12 must-do tips for selling your car on Craigslist

July 26, 2016

Right now, there's not a better way to reach a huge audience to sell your car than on Craigslist. It's a free website that allows you to list anything from megabuck houses to used tennis shoes to a Ferrari F40, and its format doesn't place significant restrictions on what you can put in your ad.

Even with the proliferation of apps like LetGo and OfferUp, Craigslist remains the big player for a reason: Simplicity.

Craigslist is far from perfect, however. There are bogus ads, flaky tire-kickers, and the obvious downside of working with anonymous buyers with unknown finances.

It's still a valuable tool to sell your vehicle, and quickly if you must.

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Collectively, we've bought (not to mention shopped for) dozens of cars on Craigslist. We've picked up daily drivers, sold off stylish classics, and contemplated things we really don't need cluttering up our garages.

In other words, we know how it works and how to make it work for us. Follow these 12 rules and the whole process can be cleaner, faster, and easier.

Craigslist ad

Craigslist ad

1. Make the title ultra-clear: list the year, make, model, trim level, mileage, engine and transmission, and condition.

Let's say you have a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4 that you want to sell. What's a better title for your ad: "1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4, 130k miles, well maintained!" or "jeep 4 sale"?

One of these is informative and shows up in CL searches easily; the does not. Think of listing a car a little like going on a date; the title is your first opportunity to impress (and inform) a potential buyer. Our recommendation is to include the vehicle's year, make, model, mileage, trim level, powertrain, and a small teaser designed to lure in readers in the ad title. If that's too much to fit, cut from the end--but make sure you get at least the year-make-model and mileage in.

Craigslist ad

Craigslist ad

 

2. Take pictures with a decent camera. 

You have one. It's on your mobile phone. If you don't, you Luddite, your friend does. Give the lens a quick wipe with your shirt and snap away.

It might be hip to shoot photos with a Polaroid camera (hey, they sell them at Urban Outfitters), but what you're aiming for here is clarity. 

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Craigslist ad

Craigslist ad

3. Take a lot of photos. And frame them well.

You're not limited by how many photos you can take with a digital camera, so why not spend an extra minute or two walking around the car to take photos from every angle, ensuring they are properly framed with the entire vehicle in the image?

All too often we see photos that look like they need to be stitched together with a fancy app. Don't do that.

And spend some time cleaning your car up before taking those pictures. We're all busy, but time is money and you'll net more of it if you offer up a clean car. Run it through a good car wash before taking pictures. 

Craigslist ad

Craigslist ad

4. Upload 24 photos. Because you can.

Craigslist now allows you to upload two dozen photos. We really can't think of a good reason not to fill this entire space.

You should easily be able to shoot 24 good photos of your car. Here's how we recommend breaking down your shot list:

  • One overview from each angle of the car; think front profile, rear profile, side profile (times two), a 3/4 shot from each corner.
  • Detail shots of any exterior damage and a shot of the wheels and tires showing about how much tread is left on the tires.
  • Photos of the front and back seats, the dashboard, and the odometer showing current mileage.
  • Open the hood and take an overview photo.


Craigslist ad

Craigslist ad

5. The devil is in the details. Describe your car accurately.

Put yourself in a shopper's shoes. What do you want to know about a car you're considering looking at and, hopefully, buying? At the very least, make sure you mention the following:

  • Year, make, model, and trim level. Confused about that last one? It may be listed on your car's trunk lid. It's not just a Toyota Camry, it's a Toyota Camry LE, for instance.
  • Powertrain. Buyers want to know if it's the 4-cylinder or the V-6, the automatic or the manual.
  • Color inside and out. Even though you just took these great photos, you should still describe some basics.
  • Condition and mileage. Mention any current or past (as in repaired) damage. 
  • Any modifications. Fancy radio? Point it out. Upgraded wheels? Describe them here.

Craigslist ad

Craigslist ad

 

6. Elaborate on its condition and maintenance history.

Nothing is more appealing than a well-maintained car. You should always keep your service receipts. This is the place to brag about what great shape your car is in and the measures you've taken over the years to keep it looking and driving like it rolled off the showroom floor yesterday. 
 
But what if you've neglected to change the oil and have never washed it? We'll address that shortly. Shame on you. 
 
Craigslist ad

Craigslist ad


7. Give shoppers a reason to click on your ad and to send you an email.

Here's where you can set your car apart from the hundreds just like it on Craigslist. Is your car equipped with some nice features—like, say, a sunroof, leather seats, or a fancy stereo? Mention that here. How about an unusual color? Maybe it has 4-wheel drive or a V-8 engine.
 
This may also be an opportunity to mention something special you've done with your car that might appeal to a shopper. Did you recently drive it across the country without any problems? Mention that. Is it really a 28,000-mile original that was owned by your 90-year-old grandfather? That's a great story and a perfect indication of how it was driven. Tell us.
Craigslist ad

Craigslist ad

8. Watch your words.

Just because you have room to write a novel doesn't mean you should. Consider that potential buyers will be turned off by long paragraphs. The editor's lingo tl;dr (which means "too long, didn't read") applies here. Be concise.

On the flip side, you have enough room to answer any of the obvious questions shoppers might have about your car, so don't fear a few paragraphs. A good base line is to keep things between 100 to 300 words, unless you have an exceptionally rare or special car.

 

Craigslist ad

Craigslist ad

9. Don't lie. 

So, you thought your car had 30,000-mile oil change intervals and not 3,000 mile intervals? Or your car is puffing so much black smoke out of the exhaust that the local mosquito population is on high alert? 

Well, you need to be upfront about that. You're only wasting your own time (not to mention a potential buyer's time) if you don't bring these things up. And, perhaps even more importantly, deceptive tactics about not disclosing known problems are illegal in most places.

Craigslist ad

Craigslist ad

10. Price your car accurately. 

In addition to checking your car's value at Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and other valuation guides, we recommend taking a look at what else is out there. Type your car's make and model into Craiglist to see what others are asking for their cars. Don't restrict yourself to just your model year. Most used car shoppers are looking for a range of model years, so be sure to seek out similar models.

If someone has listed, say, another 2004 Volvo S60 in the same color but with more features and fewer miles for the same price you're thinking, it might be a good idea to dial back your expectations. 

Craigslist ad

Craigslist ad

11. Respond promptly, and be prepared to be turned down.

Your ad is live and people are calling you, texting you, and emailing you. With any luck, you have a few interested parties within the first day, or even within the first few hours. Make sure that this is a good time to list your vehicle for sale. Be in town, and readily available to have strangers meet you for a test drive.

You should be prepared to have some go over your car with a fine-tooth comb and then to inform you that they aren't interested. Don't be discouraged by these tire-kickers, but if this happens more than a few times, you may want to adjust your asking price. Just don't do it aggressively while you're meeting them: decide on a bottom line price before any test drives and stick to it.

Craigslist ad

Craigslist ad

12. Be smart about the actual transaction.

This should go without saying, but Craigslist is riddled with scam artists. Never consider selling your car without meeting up with the buyer, don't accept a personal check or a wire transfer, and, above all, rely on common sense. If it seems fishy... well, it probably is.

Do your part, too. Make sure the car is properly insured and plated before test drives. Arrange test drives during daytime hours. We recommend meeting a potential buyer in a public place like a shopping mall parking lot during business hours or your office building's lot.

It is usually a good idea to have a friend or two with you, too, even if all they do is observe. If you can't, let someone else know where you're going and when, and give them the contact information you were given by the potential buyer.

And for heaven's sake, when it sells, don't just edit the ad to say "Sold." Take it down!

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