How to Advertise Your Used Car

It’s exciting to buy a new car, but when you have a vehicle that you need to get rid of before you can complete your purchase, it makes it more stressful and complicated. You could:

  • Gift the car to a family member, friend or charity
  • Sell it privately
  • Trade it in on your purchase from a dealership

In most cases, you need to recoup some money from your current car to help pay for your new vehicle, so gifting the car to a family member, friend, or charity isn’t always an option. If you trade in your car, you can expect that the value you receive from the dealership will be 20% less than you’d get from selling your car privately.

There are several ways to make your vehicle advertisement more attractive and elicit more responses from potential buyers.

Part 1 of 4: Detail your car

A completely clean vehicle always looks better in your advertisements. The sparkle of clean paint and an interior free of dirt and clutter is more attractive to purchasers and will draw more attention and responses. In preparation of advertising your car, clean it fully inside and out.

Step 1: Detail your car’s exterior. Wash the outside thoroughly by hand.

A hand wash will produce better results than an automatic car wash at the gas station.

Use a professional detailing service for the best results.

Have minor scratches and paint chips touched up and polished.

Wax the exterior for a streak-free, brilliant shine.

person spraying car dressing to tire

Apply tire dressing to the tires to create a shiny finish that lasts for weeks.

Step 2: Clean your car’s interior. Get rid of any garbage and remove all your personal belongings.

A clean interior shows that you care for your car, adding value to the potential buyer.

Vacuum the carpets and seats to pick up any loose dirt.

Shampoo the carpet and seats if they are stained.

If you have leather upholstery, apply conditioner to the seats to rejuvenate them.

Wipe all the plastic and vinyl trim with a clean, lint-free cloth, wetting it with warm water if there are spots to remove.

Step 3: Detail your engine bay.

person spraying engine with soapy water

Apply a coat of soapy water to entire engine area with a spray bottle. Let soak for fifteen minutes. Rinse the engine with low pressure water.

While the interior and exterior are most important, a clean engine will help sell mechanically-minded purchasers on your car’s value.

  • Warning: Don’t spray electrical components or your drive belts directly with a pressure washer. Only use low pressure water to clean or rinse the engine area.

Part 2 of 4: Have your car serviced

To remove a possible negative impact on your sale, have your car serviced and ready to drive. If a buyer discovers that your car needs to be maintained or repaired before they can drive it, it will deter many buyers from completing the purchase.

Step 1: Have necessary fluids changed.

person adding oil to engine

Change the engine oil before selling your car. This simple action will add immediate value to the buyer, especially if they check your oil condition when they look over your car.

If there are other fluids due for maintenance such as the brake fluid, engine coolant, or power steering fluid, have them changed before advertising your car. Having fluids changed should be done to show the vehicle is well maintained. Fluids you should have changed, which you can do yourself or have a professional mechanic do for you, include:

Expect a lower price offer from buyers if there are services needed when you sell.

Step 2: Have repairs completed. Attempt to remove any negatives from the buyer’s mind when they inquire about your car.

Have minor repairs completed, trying to have everything in working order for the new owner. If a major repair is needed then expect to lower the price if the buyer asks about it.

Step 3: Have your state safety inspection completed. Get your vehicle inspected right before advertising it.

car mechanic with clipboard inspecting the engine

If it does not pass the inspection, either have repairs completed or be prepared to accept a lower price on your car.

Part 3 of 4: Set your advertised price

The price you advertise your car for needs to be fair market value for potential buyers to be interested. Typically, expect to have buyers negotiate a price slightly lower than the advertised price.

Step 1: Research your car’s value online.

autotrader website screenshot

Check online car listings of the same make, model, and year on sites such as AutoTrader.com and CraigsList.org.

Compare vehicles with mileages close to the mileage your car has, and with similar options and equipment, and in the same condition.

Step 2: Check the fair market value. Research the value of your car on the Kelley Blue Book website.

Enter your year, make, model, along with mileage, options, and condition.

You’ll be shown a range of fair market values from fair condition to excellent condition.

Step 3: Set your advertised sale price. Armed with the information you’ve researched, determine the sale price you’d be satisfied to receive.

  • Tip: Add 5-10% to the sale price you’re comfortable with as a buffer, or room for negotiation. For example, if your fair market value is $15,000 and you’d be satisfied with that sale price, advertise at $15,750 to $16,500 so there is room to negotiate. Keep in mind to add the amount you spent on changing parts and services done to sell the vehicle.

Part 4 of 4: Place your ads

Display your car ad on several forms of media, whether that is online, in your local newspaper, or on community bulletin boards. Get seen by as many potential buyers as possible.

Step 1: Place your ad online. The vast majority of car buyers find their potential new vehicle online.

craigslist

Post ads on sites such as AutoTrader and CraigsList.

These sites are popular for car buyers as they are easy to search by year, make, model, and a number of other criteria.

Step 2: Be thorough. Display detailed, positive information for your car. Include the exact mileage, any options and equipment that buyers may be attracted to, and accessories you’ve added.

Be descriptive so that any potential buyers have all the information they need to make a decision to inquire about your car.

Step 3: Add photos. Include several clear, relevant pictures of your car.

craigslist ad photo

Include exterior and interior pictures of your clean car.

Use a backdrop for your pictures that isn’t distracting if possible.

Step 4 Include your contact information. Post your email address and phone number for both calls or text messages.

Be available for communication and to meet buyers for the immediate hours and days following your car ad being posted.

Step 5: Pay for ad upgrades. While you don’t have to pay to place ads on several forums like Craigslist, paid ads get more views. For only a few dollars, you can promote your ad to the top of the list every day, enhancing your chances of a quick sale.

Step 6: Submit your ad to the local newspaper. Some car buyers may still refer to the newspaper for car ads. Submit the same information to the your local newspaper’s classified section, which is typically done online now.

Step 7: Print posters for your local community bulletin boards. Include clear photos, pertinent details and options, and your contact information on the poster.

Place it on bulletin boards at your local community club, grocery stores, post office, and anywhere else you can find.

  • Tip: Only meet buyers in a public area or with assistance of a friend or family member. Do not accept any payment except cash. Get a bill of sale with the buyer's name, address, telephone number and signed paperwork for your copy.

To make sure your used car is in tip-top condition before you put it on the market, have a certified mechanic complete a thorough inspection. This way, you can be sure that your car is in its best possible condition so you can ask the highest price. You’ll also reduce the buyer’s negotiating power if she can’t find anything wrong with the car.


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