Whether it’s right here in Minnesota, or any other state, here’s the insider’s tips on the best way to sell you car, Craigslist-style:
Craigslist is an incredibly popular place to sell a used car. The no-frills nature of selling on Craigslist attracts hustlers from all walks of life (including me). I just sold my old car last year on craigslist right here in the Twin Cities. And I sold it in 48 hours.
Many individuals have found it quite easy to sell a car on Craigslist without any hassle. The key for most when trying to sell a car on Craigslist is to cover all the bases: A small slip up here or there could cause you a lot of trauma in the long run, so make sure you know what you’re doing before you get in over your head.
That’s why I created this ultimate guide on how to sell a car on Craigslist. Follow the formula I’ve outlined and you’ll have cash in hand in no time, ready to buy a new one. I’ve included a template in this guide that you can use to have your Craigslist car ad as efficient as possible.
Step 1: Get Your Legal Vehicle Paperwork in Order
Before you make your first move, you need to make sure you have all your ducks in a row. Legal paperwork is important when it comes to selling your car. The buyer is going to have to provide seller info to the DMV so make sure you have everything ready to go.
Unfortunately, each state is different so reviewing the paperwork needed for a private sale of your car with your state’s DMV is important. DMV.org provides a great overview of what is needed in each state. The state government websites also have the information needed. There are many differences to consider but here’s a few examples of what you’ll need in most states:
- Vehicle Title in Your Name: Make sure that the vehicle title is in your name. Remember that when you sell your vehicle on craigslist to a buyer a legal signature of everyone on the current title needs to be on it in order for successful title transfer. Is the vehicle still titled in previous owners name? Then you need to get to the DMV and get that transferred. Otherwise you’ll be dealing with many problems down the line after the sale. (as will the buyer)
- Title is Clear of Liens: If you ever had a loan on your vehicle, the bank who financed it is probably listed on the title. Typically after you pay off the car loan, they’ll send you a new title clear and free, with just your name on it. If you’ve paid off your loan and the bank’s name is still on the title, you need to request a new cleared title from the bank. Worst case scenario, you make sure the lienholder (bank) gives you a Lien Release form, which indicates you’ve paid off the loan. You legally cannot sell a car if the lien is not released. Some states do allow you to sell still if the bank is okay with it, but you do need written approval.
- Bill of Sale: This isn’t something you have to do in every state, but even if you don’t I still recommend filling one out. I did it when I sold my vehicle. It’s just another document you have in your hand that indicates who the buyer was, what the price was, and puts everything legally onto one piece of paper. I made two copies and gave one to my buyer and kept one for myself for records. Here’s a link to the DMV’s bill of sale forms. ***Although it’s not required in Minnesota, you can’t go wrong in doing this.
- Damage Disclosure Statement: Some states require this, many do not. Make sure to check with your state DMV to see if it is. This form makes sure both parties are aware of prior damages on the vehicle. **Required for all vehicles in Minnesota except those that are six years old or older
- Odometer Disclosure: Many states require you submit this information, Minnesota included.
Step 2: Clean it, Fix it, and Make it Presentable
I recommend this step as a MUST DO for everyone. Why do you think all the dealerships clean and polish up every car on the lot? Because it makes them SELL QUICKER. You have to do it whether you like it or not. No, you don’t have to get it detailed, although that wouldn’t be the worst thing, but at least vaccuum, wash, and fix.
Car Prep Checklist:
- Vacuum all carpet and seats
- Wipe down console, dashboard, steering wheel and all other surfaces that may have dust/dirt/grime
- Open the front hood, clean off engine and any other surfaces to make pictures inside look presentable
- Clean trunk out
- Fix any items that need fixing: loose screws, easy interior fixes, lightbulbs, etc.
- Wash and wax outside of vehicle if possible to get that extra shine / Clean wheel rims of dirt/grime
You’ll thank yourself in the long run after realizing how quickly your vehicle sells because of doing these few simple things beforehand.
Step 3: Determining Your Selling Price
Determining a price to list your car at on Craigslist can be a combo of research, science, art, and a bit of a guess. The best way to start from my perspective is to head over to Kelly Blue Book and get their value estimate. You’ll just have to plug in mileage, vehicle options, and condition of vehicle for them to give you an estimated value range. The same goes for Truecar.com, a well respected dealership listing prices section. Truecar gives you a great idea of what dealerships are charging for the same vehicle, which in turn will tell you what you shouldn’t be pricing your car at.
