Dear PoPville – What’s the Best Way to Sell a Used Car?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Brandon Kopp

“Dear PoPville,

I’ve finally decided it’s time to sell my car. I’ve lived here almost two years and put barely any miles on it. I take Metro to and from work, do lots of walking, am appreciating Capital Bikeshare, and will rely on ZipCar and car rentals when I need motorized wheels. After spending the 15 years before DC somewhere where this wasn’t even a remote option, I’m excited about the prospect of living car-free.

I’ve posted my car on CraigsList but I’m wondering whether people actually use any other car sale sites to find used cars. Do people use sites like Auto Trader? Are there others? It’s a great car and I’m comfortable with the idea that I’m selling a good vehicle – I’m just trying to figure out where people look.”

Any advice on the best way to sell a used car?

39 Comment

  • Craigslist has worked for me twice, and one of those two times it was a brand new car right off the lot that I had to sell quickly (it sold in four days). I tried Auto Trader but it seemed like more of a pain than it was worth so I didn’t even finish setting up the ad.

    • ps, I posted it on the DC, Baltimore, and Philly craigslist sites and the buyer ended up being in Ellicott City. It’s good to expand the listing area, I think.

    • +1. I sold a car quickly this way. Expensive newspaper classifieds have become utterly worthless for selling things, by the way.

  • Depending on the type of vehicle, specifically Japanese makes, it may be worth while to put a forsale sign in the window of the car and parking it on a street during the day in Columbia Heights.

    • You can also just leave the doors unlocked in Columbia Heights and then call your insurance company.

  • Carmax. At least it was perfect for me. So convenient. I probably could have gotten a few hundred dollars more from a private sale but I was in and out with a check in under an hour. I had checked the blue book range for my car and Carmax was in my range so I’d recommend having a price you are willing to accept going in. But I wasn’t going to take time off work to meet people, have a bunch of people want to testdrive my car, and then have someone come back 6 months later and claim I sold them a lemon and so they wanted their money back or to sue me.

    For the record, my car was a 1995 Honda but it ran great. Just had some issues that a private buyer may not have liked (ignition stripped so the key tended to fall out as you drove, etc.)

    I would at least drop by and get a quote from them so you have a good idea of what price to look for if you choose to sell privately. It truly was painless and pressure free.

    • I can second the CarMax option. (in Rockville) In my case they took a car I could not have sold in good consequence to an individual. The car had a break issue that we could not fix.

    • Disagree. I took mine to Carmax and was quoted $5,000. When I balked (Kelly Bluebook had put value around $9K) and said I wasn’t interested, they put the pressure on. “Why not????” I ended up selling on Craigslist for $8,250.

      Go in and get a quote from Carmax, sure, but be prepared to get low-balled. Obviously, since they are interested in making a profit. I prefer to leave out the middle guy.

      • My theory on Carmax is that the worse condition the car, the better luck you’ll have. I am surprised they put the pressure on. I sure didn’t see any of that going on anywhere but then again, I took the offer right away.

      • Similar experience here. They lowballed me on a high mileage but great condition car, and I sold it a week later on Craigslist for about $2k more than Carmax offered.

        Carmax seems to only be good for selling something really new and low mileage, or for unloading an old piece of crap that you’re not expecting to get much for, anyway.

    • I had a good experience with CarMax. They took a very old, but nice looking, Camry and gave me a check for more than Kelly Blue Book said I would get from a private buyers. And, yeah, much less of a hassle and no fear of reprisals from someone who gets pissed off later on.

    • +1 on Carmax. Totally takes out the hassle and they gave us a great price…

    • Another +1 for CarMax. I went in with two figures in mind – an ideal offer and the lowest offer I was willing to take. They offered $1,000 more than my ideal offer, so of course I took it. I was in and out with a check in less than 2 hours. Totally worth it to not have to deal with private parties!

      My car needed some minor repairs, though, so selling it private party would’ve been even more of a hassle. I don’t know if I even could’ve gotten anyone to buy it without paying for the repairs ($900+ on a $3,000 car) myself!

    • +1 it’s easy and you don’t have to deal with the buyer if there turn out to be issues with you car.

    • Another vote for carmax – above blue book for a 5 year old but in very good condition, low mileage small car.

  • austindc

    I used craigslist when I decided to sell my truck and go car free here in DC. I think I also used vehix or something like that. I only got replies from craigslist, but it was a lot of work. A lot of people would make plans to meet me but never show. When someone finally did make an offer, he kept calling up and whittling it down, saying that he just lost his job (he had his girlfriend and baby girl with him too–double sad). At first I let him whittle down the price because I thought it might have been too high, but then two weeks later I saw some musician unloading my truck in dupont. The craigslist dude had turned right around and sold it for a profit. Like that episode of the Office. Anyway, I was happy to sell it, so in that sense craigslist was wonderful, but it took for-friggin-ever and I have a sneaking suspicion that I got the craig end of the stick.

  • AutoTrader seems to be the most reputable way, imho. Do your research and post there.

  • What kind of car? I’ve been looking casually on Craigslist and For CL put as much specific info in the headline as you can “Honda accord 2006 4dr. 40k silver.”

    Have good photos – all the honest details and a link to the bluebook value. Set a fair price and don’t expect to necessarily get the full value for extra features that you considered important but the buyer may not. (I for example don’t care if it has a GPS, leather seats or 6 CD changer – but I must have a sun/moon roof.)

