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Complete 10 Step Guide – How to Sell a Car on Craigslist

Long time readers may remember my first post about selling my car on Craigslist.  Well, in my ongoing effort to make this site better for you, I fleshed it WAY out and created a complete 10 step guide!  I hope this makes selling your car on Craigslist EXTREMELY easy!!!  No reason to lose thousands at the dealerships!

In 2008, my husband bought his 2007 Toyota Prius and needed to sell his 2003 Hyundai Sonata.  The dealership only offered us $2000 to trade it in, so I sold it myself on Craigslist for $4800.  Yay!  In 2014, I bought my 2013 Honda Fit and needed to sell my 2005 Chevy Aveo.  The dealership once again offered me $2000, so I sold it on Craigslist for $3400.  Woot!

Ah Craigslist! It's an excellent place to buy things, but I've never thought about using it to sell my car before. These ten easy steps tell you exactly how to sell your car on craigslist and put some cash back into your pocket without getting scammed.

To summarize, dealerships always offer way less than your car is worth.  If you have the title, sell your car way more on Craigslist.  Plus, save a ton of time since I’ve already done it twice – just follow the steps below!

10 Steps to Sell Your Car on Craigslist:

1.  Determine the Value of Your Vehicle

Check out these sites to set your price:

I mainly use Kelley Blue Book (KBB) but feel free to check out other sites like Edmunds.

With the 5 year old Sonata, KBB listed it as 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.

With the Aveo, I spent a couple of hours researching how much my car was worth since it had extremely low mileage for a 9 year old car (63,000).  On KBB, it was listed at $3071 in “Fair” condition or $3471 in “Good” condition.  My Aveo fell somewhere in between those definitions since it had minor body damage (a wavy part above the front, right wheel well) and no issues with how it functioned.  On Edmunds, it was closest to “Average” condition, which was listed as $2600 in a private party sale or $3350 if a dealership was selling it.

I also searched for other 2005 Chevy Aveo’s that were listed on Craigslist in my area, and the ones closest to my condition were listed around $3800-$4100, and they had more miles on them.

Based on all of that, I decided to list my 2005 Chevy Aveo for $3950 and accept the first cash offer over $3100 (obviously keeping that number to myself).

You will always want to ask for at least 10-15% more than you actually want since people will haggle.  It’s human nature to believe you only got a great deal if you got some money off of the asking price…even if the asking price was intentionally inflated.  That’s why it pays to ask for a discount on pretty much any purchase.  🙂

2.  Gather the Title and Documentation

For both cars, I couldn’t easily sell a car on Craigslist without the title, so I made sure we had that in hand along with the other required documentation before we even listed a car for sale.

In short, you will need:

  • Original Title
  • Title App
  • Bill of Sale
  • Transfer Notification
  • Transit Permit

Fill out the car info you can right now (year, make, model, VIN, etc.) to save time for you and the buyer later.  But remember not to fill in things that will change like the current odometer reading.

If you can’t locate your title, order a copy as soon as you can.  In Texas, you can go to http://txdmv.gov/motorists/buying-or-selling-a-vehicle/get-a-copy-of-your-title to get the form to print, fill out, and mail in with a $2 check.  You can do a quick search of your state’s DMV site or a search engine to find your exact process.

I also found our online DMV site and printed out a Texas Certificate of Title (Form 130-U) and a Bill of Sale.  I also ended up submitting the Motor Vehicle Transfer Notification form online.  That informs the DMV that I no longer own the car, so I shouldn’t be held liable for it anymore.  The buyer will also want to have you two fill out a transit permit app online like this one and print it out so that they can drive around without plates for up to 5 days to give them time to register the car under their name.  Again, no matter what state you live in, you can find all of the info you need through a quick online search or through your DMV.

3.  Clean Your Car

The most important step actually selling a car is how it looks.

This is a huge problem that I saw on other Craigslist postings – people would post pictures of their dirty car for sale and expect everyone to love it.  They won’t.  Do you want to spend a few thousand on a new-to-you car knowing that you immediately have to clean it?  No.

