Top 5 Common Sense Tips For Selling A Used Car

Cleaning the windshield of your car. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio.

I’ve bought and sold more cars, trucks, and SUVs than I’m willing to admit. I’d like to think I know how to effectively sell a car. However, it’s moderately appalling how bad some people seem to be at it. Ask me how I know. However, whether selling on Facebook Marketplace, Craiglist, OfferUp, or even Nextdoor, there are easy, dare I say common sense, things you can do to increase your chances for selling success when offering up your vehicle for a private party sale. It’s shocking how many people don’t even take the most basic steps that can greatly increase your chances of selling their ride. So here are my top 5 common sense tips for selling a new car.

1. Wash The Damn Car

A dirty Jeep Cherokee XJ
“Yeah, it’s a bit dirty, but trust me: the paint is perfect under the mud.”

I can’t believe I even need to say this, but before you try to sell your car, wash the damn thing. Hell, just hose off the muddy paw prints from the hood at least. Make your car look as clean as possible. No one wants to take their time to come see your car only to see it’s filthy. Go ahead: spend the $10 and run it through a car wash, or at least give it a quick driveway bath before taking pics or showing it. I recently looked at used car that looked like it had just come driving across a farmer’s field. The sellers didn’t think anything of it, but it was an immediate red flag for me. That is not the way to present a car.

Take the time to wash the vehicle, wipe it down, and make it look good. COMMON SENSE TIP: After washing is a great time to take photos of it! Photos of dirty cars aren’t appealing to buyers. Wash it and take your pics. BONUS TIP: Consider washing the car again if you have someone coming to look at it and it’s dirty. My God, people. Do I have to tell you everything?

2. Clean Out The Freaking Interior

Dirty car interior
“Yeah, the interior is kinda dirty, but you know, whatever.” Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

I know this is a shock to some of you, but just having the exterior clean isn’t good enough for most people. Clean the car’s interior too, OK? This means vacuuming the carpet, and ashtrays, and maybe even getting the cooties out of the nooks and crannies. I know, I know, it’s time-consuming and might involve a little effort. But no buyer wants to see layers of dog hair, piles of half-drank soda bottles, unknown sticky bits on the dash, and carpet that looks like you were keeping farm animals inside. COMMON SENSE TIP: Buy some interior cleaner like Meguiar’s Wipes, Armor-All, or something like that. Hell, water and a rag is better than nothing. We know you’ve been farting in the driver’s seat since you’ve had the car, so maybe a little air freshener? Clean, vacuum, and detail the interior for crying out loud. BONUS TIP: Make sure you take interior photos of the car. When I see pictures of a car for sale without interior photos, I just assume someone’s either been murdered inside it or you’re manufacturing drugs in there.

3. Take Decent Photos: There’s No Excuse Not To

Bad photo of a 1999 Nissan Sentra
“Car is in awesome shape. Sorry for the bad photo. Potato phone. LOL”

How is it possible that it’s 2024 and people still can’t take a halfway decent photo of their vehicle? Every damn phone in this country has a lens attached to it that’s more than adequate to take photos for Facebook Marketplace. But since we’re writing to the lowest common denominator here, be sure to make sure your camera’s lens is clean and free of smudges. This will help ensure a clear photo.

Next, don’t take pics in the night, during a natural disaster, or during any other times of distress. Take photos in the daytime in decent lighting so you can see the car. Make sure the area is free from distractions like other cars, garbage, or gang fights. COMMON SENSE TIP: Take a variety of photos. Front, rear, sides, and interior at a minimum. If you don’t at least have these, I’m just going to assume you’re a sociopath. BONUS TIP: If you want to impress, take a photo of the engine and trunk/cargo area. Heck, maybe even the wheels and tires if you’re going for extra credit. You don’t need a million pics. Just the basics, in focus, in a decent setting. It’s not difficult. Put the effort in you lazy bum.

Also, don’t take pics of your car with animals in or on it. Listen, I love pets as much as the next guy. But I don’t want to see Fido and his paws on the car’s hood ruining the paint. I’m getting angry just thinking about it.

4. You Don’t Have to be Shakespeare To Write a Good Ad

Facebook Ad
I might be a professional writer, but you don’t have to be.

I’m a professional writer (no, really). Like, I get paid to write. (Not here, just other places.) But you don’t have to be William Q. Shakespeare to have a good description. Some of the Facebook Marketplace ads I see will just say “good car” or “mechanic’s special” and that’s it. You might not be a person of many words, but you can surely do better than that.

Include specific info about your ride like some things you’ve done to maintain or customize it. Perhaps you’d like to let people know how long it’s been in your custody. Maybe mention why you’re selling it. Also, tell people how you want to be paid. Cash. Banker’s check. Returnable beer bottles. I don’t care. Make it easy for the buyer to know how you want to be compensated. COMMON SENSE TIP: Don’t write a novel. You don’t need to go into how much torque you applied to each lug nut. You can leave out the details of how many ounces of wax you use to polish your pickup on Sundays. But do give us something. Anything. And remember—you’re trying to sell this damn thing. Think positive, don’t lie, and sell, sell, sell.

5. Have Good Communication and Don’t Be a Weirdo

Andy being a weirdo.
Yeah, that;’s me from like 10 years ago being a weirdo. Deal with it.

Holy shit, there are some weirdos trying to sell cars these days. Don’t be one of them. Have clear and concise communication when you’re selling a car. If someone asks a question, get back to them promptly. If you want to do business via text and not by Facebook Messenger, let people know. Tell potential buyers how you want to do the deal. Don’t expect them to know when they drive five hours to come see your piece of crap car. If you’re listing the car outside of where it resides, be sure to let people know that before getting in touch with you. None of this “Well, the car isn’t actually in Portland, it’s in Albany. No, not Albany, Oregon; Albany New York.”

Again, we want to avoid surprises. Be sure the car is as advertised. COMMON SENSE TIP: If you tell people the car has new all-terrain tires, don’t show the car with bald highway rubber. If say your convertible has a new top, that shouldn’t mean that it had a new top at one point. Don’t mince your words, even if you want to make the sale. Nothing is more infuriating to a buyer than showing up to a bait-and-switch scenario. Don’t be a psychopath. Be a normal-ass human and a good one at that. Just remember: Karma’s a bitch. No one wants to admit their baby is ugly. But be realistic about your car.

Take The Time. Put In the Effort.

Washing our Mitsubishi Delica
Remember: Wash the car before you sell it. Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

In many cases, a car is the second most expensive thing you’ll ever own next to a house. So when it comes time to sell your car, take the time. Put in the effort. Washing the car, cleaning the interior, taking good photos, writing a decent ad, and having good communication can be the key between selling the car quickly and for a good amount of money, and being stuck with that shitbox you don’t want anyway.

Rusty Volkswagen Bug by j.mt photography
“NO LOW-BALLERS. I KNOW WHAT I GOT. ALMOST PERFECT. NEEDS A COUPLE THINGS.” (Photo by j.mt_photography)

Let’s face it: you know all this already. But consider this just a caring reminder from someone who has bought and sold an embarrassing number of vehicles. I know a thing or two about this. I also might need an intervention. Now get out there and get that sweet ride sold!

1 Comment

  1. Yes Andy, you’d think folks would know enough to wash the car and clean it out inside, but I recently was helping a new immigrant family buy their first car and one of the lots we stopped in, and this is their BUSINESS, had all the cars blocked in so you couldn’t get one out easily to test drive it, and the interiors looked like animals had lived in them. We didn’t stay long and ended up with a used Subaru Outback that was spotless inside and out on another lot.

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