If you want your car donation to benefit a charity and its cause, be careful to whom you donate. In some cases, most of the proceeds from these gifts may go to a for-profit telemarketer working for the charity, rather than the charity itself.
Auto Donation Dollars Hit a Fork in the Road
"About one-third of the charities we follow use telemarketing companies," says Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing and chief financial officer for the nonprofit monitoring organization Charity Navigator. According to Miniutti, these for-profit companies take an average of 60 percent of funds raised through phone campaigns.
Sometimes they take everything. In a telemarketing campaign, there may be a dollar target set by the charity, and if it isn't reached, "the for-profit takes it all," Miniutti says. "Some charities actually lose money."
Charities that take car donations instead of money may get 50 percent of the value of all contributed vehicles, according to Daniel Borochoff, president of the nonprofit watchdog CharityWatch. That's still not much. After all, when you donate a car with a charity's benefit in mind, you probably don't want half the proceeds to go to a for-profit business.
The more heart-rending the cause, the more likely it is that the charity uses a telemarketing company. "Everyone is sympathetic to those causes," Borochoff says. "More controversial causes are much less likely to use for-profits, because the companies can't make much money from them." For the same reason, telemarketing and other fundraising companies work primarily with large nonprofits.
To find out if a charity uses a telemarketing company, check CharityWatch (membership required to view ratings) and Charity Navigator . Each has its own approach to researching and reporting on nonprofits. Also, Charity Navigator does not rate charities that have less than $1 million in revenues, and some charities that specialize in car donations fall into that category.
Cut Through the Telemarketing Spiel
If you find yourself on the phone talking to a telemarketer who is trying to convince you to donate a car to charity, you can perform some due diligence in real time. "Ask who's doing the asking," says Borochoff, "and if it's a company, ask what percentage goes to the charity and how much cash is going to 'program services.'"
You might think "program services" means something such as medical care, research into a disease or special equipment for an injured veteran or a child with leukemia. But these "services" may be nothing more than "educating the public that injured veterans have needs — not actually meeting those needs," Borochoff says. "Home in on what they're actually doing." If they say research, Borochoff says, check to make sure that it's medical research, and not marketing research.
Perhaps the simplest, easiest response to a phone solicitor "is to just hang up," says Miniutti. There is no reason to agree to a telephone solicitation to donate a car.
When the Telemarketer Relationship Works
Nonprofit Southern California Public Radio regularly grosses 80 percent from the proceeds of its vehicle donations, totaling $1 million annually.
"A reasonable return on car donations is 60 percent to 80 percent," says Rob Risko, director of membership for Southern California Public Radio. To get those numbers, the organization heavily researches potential for-profit partners and engages them in small one-month trial campaigns. If Southern California Public Radio hires the company, it monitors the contractor's activities daily. For example, Risko and other staff are in the "to-call" lists, so "we can hear how they sound and work," he says. If the for-profit's costs rise above 25-28 cents for each dollar raised, "we call vendors to find out why," he says.
As Southern California Public Radio shows, charities can benefit from using telemarketing and other fundraising companies. Nevertheless, if you are solicited for a car donation by phone, mail or advertising, make sure you know who's asking and where the money really goes.
Whether you are selling, trading in or just plain curious about what your car is worth, it is important to know how to get an accurate appraisal. Edmunds.com is here to help.
Where to Go
You can find the Edmunds used-car appraisal tool in three places: the "wired" or traditional Web site, our mobile site and our app for smartphones and tablets. The order of the appraisal steps is a little different for each, but the same information will apply.
Web Site: From your desktop or laptop, mouse over the "Used Cars" tab at the top of any page on Edmunds.com. When the tab expands, click "Appraise My Car." You can also access "Appraise My Car" here . (Bookmark it for the next visit.)
If you're getting the value of a vehicle that's older than 2001, use the traditional Web site. As of this writing, our mobile data doesn't go back any further than the 2001 model year.
Edmunds.com Mobile Site: If you visit Edmunds.com from a smartphone or tablet, you'll most likely see the site's mobile version. Scroll down and touch the "Used" tab. The "Appraise a Used Car" link is a bit farther down the page.
Edmunds.com iPhone and iPad App: On the Edmunds.com iPhone and iPad applications, start out by choosing the year, make and model of the car you want to look at. Next, touch the "Pricing" button. (On the iPad app, look for the "Options & Packages" tab.)
Edmunds.com Android App: The Edmunds app for Android devices is currently being overhauled. When the major update goes live, its functionality will be very similar to what you see on the iPhone and iPad.
Edmunds.com Live Help: If you have any questions about getting an accurate value for your car, please reach out to the Edmunds.com Live Help team for free assistance. Team members understand the process completely and will be happy to give you a hand.
Style and Options
Once you've entered the year, make and model of your car, you will need to supply some more specific information about it for an accurate appraisal. In this next step, you'll select the style, also called the trim level. The style can refer to the type of engine, standard features, or whether it has four doors. Here's a refresher on trim levels .
Major features, such as the car's transmission, engine type and whether it has all-wheel drive, can have a big impact on the value of the car. The same goes for options like leather seats, navigation, a sunroof or automatic climate control. If you can remember your car's options off the top of your head, great. If not, here are some suggestions on where to get the information you need.