Now, I used to work in the insurance field and I know that KBB is definitely not 100% accurate, but it can give you a good starting point on where you should be with your vehicle. For me, finding a KBB value and then finding similar vehicles in your area for sale on craigslist will help determine a good starting point on craigslist.
So if you have a 2004 Nissan Altima for sale with 185k miles on it and some decent exterior damage on it, similar to my car that I sold, I looked up the “fair value” on KBB. KBB gave me a value of $1,900. In looking on Craigslist, I found a few other similar year make model vehicles listed around the $2300-$3500 range without any damages like my car had.
So in all honesty, I could tell the KBB value was pretty accurate. But that’s not going to lead me to list it right at $1,900. I’ve heard many people say that the general rule of thumb is find KBB value and then subtract a few hundred dollars, which would give you a realistic selling price on craigslist…
I respectfully disagree with this approach. If you think you can get more money, GO FOR IT. Remember, Craigslist buyers are always looking for a deal. So if you start low, they’re going to go lower. Start above average, and then play hard to get.
I ended up starting my listing price at $2,200, $300 over KBB value. What’d I sell it for?? $2,100. I’ll tell you how in the next section. Just remember, it’s not a science, go with your gut on the listing price., and always remember that the key is to start higher and bring it down from there if needed.
Step 4: Write Your Car Description on Craigslist
People that are looking to buy a car on Craigslist are looking for someone that is going to be as transparent and descriptive as possible. The more information you can provide, the better.
Why? Because to others you’ll seem more trustworthy to work with.
That is why I’ve put together a sample description for you to use as a base outline.
Make sure to download my free Craigslist Car Sale checklist before you consider selling your car for tips and tricks!
I’ve provided a guided outline for your car description below. Follow the steps and insert the information where it needs to go. If there are additional details about your car that you don’t think are covered in any of these sections, feel free to add the where you think they need to go.
Craigslist Description Outline: (Copy and Paste into your Craigslist Ad and Replace Text)
Keep the HTML code as is, this will make line breaks and bold certain features in your listing. Use the line on the left as your outline. The red font should be replaced with your vehicle’s information.
Take a look at my actual description on further down below for a better idea of what it should look like.
Use the Template Below for Your Craiglist Car Listing:
<b>Year Make Model of Vehicle</b>
– Engine Size (ex. 2.5 L)
– Transmission (manual or automatic)
– Exterior Color
– Interior Color
– Exact Vehicle Mileage
– Power Windows/Door Locks?
– Power Driver Seat/Passenger Seats?
– Air Conditioning?
– Cruise Control?
– Power Steering/Tilt Wheel?
– Dual Air Bags/Side Airbags?
– CD (single/multi disc) / AM/FM Stereo / MP3 Player? / XM Radio?
– Sunroof / Moonroof?
– Tinted windows?
– Auto Headlights?
– Any additional features you feel are necessary to help sell the car
<b>Why I’m Selling</b>
I am selling the car because……. (reason why you’re selling car that makes sense to buyer)
List how many owners this car has had – List how long you’ve had this car for – Say something about how great the car has been for you
<b>Condition of Car:</b>
I will be as transparent as I can about the current condition of the vehicle. Regardless, this “insert car model here” has been a great vehicle for me for the past “insert number” years.
Cosmetic Damage: List any specific cosmetic damages other than normal wear and tear that will stand out to any buyer if they were to look at it in person
Repairs needed in future: Be transparent with buyer and if there is anything squeaking/making weird noises, this is the place to be up front with them
<b>I will include full folder of Vehicle Maintenance/Repair History in purchase. (if you have it)
Price: I am asking “$Insert Price Here“. Cash only. </b>
If interested, please inquire via phone at the number above, it’s always easier to answer questions on the phone but feel free to text/email. (or say something similar that ensures confidence and pushes prospective buyers to call vs email)
What the actual listing looked like for me:
Step 5: Take Pictures that SELL Your Car
You don’t have to be a professional photographer to snap a few good pictures of your used vehicle you’re putting up on Craigslist. Most people have a solid cell phone camera these days and that will do just fine. My tip is to take as many photos as possible from all different angles in order to make sure your buyer knows clearly what they’re getting when they look at your ad. (Plus, who can resist great looking pictures of a car for sale?)
Take a look at some of my photos below that I took for my Craigslist ad as an example. I had over 20 photos total. I covered pretty much every angle, interior and exterior, and also photographed the damages on my car that were preexisting. Again, this helps with transparency.
Make sure you blur out your license plate in photos for safety reasons. If you don’t know how to use Photoshop, I highly recommend a free online tool called Fotor that will blur portions of a photo out for you.
