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How to Sell a Car on Craigslist – Our Personal Experience

I know a ton of you have probably already used Craigslist to sell random items you no longer use (if not, here are some tips for selling on Craigslist), but not as many people know how to sell a car on Craigslist.

My husband wanted a new car about two years ago and found his current Toyota Prius.  We were going to trade in his Hyundai Sonata as part of the deal, but they would only offer $2000 for a car that was worth at least $4000.  The idea of selling it myself was intimidating, but $2000 is one heck of a motivator.  I quickly learned how to sell a car on Craigslist.

This is how to sell a car on Craigslist based on our own personal experience:

1.  Look up the value of the vehicle.

I used Kelley Blue Book but many people prefer Edmunds.  I saw that KBB thought the Sonata was worth $4300 in fair shape or $5500 in excellent condition, so I decided to aim for $4500 due to a few major dents and the fact that his car was in a major accident early in its life.

2.  Find the title and gather the appropriate documentation.

We couldn’t easily sell a car on Craigslist without the title, so I made sure we had it in hand along with the other required documentation before we even listed the Sonata online.  In Texas, we had to print out a Texas Certificate of Title (Form 130-U), a Bill of Sale, and found the Motor Vehicle Transfer Notification form online.

3.  Clean the car.

The most important step of how to sell a car on Craigslist is pictures.  You will need pretty pictures for the ad and you want prospective buyers to test drive the car in its best shape.  Although having the car detailed for $50-$100 would definitely fit the bill, my husband simply took it through a very thorough car wash, vacuumed the inside as well as he could in 30 minutes, and then we wiped down all visible surfaces with pre-moistened wipes.  Our total cost was about $15.

4.  Take pictures for the ad.

As I said, the pictures are the most important part of selling a car online.  We took a picture from the front, the back, the side view that had the dent, and one of the interior.  Remember to always include the problem areas since full disclosure actually helps to sell a car on Craigslist.  Also remember to take the digital pictures at low-medium resolution since Craigslist has a capacity limit.

5.  Create the Craigslist post early Saturday morning or very late Friday night.

People do their major buying on the weekends and you are only supposed to list a new Craigslist post every 3 days, so Tuesdays and Fridays or Saturdays are the best days to target.  Remember to include the year, make, model, and condition in the title of the ad.  Also set the price at least 10% more than you are willing to take since everybody will want to haggle no matter what price you put.

Our post was titled “2003 Hyundai Sonata – Good Condition – One Non-Smoker Owner  $5500″.  We were willing to accept $4300, but past Craigslist experience had taught me to aim high and haggle to a fair price. 

Our post included the year, make, and model again as well as the complete history of the car (including the accident) and the 4 pictures.  I included my first name and cell phone number.  I only gave the VIN to interested callers and emailers since I didn’t want absolutely everyone to be able to track our specific car to our address.

6.  Make sure to schedule your prospective buyers.

We had 8 interested callers within 3 hours of posting the car for sale and scheduled the visits 1-2 hours apart.

7.  Go on test drives.

Make sure to check for a driver’s license before letting someone test drive your car.  Don’t get into the car if you have any bad feelings at all, but we only met really nice people.  The second group actually bought the car, so we were able to call and cancel the other 6 appointments.  We ended up getting $4800!  I was so proud.

8.  Sign over the title.

We signed over the title, filled out the Texas Title App together, and filled out the Bill of Sale.  We used our scanner to copy everything and gave the originals to the buyers.  I also reminded them that they only had 20 days to register the Sonata and we even kept the license plates (I found out later that we may not have needed to do that, but we wanted to be on the safe side).  We filled out and submitted the Motor Vehicle Transfer Notification form online so we wouldn’t be held liable for any further problems.

9.  Call your insurance company to cancel your policy on the sold car.

We called within 5 minutes of the sale and received a refund for the prorated amount we paid in advance for the Sonata’s coverage.