Do yourself and your future buyers a favor:

  • Wash your car
  • Scrub the spots missed on the exterior
  • Windex or wet wipe the wheels and hubcaps
  • Clean out the interior
  • Scrub out stains
  • Clean out the trunk
  • Wet wipe the nooks and crannies like cup holders
  • Wet wipe or Windex the interior parts like the dashboard
  • Check the interior roof – you may be badly surprised…
  • Clean out the glove box but leave maintenance records and the owner’s manual

Although having the car detailed for about $100 would definitely fit the bill, my husband simply took the Sonata through a very thorough car wash for $12, vacuumed the inside as well as he could in 30 minutes using the car wash’s high-powered vacuums, and then we wiped down all visible surfaces with pre-moistened wipes.  Our total cost was about $15.

I spent 2 1/2 hours on the Aveo since it was dirty.  I am not a doting owner.  So, I took it to a drive-through car wash that had a $3 special.  Then I dried it off with a towel so it wouldn’t have water marks.  I also took a simple soap solution (a few drops of liquid dish washing soap and water) and washed off any remaining yucky marks that the car wash didn’t get completely off.  That all took about 20 minutes.

The remaining 2 hours was spent getting all of my stuff and trash out of the car and trunk, vacuuming with our much crappier vacuum, using Windex on the plastic parts and the windows, and taking packing tape to the upholstery to pull off a bunch of dog hair (our Pug and Dachshund used to be transported mainly in my car).  I also squirted around some Febreeze: Allergen Reducer when I was done to help make it smell fresh and hopefully help out anybody that may be allergic to dogs.

My total cost was $3 since I already had the soap, water, Windex, masking tape, and Febreeze for home use.  I also read that baby wipes work great on the plastic parts too.  I forgot to polish up my tires, but that’s recommended too.

Again, if you don’t want to spend a couple of hours cleaning your old car, find a detailing place to do it for you.  My in-laws occasionally use an $80 place on their side of town.  The closest detailer to my house wanted $130, so I just did it myself.

4.  Take Pictures

The pictures are the most important part of selling a car on Craigslist.  Would you want to drive a long way to test drive a car without having any idea what it is going to look like?  No!

Remember to take these photos:

  • Most Photogenic Angle / “Best” Side
  • Front
  • Right Side
  • Back
  • Left Side
  • Visible Exterior Issues
  • Dashboard
  • Odometer Specifically
  • Front Interior
  • Back Interior
  • Open Trunk
  • Visible Interior Issues

Start with the “good” side of your car, but always include the problem areas too since full disclosure actually helps to sell a car on Craigslist.    And remember to either take the pictures at a medium resolution or shrink your digital photos after the fact using something as simple as Microsoft Paint since Craigslist has a capacity limit.

With the Aveo, I followed my own advice and took all the pictures above.  For issues, I did a close-up of the damaged area on the passenger side front wheel well so future buyers would know that I wasn’t hiding it, and it wasn’t that bad.  I also snapped a picture of the original owner’s manual and window sticker just in case that would be a great selling point.

Craigslist allows up to 24 pictures, so you should definitely be able to fully show off your car!

5.  Create Your Craigslist Post

People usually do their car shopping on the weekends and you are only supposed to list a new Craigslist post every 3 days, so start on Friday night/early Saturday morning and follow up if you need to on Tuesdays/Wednesdays.

For the Title of your post, remember to include:

  • Year
  • Make
  • Model
  • Trim (if it was one of a few for that model)
  • Color
  • Transmission Type
  • Condition (if worth mentioning…more details in post)
  • Fill in List Price area at 10-15% more than you are willing to accept

I would suggest Craigslist above anything else since they are free and widely used for used car buyers.  I also created free ads at Cars.com and Thrifty Nickel online for my Aveo, but they didn’t get any responses except from shady car buying agencies.  I deleted them.

Our Sonata 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.

The post that sold the Aveo was titled “REDUCED Blue 2005 Chevy Aveo LS – LOW MILES at 63k – Non-Smoker Owner!!!” and the price was $3950 on Wednesday and reduced to $3900 Friday night.  I was willing to accept $3100, but was aiming for $3500.

For the Post Itself, remember to include similar things:

  • Color
  • Year
  • Make
  • Model
  • Trim (if it was one of a few for that model)
  • Transmission Type
  • Condition
  • Features
  • Complete History – maintenance records, issues, and accidents
  • Price
  • The words “Cash Only”
  • Contact Info
  • Pictures – Lots of Pictures

Our post for the Sonata included the year, make, and model again as well as the complete history of the cars (including the accident) and we attached the 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.

