks used car prices. Sites like Kelley Blue Book and NADA Guide can provide you with that information quickly and for free. You can also check out ads of vehicles similar to yours to compare asking prices. Scott suggests sellers “Look at a variety of sources when researching prices.” 

Not Taking Enough Pictures

Most newspapers and websites will allow you to include pictures with an ad. Not taking advantage of this opportunity will make it easy for your ad to be overlooked -- especially if other ads feature eye-catching shots.

To make the most of your pictures, clean your car before snapping away. This is a prospective buyer’s first impression of your car; don’t let it be a bad one.

Another rule of thumb is to take more than one photo. In fact, Scott says you should "use as many photos as possible. People see one photo and might not even click on it.”

Show useful images such as your car's body, interior, trunk, wheels and other details. If there are any damages, include photos of those as well.

Fumbling the Sales Pitch

Expecting your car to sell on its own merits would be a mistake. Unless you’re selling a rare or prized vehicle, you’ll need to be proactive in pitching the benefits of your car to interested buyers. Otherwise, you may end up owning it for a lot longer than you’d like.

According to Scott, “One of the most common mistakes is not doing your research ahead of time before selling your car.” Research doesn’t just include the information in the ad, like  mileage and  repair history, but also things like fuel economy, recalls and whether buying replacement parts are affordable or not. Knowing this information will make you an expert on your car when talking to shoppers. It’ll also familiarize you with the pros and cons that the buyer has likely researched -- which, ultimately, puts you in a stronger position to make a sale.

If the buyer wants to test drive the car, go along and continue the sales pitch. Just be sure to check that the driver has a valid driver’s license and insurance.

Leaving Yourself Open to Fraud

Just because a buyer appears legitimate doesn’t mean that he or she is. Handing over the keys and title before receiving full payment for your car can leave you susceptible to fraud.

You should always insist on a cash sale. Buyers, however, may want to pay with a cashier’s check or money order instead. If that’s the case, “tell them you’d like to meet at the place where it was drafted to confirm that they have the funds,” says Scott. It’s not uncommon for buyers to write checks with insufficient funds, only to take off with your car and leave you without any money.

Once the money is cleared, you can then sign over the title and give the keys to the new owner. Unless specified between you and the buyer, any additional fees (such as registration, tag or title) are the responsibility of the car's new owner.