Is Honesty a Virtue When Selling Your Car?

May 17, 2010

In my book, HELP! I Gotta Sell My Car NOW!, I explain how private sellers can set themselves apart from dealers and less-than-honest private sellers, by being upfront, honest, and transparent when working with buyers.

Some might ask how an ex-Internet Manager for a major car dealer – someone who thrived in the shark tank of automobile sales – can give ethical advice to private sellers. In fact, I learned from my customers that they wanted two things from their salesperson:

  • transparency
  • authenticity

My customers desperately wanted to work with real people, salespeople who were upfront and honest. No seller-spin. No dealer-spin.

A Fresh Opportunity

So here is where you benefit. Dealers are hampered by the daunting weight of an industry-wide negative image. You aren't. As a private seller you can set yourself apart from dealers by the way you present your vehicle in your online ad, and how you work with buyers through the process.

To the point: the new rules of selling your car online include being transparent and not using gimmicks or tricks.

Best for You – Best for Them

It's actually in your self-interest to be honest about your car when selling it privately. If someone is looking for a Chevy Impala that has a manual transmission, there is no point lying about the fact that your Impala has an automatic. Don’t waste their time – or yours.

What about smaller, less obvious misdirections – or even lies – that you may be able to get away with?

  • You decide not to tell a buyer about new scratches on the driver's door after she specifically told you that she was impressed with your convertible because your ad says the exterior is perfect.
  • By remaining silent, you will likely sour the deal. Maybe you were hoping she wouldn't notice the scratches, but she did. Now she is disappointed, and you have lost credibility.

If she is still interested in your car, chances are the first words out of her mouth when you negotiate price will be:

  • I guess I could make you an offer, but I'm going to have to figure the cost of fixing the scratches on the driver's door.

Your omission just lost you $450. If you had included a picture of the scratch in your ad, or mentioned it in the text, or confirmed the scratches on the phone when she specifically asked about the paint job, there would be no unmet expectations.

You would not only have retained your credibility, you would have built trust and established a rapport with her, probably with little impact on the price. In this case, honesty would literally have put money in your pocket.

Honesty is the Best Policy

More often than not, being upfront and honest will work to your advantage. Most of us expect some imperfections in a used car. And just like you, a private buyer is more likely to do business with someone they like and trust.

If you can distinguish yourself as one of the good guys by just being yourself – upfront and honest – you’ll actually stand a better chance of selling your car.


L. James Johnson's new book, HELP! I Gotta Sell My Car NOW! New Rules for Selling Your Vehicle Online! is available for download at You can also download his FREE report, The 8 Biggest Mistakes Used Car Buyers Make & How to Avoid Them!

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