Our post for the Aveo included the year, make, and model, a section for the car’s features, a section where I listed what was replaced and when, the quick history of the car (including how the wheel well was damaged), and 12 pictures.  I again included my first name and cell phone number.  I made sure to fill out all of the info from the drop down menus that Craigslist has too so my car would be found in related searches.

6.  Schedule Test Drives

Only schedule a few test drives back to back at a time in 1-2 hour intervals.  If the first person buys it, you won’t waste the other people’s time driving to you.  Also tell all of the other interested parties after the few you schedule that you will get back to them if it’s still available.  This will save you a ton of follow-up time.

For safety, I would suggest having someone with you.  If you can’t, take a photo of their driver’s license and text it your significant other or a friend.  That way you have a copy of their license AND someone knows who to report if you go missing.  I never felt unsafe with any test drivers, but texting that info was super easy and seemed smart.

7.  Close the Deal

Be honest and direct!

I answered every, single question anybody had.  I also was completely honest about the issues that we had and what we had to replace.

With the Sonata, we highlighted the major accident it had 4 years previously.  The second group to see it actually bought the car for $4800!  I was so proud.

With the Aveo, I outright stated that my mechanic suggested I get a more reliable car now that I was driving more.  I pointed out all the updated maintenance records in the owner’s manual and explained that the car would still have some dog hair in it since packing tape can only do so much.  I would suggest that if you are a chatter box like me, make sure to say your piece and then leave silences long enough for questions.  No reason to talk over people.

The couple who bought the Aveo said that they liked my post since it was so detailed and there we no surprises when they saw the car.  Everything was as stated and I am really straight-forward.  They only had $3400 for a new-to-them car and I wasn’t going to push very hard for my happy $3500 price since I’d get to have my whole weekend to myself by 9am by wrapping up the deal AND the offer was above my $3100 minimum.  Win-win for me and them.

8.  Do the Paperwork

Remember the documentation in Step #2?  Time to finish it up!

Since I already had printed out what we needed and filled in the cars’ info in the spots that I could before hand, the paperwork process took less than 20-30 minutes for each car.

For the Buyers to Keep:

  • The Car
  • Original Title
  • Title Application
  • Original Bill of Sale
  • Transit Permit (gives them 20 days to handle their registration stuff)

For You – the Seller – to Keep:

  • Copy or picture of the Title, front and back
  • Copy or good picture of the Bill of Sale
  • License Plates
  • Registration sticker
  • Vehicle Transfer Notification Form (Fill out and file online)
  • Toll tag sticker IF you need to (check on their website)
  • Cash (only accept cash…too many scam opportunities)

For the Sonata, 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 (just have them take pictures with their phones if that is easier).  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.

For the Aveo, we did all of the same paperwork.  I also deactivated its EZ Tag for our toll roads.  Our toll road authority says on their website that I could deactivate the sticker but leave it in the car so that the buyers could reactivate it on their account.

9.  Things to Cancel

Remember to Cancel:

  • Car Insurance Coverage
  • Remove Vehicle from Your Toll Road Account
  • Cancel further test drive appointments

10. Deposit your cash.

That was the best part.  🙂

It took us less than 3 days both times to sell our cars.  Worth the trouble for way more money than a dealer will pay!

Did you already know how to sell a car on Craigslist?  How did it work out for you?  If you use this guide, please let me know how it works out for you in the comments!!!  If you encounter any issues, let me know those too so I can update this and give you credit!



FYI:  I worked at a dead end cubicle job from 2005-2011 for about $30,000 a year.  I went self-employed in July 2011 and make between $80,000-$100,000 through blogging, a rental home, and professional pet sitting.  If you’d like to start your own site (link to my free step-by-step guide), I highly suggest checking out Bluehost (my referral link with a nice discount for you).  I even have all of my favorite tools on a resource page - I hope they help you too. This all gives me the time to be with my aging family members, the flexibility to stay close with my friends and family, and it should help if we finally get pregnant too!  Please contact me any time at budgetingfunstuff*at*gmail*dot*com with questions or just to brainstorm! I’d love to help!
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31 thoughts on “Complete 10 Step Guide – How to Sell a Car on Craigslist

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. @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.

  5. 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!

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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:).

  11. @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?

  12. 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.

  13. 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.)

  14. @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…”

  15. @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!

  16. 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?

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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

  20. Good update! We usually just add 20% to whatever a dealer offered ir do what you did. Hubby actually went to the buyers bank to get the cash for our last car, as it was over 11k. I am not sure I would have, but now we have an account at that bank, lol.

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