Kelley Blue Book: How to sell your car online: 10 tips to get the best price and exposure

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Not many people are using paper classifieds anymore, and with online searches more detailed than ever, the demise of weekly pulp has been a blessing in disguise. In the old days, it was necessary for buyers to wade through scores of listings to find what they were looking for. Now, they can use online search tools to filter out vehicles that don’t match their search criteria.

There are a number of sites available to post ads –, Craigslist, eBay, Autotrader, Hemmings, etc. – and which one you choose depends upon what kind of vehicle you’re trying to sell your car for cash. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of an online sale.

1. Pick your platform

If you’re selling a run-of-the-mill, slightly beat-up 10-year-old commuter car, it’s tough to beat Craigslist. Listing is free, there are no fees after the sale and you can post lots of pictures. The drawback is that Craigslist searches are limited to a relatively narrow geographical area. Plus, Craigslist seems to be a magnet for scammers and crazies. Listing platforms like and spread word of the impending sale farther afield, and will most likely filter out scammers. For more unique and higher-value cars and trucks, eBay and Bring-a-Trailer – with their auction-style listings, can be a good way to maximize your sale price. Classic and vintage cars can be sold through eBay, EBAY, +6.31%   Bring-a-Trailer, Hemmings, Autotrader and others.

2. Find your car’s value

Knowing what your car is worth is the next step. Checking its value on will let you know how much the vehicle is worth on the private market, a dealer sale or trade-in. There’s also an Instant Cash Offer tool that allows dealers to make an offer on your vehicle, essentially setting a floor on your asking price. You can determine whether the extra money you might be able to get on the private market will be worth your time and energy in advertising, showing and eventually selling your ride.

3. Fix what isn’t working

This is a maxim as old as horse-trading. No one wants to buy a busted car, and you’ll see that in what people are willing to pay. “Needs TLC” is a good way to deter potential customers, so replacing bald tires, repairing the brakes and doing away with the cracked windshield will do a lot to ensure that you get top dollar for your car. Be especially sure to fix safety-related items – brakes, steering and lighting components that will be looked at during a state safety inspection in particular. Any buyer worth his or her salt will request that you take the vehicle to a mechanic to get it looked over. Be ready.

4. Clean the car

No one wants to look at a dirty car. If you don’t have time to vacuum and clean the interior and wash and wax its exterior, pay to have someone else do it. Even if you’re selling a $1,500 car, a $30 detailing job could mean a couple hundred bucks when it comes time for the buyer to fork over cash and seal the deal. There’s really no excuse to post photos of litter strewn carpeting and coffee-stained seats. It doesn’t show well, even on the internet.

5. Take lots of pictures

The days of posting one photo and calling it good are over. Online car shoppers want to see your car from every angle. As mentioned earlier, make sure the car is clean, and try to snap your photos in a place with even lighting. Shooting photos after dark is a no-go and taking pictures beneath bright sunlight can make for harsh shadows in the picture. Choose a spot with a plain background (a blank concrete wall or empty parking lot can be good), and avoid places where trees, poles and other objects will lay shadows across the image.

Make sure you show multiple angles of the vehicle. A good rule of thumb is to get shots of all sides – front, front 3/4 (that’s an oblique angle) driver’s side, back, back 3/4 and passenger’s side. Also make sure to show the front and rear seats, the dash, the trunk, the engine compartment (which may require using a flash) and the undercarriage. If your ad says “rust-free” be ready to prove it. Some people won’t even consider looking at your car in person until they’ve seen an exhaustive catalog of online photos.

6. Include a VIN report with your listing

Carfax is the best-known service and can give a potential buyer peace-of-mind about the vehicle’s history. Even if the car is in great shape, a salvage or flood title will reduce its value. But the buyer is going to want to know all that up front, and a VIN history will help.

7. Be patient with questions

As mentioned earlier, be ready to take the vehicle to a mechanic for inspection. Most potential buyers will have lots of questions, some of which can’t be answered by photos or a VIN report. Be ready to provide a solid answer for the most telling question of all: Why are you selling the vehicle? If you don’t have a good answer, you may scare away someone who’s otherwise willing to buy it.

8. Be willing to negotiate

When you list a vehicle, most people are going to assume that there’s some wiggle room on the price. You can get around this by asking for a slightly higher price (or too high, though, lest you scare off buyers), but most buyers will feel better about the sale if you’re able to take – at the very least – a few hundred bucks off your initial price. Don’t sell yourself short, but a little flexibility can go a long way, and lead to a quicker sale.

9. Ask for a deposit

When you’re selling your car for cash, you don’t want someone to commit to buying only to have them flake out after you’ve already removed the listing. So ask for a deposit. How much really depends upon the price. For less expensive cars and trucks, $500 is a good rule of thumb, but asking for 50% or better of the final buying price is perfectly acceptable practice.

10. Offer multiple payment options

Electronic payments like Venmo and PayPal PYPL, +5.14%   are more common than ever and can help finalize a cash sale before the buyer has second thoughts. The faster you get the buyer’s money, the more quickly you will finalize the sale. Some sellers (and buyers, for that matter) prefer cash transactions, so it can help to be open to that. With Kelley Blue Book’s Instant Cash Offer, you can get a fine-tuned amount at a participating dealer and use it toward the purchase of another car.

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