Selling Your Car On Craigslist: Be Honest

October 11, 2010

A friend of mine needed help selling her 2001 Toyota Camry on Craigslist. No wonder. The car was beaten up: someone side-swiped this sedan, breaking off the driver-side mirror, leaving scraped metal down the side. There were other cosmetic issues, including stained seats and torn-up fenders. The best things going for this 10-year old beater were the new tires, a Toyota engine with 125,000 miles that had a long life ahead of it, and the fact that it still drove smooth as silk.

The ad

It’s true that I prominently described how my friend had kept the car serviced, and how that must have played a role in the engine being in such great shape. I also listed ALL the features: this was an LE model with moonroof, CD player, and power windows.

Following my description of the major features was a straightforward, unapologetic portrayal of everything wrong with this car. I clearly stated that someone side-swiped the driver’s side and the owner hadn’t gotten around to fixing the damage. The car was being sold as is.

I was clear that the side mirror was gone.  And at the bottom of the ad—after listing a detailed description of the car: year, make, model, VIN, color, price, and so on—I reminded the reader of the body damage, that they should only contact the owner if they wanted a great running car that needed body work.

The pictures

If you’re selling your car online you need effective pictures. The first picture of any ad should be taken at a 45-degree angle looking at the front and driver’s side. This is the “money shot” for any classified auto website. It gives the best view of the car and its condition. It’s also becoming an industry standard.

The next picture was taken from the top of the driver’s side door, looking in at the front dashboard, including the passenger’s floor area. This gives a broad view of the front interior.  Then, I included two graphic pictures of the damaged exterior. The first was a clear picture of the entire swipe down the side of the car. The second was an obviously scraped and damaged bumper.

There was no doubt that this car had cosmetic challenges.

The selling process

I posted the ad on Craigslist last Sunday night. I was immediately contacted by people who wanted to see the car NOW! It’s true that I helped my friend price the car correctly. She had a few weeks to sell it. That usually allows the seller to keep the price a bit high to see if anyone bites. However, I made sure it was priced in the “sweet spot” of her pricing strategy. In other words, I made sure it wasn’t over-priced. The flood of calls reflected that.

The car sold just 24 hours later. I helped negotiate the price and it was higher than my friend expected. She told me how happy she was that she asked the guy who wrote the book on how to sell your car online to help her do exactly that.

Hindsight tells me we priced the car right, but we also built a trust with the reader that was palpable by being honest about the car’s actual condition in both the text and pictures. I also told a story about the car and its history, while at the same time providing lots of detailed information. I then included accurate pictures of what I had just described.  In truth, my ad stood out from the many others on Craigslist and potential buyers responded in droves.

The moral of the story: be clear, transparent, detailed, and honest when you post your used car ad online. It also helps to tell a story about the car and its history. Making it personal, being honest, and having accurate, effective pictures are the new rules for selling your car online.


The author has just released his new book, HELP! I Gotta Sell My Car NOW! New Rules for Selling Your Vehicle Online. It’s available on

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