Selling Your Car Online: Setting Yourself Apart From Dealers

October 26, 2010

The economic downturn is forcing more Americans to sell their cars privately rather than trading them in with a car dealer. For those brave souls venturing online to post their used car ads, it can come as a surprise to discover just how many dealers are posting individual used cars on both premium and free websites. In fact, there can be so many dealers posting ads that private sellers tend to get lost in the crowd.

Setting yourself apart

If you look at car posts on Craigslist, AutoTrader, or, you’ll discover that car dealers can outnumber private sellers. Many car dealers put their entire used car inventory on these websites as individual listings. It makes for a crowded field. Yet, private sellers have inherent advantages when creating their ads and interacting with interested buyers. It comes down to being able to personalize their ads, be very specific with the details of the vehicle, and be honest and transparent in how you present the vehicle.

At this point I don’t’ want my friends who still work in the auto industry getting angry with me for dissing car dealers. It’s not that car dealers are dishonest, but they do have a bad reputation for good reason. It’s that bad reputation that creates a significant opportunity for the private seller.

Honesty is the best approach

How do you create an honest online car ad? Begin by having lots of pictures that clearly show the good and the bad. If there are scratches on the bumper, take a close-up photo so the reader can see exactly what’s wrong. You can also record a video walk around where you pay particular attention to the dings, scrapes, and bumps. Sure, it may send a few interested buyers down the road looking at other vehicles. But more often than not, you’ll build credibility with buyers and if given a chance, they’ll choose dealing with you over other private sellers or dealers they don’t feel a rapport with and don’t trust.

Personalize your ad

When I was Internet Manager for a major dealer, I was responsible for all of our online ads. It was virtually impossible to write a personal story about each car – there simply wasn’t time. This is where the advantage can shift to the private seller. You have time to write a personal story about the car you’re selling. What did you love most about it? Why are you selling? Why was this minivan your favorite family vehicle ever? Was it the built-in DVD player that kept the kids occupied during long road trips? Was the fact that you felt safe driving your kids around town because of the side curtain air bags and excellent crash test rating?

Tell a story. Make it personal. Build a rapport with the reader. Have pictures of scratches down the driver’s side and then talk about how you got them in the ad itself. Make those descriptions personal, too. You’ll build credibility with the reader that will not only make it easier to find buyers, but it also makes negotiating the price easier. It’s a simpler and more trouble-free process to negotiate price with someone you feel a connection with versus a stranger who feels cold and distant.

Set yourself apart from car dealers and other private sellers by being upfront, honest, and personal in your online ad. And remember to take lots and lots of pictures.


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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