10. Deposit your cash.

That was the best part.  :-) 

I spent one Friday evening getting everything ready and one Saturday morning listing our car.  Half a weekend of work for $4800 seemed really good to me!  And now I know how to sell a car on Craigslist for the future as well!

Did you already know how to sell a car on Craigslist?  How did it work out for you?

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38 comments to How to Sell a Car on Craigslist – Our Personal Experience

  • I think tip #5 is key. Posting at the right time will get a lot of people reviewing your sale page.
    My father-in-law just sold a car with Craigslist and really enjoyed the experience.

  • Alison

    We wrote down the info on the driver’s license before we let a couple test drive our Miata. Since we couldn’t go with them, we felt like we needed a little extra security. Also, we should have allowed more time for them to test drive. Only an hour between visits is almost not enough for someone who is being very thorough, especially if they have a mechanic they’d like to take the car to for a check up.

  • Great tips BFS! I never really thought about ‘when’ to list on Craigslist, but I have only used it once so far. I will remember that for the future though.

    I agree that cleaning the car is so important. I looked at a used car this weekend, and was totally turned off because of how the interior looked. I know, I should probably be able to see past that kind of stuff, but it just made me wonder how the car was treated if they were too lazy to even clean the car before selling it.

  • Did you accept a check or make them pay cash?

  • BFS

    @Craig, I’m glad he liked it! I like to think that free options for services like Craigslist will be able to stay free longer if tons of people use it. :-)

    @Alison, we accompanied test drivers, but writing down their info is double smart if you can’t go with them. Good point about having time for a mechanic’s check as well. No one who drove my husband’s car asked to have it checked out, but if they had, we would have needed an extra hour or so at least.

    @Everyday Tips, it’s hard to see past problems. The least someone can do is clean the thing themselves…

    @Amanda, cash. I only accept cash when using Craigslist. Even money orders can be easily faked.

  • Can you believe that I haven’t sold anything on Craigslist yet? Ebay, yes… Craigslist, no! And I call myself frugal, geez…

    Thanks for the great tips for selling a car on craigslist! I’m bound to try and sell my car eventually, so I’ll bookmark this page for future reference!

  • BFS

    @Money Reasons, I’m glad I could help. I always try selling on Craigslist first since there no shipping or fees to worry about. :-)

  • Jenna

    I would also check on Craigslist to see if there are any other cars like the one you are trying to sell posted that day. That way you have some sort of comparison.

  • I’m actually about to put a 2003 Honda Accord on Craigslist, I just have to get it washed and take some pictures first. it will be my first time selling a car through Craigslist so hopefully it will go as smoothly as your experience.

  • I have sold items on Craigslist, but never a car. These are all good tips. I never really considered the timing on the ad – but that is probably extremely important.

    Also, if someone doesn’t do a great job of cleaning the car it makes me wonder what else they overlooked during the time they owned it!

  • We are about to sell a car (the red conv), and were wondering where we’d sell it. Good idea … Craigslist!

  • Hello Crystal!

    We sold my (sniffle, sniffle) 1997 chevy cavalier on craigslist for $400 last year after it had broken down and was towed (for free, thankfully) to an auto mechanics. I put the true condition–that we didn’t know what was wrong with it, but suspected it was the transmission. I had only paid $1500 cash for the car six years earlier, so it was quite the deal. Boy I miss my car though:).

  • BFS

    @Jenna, I do Craiglist price comparisons on all the items we sell – it’s just a good idea to try to come in as low as possible to get the calls. :-)

    @Mike, let us know how it goes! Maybe a guest post for BFS as a follow-up. ;-)

    @Khaleef, YES, cleaning is so important! I wouldn’t dream of buying a dirty car.

    @ODWO, let me know if you need any help. :-)

    @Amanda, I loved my parents’ 2003 Cavalier, so I understand your loss. How are you liking your new-to-you vehicle?

