Is Honesty Really The Best Approach When Selling Your Car Privately?

February 28, 2011

Car dealers have a bad reputation for good reason. Unfortunately, that reputation tends to be smeared on anyone selling a vehicle—be they dealers or private sellers. However, you can break that mold and come across as one of the good guys. Simply be upfront, honest, and tell the truth about your used car when posting it online or answering questions on the phone or via email.

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 how long and deep the scratch is. You can also record a video walk around where you pay particular attention to the dings, scrapes, and bumps.

If you use this honest approach, you run the risk of sending 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.

Tell a Story

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. This will help build a rapport with prospective buyers by making you a real person to them.

What did you love most about the vehicle you’re selling? Why are you selling it? 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 and make it personal. Have pictures of the scratches along the driver’s door, and then talk about how you got the scratches in the ad itself. 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.

Honesty if the Best Medicine

Being upfront, honest, and personal in your online ad will set you apart from car dealers and other private sellers. And why not use this same attitude when talking to buyers on the phone or when you show your vehicle in person. You’ll feel good about yourself, your vehicle, and any deal you make.

Remember what Spencer Johnson said: “Integrity is telling myself the truth. And Honesty is telling the truth to other people.” This is your chance to have integrity AND be honest. What an opportunity.


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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