Can Telling The Truth Help You Sell Your Car?

February 28, 2011

The car industry has a bad reputation for good reason. However, if you’re selling your vehicle privately, do you have to follow in such notable footsteps? 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

I discovered that my customers desperately wanted to work with real people. 

A New Opportunity

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.

The new rules of selling your car online include being transparent and not using gimmicks or tricks. 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.

But what about smaller, less obvious misdirections – or even lies – that you may be able to get away with? For example, what if you’re selling a Ford Mustang and there is a big scratch down the driver’s door. Someone calls and they ask if there are any issues with the exterior finish. You say “No way, it’s in perfect condition.”

You just created a huge problem for yourself when the person comes to look at your Mustang in person. Not only will their expectations be dashed, but even if you can keep them interested in your vehicle, they’ll probably want a huge discount in price.

There is Another Way

The sad thing is that this is that it could have been avoided. 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 they 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 the buyer, 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. And feeling good about yourself put you in the bonus round


L. James Johnson is the guy who wrote the book on how to sell your car online: HELP! I Gotta Sell My Car NOW! New Rules for Selling Your Vehicle Online! is available on


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