  • Pictures, pictures, pictures! Spend an extra moment to make it a great shot. I’m also all about posting at the right time.

  • BFS

    @Molly, yes, the pictures matter a lot! People will not go out of their way unless the pictures are visually appealing.

  • Well done! This is a really useful, informative story. You managed to avoid getting gouged by the dealer, and faced the intimidating task without a problem. Instead of $2,000 from the dealer, you got $2,800 for a modest amount of work. Very good stuff.

    This goes to show that a little bit of smart persistence can go a long way.

    It’s also good to point out that if you’re patient, you can BUY things at a bargain price on Craigslist as well. Respond right away and offer cash – it works. I haven’t made big purchases this way, but larger baby toys and pack-and-plays instead. Each in great shape, at a small percentage of the actual retail price.

  • Great tips, especially on when to post the ad. (And soooo many people don’t bother cleaning cars when they’re trying to sell them, which is a shame because you get more for a clean car.)

  • Thanks for the offer. I’ve never sold a car on CL, but plenty of other “things and stuff.”

  • I’ve made a total of 16 buy and sell transactions on 8 cars on CL and I just love CL!

    Price is so key… the clearing price is generally 10% below blue book I’ve found.

  • Jenna

    @BFS – Agreed. Plus if people aren’t 100% sure, you can show them print outs and say “well, this guy is offering the same thing for X amount more…”

  • BFS

    @Squirrelers, ah yes, patience is a true virtue when it comes to finding great deals! I looked around for 2 1/2 months for a chest freezer for our garage and finally found a free one on Craigslist – just $20 for delivery. :-) It’s working great!

    @Jackie, that just seems odd to me. 20 minutes to clean a car can be the difference of almost $1000.

    @Financial Samurai, in Houston I’ve always been able to get Kelley Blue Book or better, but yes, Craigslist is awesome!

    @Jenna, good point!

  • Crystal, I love these tips!

    Ever tried AutoTempest to search Craigslist? I just started partnering with them this weekend and am offering their search through my site. My “biased” opinion is that the widget is very cool because you can search multiple cities at once, but I’d love to hear an “un-biased” opininon such as yours.

    Anyhoo, I’m actually planning on running a “buying on Craigslist” post very soon. Any interest in guest posting on the subject?

  • Excellent brief especially for posting add. I think that Craiglist is the best place for advertisement. it just made me wonder how the car was treated if they were too lazy to even clean the car before selling it.

  • John

    I’ve fixed up and sold quite a few cars on craigslist for extra income. I have to disagree with a couple of your points. The first being using low to medium quality pictures. It’s easy and free to host high quality images and use html tags in your ad. The second tip I have on pictures is location. Make sure you pick a nice back drop that makes it appear the car it is locate in a pleasant neighborhood, not your local car wash or appartment building. The third important tip is when it comes to taking pictures is do it from knee level. If you have ever looked professional pictures of cars they are done from about 2ft off the ground. This makes the car appear larger than life and keeps from capturing to much refected light that will make your older paint look even worse than it does in real life.

    The other point I disagree with is about spacing appointments out. People on craigslist can tend to be flaky, so you don’t want to waste your whole day waiting around for them. I schedule as many people as possible during the same time period. If two show up close together it usually works to my advantage. People are competive by nature and don’t like the idea of their deal being snatched up by somebody else.

  • Very good suggestions, I just added this to my RSS feed. What would you suggest in regards to your post that you made a few days ago? I like your theme as like my niche and what do you think if car finance business is more interest nice good hope uou like it thanks

  • mike

    very helpful tips,thank you!

  • I use http://www.auto-flyers.com to make craigslist and backpage posts, it’s a great tool for car dealers,

  • I wrote an article on this too http://carfilesmarketing.com/2012/howtosellacaroncraigslist/
    Nice job selling it fast! I saw a comment saying to write down the persons drivers license info. That is smart, you can also take a picture of their license.

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