If your car has any exterior damage that your buyer should be aware of, make sure you put photos of this damage as well at the bottom of the listing. Again, transparency goes a long way. I did this with my car and it clears up a lot of issues before the buyer actually comes out to look at it.
Here’s your Car Photo Checklist:
I recommend taking a photo of each of these from the prospective angles for the best opportunity to quickly sell your vehicle.
- Front of vehicle — (angle from down low and up high)
- Back of vehicle – (Eye level)
- Left and Right Sides of Vehicle
- Low front driver side angle picture of whole vehicle
- Inside of engine compartment
- Front interior (full view)
- Dashboard close up with mileage visible
- Rear interior (full view)
- Inside of trunk space
- Far away and close up shots of any exterior damages the buyer should be aware of
Step 6: Publish and Be Available
So the time has come, your ad is live on Craigslist and you’re ready to field some calls/texts/emails.
Be Prepared for a lot of Calls/Emails: Make yourself available before publishing your listing. You may be surprised, but if you’ve followed the steps above, you’re going to be getting a lot of interest in the vehicle. So if you’re going out of town the coming weekend, please do yourself a favor and wait to publish until next week. You’re going to want to be available to meet someone that day if they want to meet.
Make the buyer think there’s competition: Play hard to get. The way I played it the first week, I didn’t let anyone negotiate on their price. If they tried to haggle off the bat, I told them I had other buyers interested, which was actually the truth. If it comes down to it and you’re having trouble selling after a week’s time, then yes, it might be time to negotiate more. But until then, seriously, don’t be the guy that comes down $500 to meet the buyer at their “price”. It’s your car and your money. Get as much as you can for it!
Meet in a Safe Place: I met my buyer at my house. Would I do this again? Probably not. You hear crazy stories these days and you always want to make the process as safe as possible. While meeting at your residence is probably fine most of the time, I’d recommend you meet in a public place, like a grocery store parking lot. Be cautious, that’s all.
Do what your comfortable with when it comes to the test drive: When it comes to inevitably letting your prospective buyer test drive the vehicle, you can either be in the vehicle, or you don’t have to be. I liked to be in the vehicle because I can give them selling points as they’re driving. However, I know many people are probably uncomfortable getting into a car with stranger not knowing if they’re safe drivers or not. In this case, it’s perfectly fine to hand them the keys and let them take it for a spin. Just remember that as long as you comprehensive insurance coverage on your vehicle, you’ll be covered if it never comes back 🙂 Do what you’re most comfortable with.
In the end my buyer tried to negotiate down a bit. But after telling them of competition, they reluctantly came back up. I did say I’d drop it from $2,200 to $2,100 for them if they “Bought it Today”. This did the trick and I was good to go.
Step 7: Close the Deal, Complete Paperwork, and Get Paid
After a price has been agreed upon, it’s time to wrap it up.
#1 Rule on Craigslist: ALWAYS DO CASH ONLY. I would never accept a check, money order, or anything else. I can understand if you need to work something out when the price may be above a certain price point, say $10k. Otherwise, always do a cash deal.
The legal signing over the title is a little tricky depending on what state you live in. In Minnesota, it’s a simple signing over of the title. The buyer then brings the title into the DMV and I rip off the bottom portion of the title, later reporting it to the DMV when I sold the vehicle and for how much.
Notarization: Many states require that the buyer and seller have the title notarized for proof of sale. If this is the case for your state, make sure you complete this before signing the title or you’ll be in for a headache later. Many local banks have notaries available on site. Minnesota does not require this, but you will if there was a lien or loan out on the vehicle and the bank is still listed on the title, make sure you have a signed lien release card form for all secured parties (lien holders)
License Plates: Some states also require that you turn in license plates to complete the process, others don’t. As always, having all the paperwork and bill of sale will come in real handy once you know your state’s rules on this. Minnesota does not require this.
Remove Insurance: Once you know the transaction has gone through and everything has correctly been reported to your state’s DMV, you’re okay with removing the insurance on the vehicle. As long as there’s a proof of purchase for the vehicle, typically the insurance immediately cuts off on that day even if you cancel several days later. Usually your insurance company will give you a reimbursement prorated based on the number of days after you cancelled it. However, always remember to keep the insurance there until you know for sure that the full transaction has legally gone through.
Now this whole process may take you an hour or two to complete the steps for posting on Craiglist that I’ve listed here, but you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and wasted time by doing this.
At the end of the day, you’re going to have money in your pocket for a new vehicle or just some extra cash to hold onto after completing the sale!