    • As someone who bought a new (old) car last week on Craigslist, please don’t go the d-bag route and put a different price in the heading than you have in the listing. Annoying.

      And to avoid the no-show problem, you might offer a window of time to show it, say Sunday from 1-4.

  • Psmitty311

    I just sold my 2008 GTI on Auto Trader this week, and I used them two years ago to sell a 1993 Honda Accord. Both times, I listed everywhere – Auto Trader, (the Post uses this listing), Craigslist, and eBay. I got a lot of inquiries, but the average Craigslist shopper seems to be looking for a deal and always low-balled me to the point where I wouldn’t even respond to some of their inquiries. The average Auto Trader person who called me was interested in my car, had been looking for it for a while on that site (since it’s a great place to shop for used cars), and was usually not far off what I wanted. Yes, it has a fee, but just build that into your price and you can probably make it back.

    I tried CarMax to get a baseline on my GTI, and was given an appraisal that was about $2500 less than what I got for it privately, and I still sold it slightly below KBB.

  • carmax. I bought a car and did not like it, took it to carmax 6 months later and they gave me $500 more than I originally paid. they discount heavily for body damage

  • andy

    Basically, get nowhere close to anybody who runs a used car lot in the District:

  • You aren’t in a position of really needing to sell quickly it sounds like. I’d spread around word of mouth. That’s how I found my pick-up. Craigslist is a gamble, checks are a gamble, plates are a gamble etc. I found a aquaintance of a friend that was going to sell his. I paid him blue book (2k under what dealers wanted for some rig). He was happy, I was happy and we trusted each other.

  • I think a lot depends on the car. For a crap car, I might go craigslist. I sold a $14,500 car on a few years back and had a good experience. The buyer was smart, good to deal with, and was excited because my car was exactly what he wanted. My impression is that people who use autotrader are a little more saavy, but your results may vary.

    In any case, be as descriptive as possible, take good pics, clean the thing, and decide on your payment terms and process in advance. Call your bank and ask them the best way to carry out the transaction.

  • I’m confused, business owners were storing cars in car lots and the DC government went after them?

    I get the whole technicality thing, but it doesn’t seem really that bad at all…

  • If you list your car on Craigslist, list it for more than what you actually want for it. When I tried to sell my car, even the people who acted really interested tried to offer my 1/2 or less of what I listed it for. At first I was really insulted that they were wasting my time. Also, it seemed like everyone was trying to majorly rip me off. So, go into it knowing that people are going to try to low-ball you and it might take some time and effort to find the right buyer. In the end, I think I got more out of it by selling it myself than going somewhere like Carmax.

    FYI- I had a 1999 Civic and sold it about a year ago.

    • I disagree – everyone knows how to look up the blue book value. If you put your price too high, serious buyers will just think you’re annoying/not serious and ignore you. Maybe bump it up a couple of hundred so you can do a little “feel good” discount, but otherwise just be straight. If people offer you half – just walk away.

      And when you’re not in a hurry – word of mouth is absolutely best!

      So everybody – I’m happy with my ’94 Honda Accord but casually looking for something newer – boring good solid 4 door sedan with a trunk and a sunroof that will last the next 15 years.

  • Has anybody used E-bay motors? I used it to sell a truck a few years ago and had a great experience. The buyer has to give you a down payment (usually $500), so no flakers, and you get to set your reserve price (could use CarMax offer for that). If you get more, great… otherwise you can just sell to CarMax.

    It was pretty cheap too if I recall correctly.

    • me

      My ex bought a car off of Ebay. I thought it was ridiculously sketchy, it being Ebay and all, but he went to NY to pick up the car from PA and had no trouble with it at all.

  • i used facebook to sell my last car.

  • I’ve bought 3 cars using Autotrader and had good experiences. Two of them were dealers, one a private party.

    I’ve used Craigslist to sell a motorcycle and also to buy one, and had good experiences. However, be prepared to deal with scammers on Craigslist and make sure you’re familiar with all the common Craigslist scams.

  • On Carmax, I attempted to sell a car to them once, they offered me $5000. I ended up trading it at a dealer for a new car and got $8500. So Carmax to me lowballed.

  • OP here. Thanks for all the advice!

    I hadn’t even thought about checking out CarMax. I have a good sense of what the KBB value is, how much I’d like to get (ideally) and how low I’m willing to go so I may give that a whirl. If I can get something reasonable and cut out the hassle, that would be great!

    I went ahead and posted it on AutoTrader. I went with a pretty basic listing option that includes photos. I figured that would, at the very least, give me a sense of how the whole Auto Trader thing might work out. So far CraigsList has yielded obvious scam attempts so I’m not particularly hopeful there.

    Thanks again all!

    • Bear

      I think you did the right thing. I sold my car a little over a year ago. First I listed it on Craigslist for a week or so, and got a lot of sketchiness/low-ball offers. I decided to list on Autotrader and got an offer for my asking price the next morning.

      Good luck!

  • I am selling a 2006 Honda Accord EX-L (4dr), 40,000 miles, moon roof, satellite radio, power everything. I listed on c-list and had one response, but the buyer wanted manual transmission. Looks like I should repost on C-List and Autotrader.

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