The vehicle's original window sticker is the best place to find option information. Unfortunately, few people actually hang onto the sticker. Without it, your best bet is to sit in your car and make a note of its options. If you're using a smartphone, tablet or laptop (assuming you're within WiFi range), you can complete the options check from the driver seat. Otherwise, print out the options page from the Edmunds.com Web site and check off the items as you sit in your car, and then enter the information online. It is crucial to get the style and options right. Without them, you may be under- or over-valuing your car.
The Edmunds car appraisal tool has five condition levels: outstanding, clean, average, rough and damaged. Most people who use the tool will likely be dealing with just three: clean, average and rough.
You might be tempted to choose outstanding, the top condition level. After all, you've pampered your car the entire time you've owned it, right? But the truth is that few cars qualify for this rating.
Outstanding condition is reserved for older, low-mileage vehicles, where well-preserved examples are otherwise hard to find, says Richard Arca, senior manager of pricing for Edmunds.com.
"A good example would be a 1996 Chevy Impala SS with 70,000 original miles that has been garaged and still has the gloss on the paint," Arca says.
Another good example, Arca says, would be a 2001 Honda Prelude SH with 50,000 original miles that has very little wear on the interior and the factory paint that's still glossy.
Edmunds True Market Value (TMV ® ) used-car prices are all set at "clean" condition, Arca says. The price of a car in less-than-clean condition is adjusted downward from there, and reflects what it would cost to get the vehicle up to clean condition. In the case of a 2001 Honda Prelude in average condition, the dollar adjustment is $1,411. That's how much a private-party seller would have to spend to bring it up to clean condition.
If your vehicle was in an accident, it could still be considered "clean" — if it was repaired with factory parts and according to the manufacturer's specifications, Arca says.
"In reality, cars that have been in accidents tend to lose market value, but there is really no way to gauge how much," Arca says. He adds that some of the factors that affect the value are severity of the damage, quality of repair and the demand for that particular model.
Be honest and objective about the condition level you choose. Try to see things from a potential buyer's perspective.
Understanding the Price
Regardless of the method you use to appraise your vehicle, you will be given three or four prices: trade-in, private party, dealer retail and certified used.
As the name suggests, the trade-in price is what you can expect the dealer to give you if you trade in your vehicle. This is always the lowest figure. If you want to improve on that number, there are some alternatives to trading in that you should consider.
The private-party price is what you can expect to get for the car if you sell it on your own. This is always a higher amount than the trade-in price, but it takes more work. Here's a quick guide to selling your used car that will give you more information.
The dealer retail price is aimed at used-car shoppers. This price is an average amount you could expect to pay if you bought the car at a dealership. Here's a quick guide to buying a used car for more information.
The Edmunds.com Web and mobile sites also list the certified used price if the vehicle is still relatively new. This also is aimed at used-car shoppers, showing what that vehicle's listed price would be if it were being sold as a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicle.
This price will usually be the highest among the trade-in, private-party and dealer retail prices, since CPO cars sell at a premium over non-certified cars. The buyer is essentially paying for the thorough inspection and added warranty.
It's Easy To Be Real
Getting a realistic value for your car is key to what you do next, whether that's selling the car, trading it in or even keeping it for a while longer. By using the Edmunds.com car appraisal tool in any of its forms, you'll have a clear-eyed assessment of your car's real worth, not a number based on guesswork and high hopes.
Many people who have browsed online private-party listings for used cars have run into this. A car catches your attention. You click on the link to see more photos, but there is only one image, with the car not fully in the frame. Or worse, there are a number of photos, but they are blurry and were taken at night with a low-quality cell phone camera.
Poor photos make your car less appealing to a buyer, prolong the selling process and lead to customers who aren't exactly sure what they're getting. You don't have to be an expert photographer to create an effective used-car listing. You just need to know what to focus on and when to take the picture. The following tips will show you how to photograph your car, which creates a better used car listing and in turn sells your car much more quickly.
There are two important points we need to make before you even start. First, wash the car. Make sure it's nice and clean, and the wheels and tires are shiny. And second, roll up the windows. It gives the car a smooth, solid look.
Use the Right Camera
These days, the most convenient option is to pull a smartphone out of your pocket and use it to take photos of your car. And if you've purchased a smartphone in the last few years, it should suffice. But we all know someone who has held onto a phone for way too long. Grainy photos shot on an iPhone 3G or old Blackberry aren't going to cut it. Instead, use a point-and-shoot digital camera, even if it is a few years old. The image will be superior to any taken on an old cell phone.
The Golden Hour
Where and when you take your photos can make all the difference in your shots. Don't go out on your lunch break and snap photos of the car in a parking lot. The light is too harsh at midday and your photos will look washed out. Similarly, don't take photos at night, because a camera's flash is a poor substitute for the sun.
In photography, the "golden hour" is when the sun rises and when it is about to set. Photos taken at this time are less likely to be overexposed, and the light has a warm look that enhances the colors in the photo. The Golden Hour Calculator can help you determine the perfect time in your area. If your schedule doesn't allow you to take photos during the golden hour, your best bet is between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. Cloudy mornings work well, too.
The location of your photo shoot can also help the car stand out among the crowded online listings. Try to find an isolated location or parking lot. This allows your car to be the focal point in the photos. The Edmunds offices are a few miles from the beach, so we often use it as a location. If you are landlocked, a nearby park is a good choice. In a pinch an empty parking lot will suffice.
Quantity and Variety
The more photos your listing has, the more likely it is that your car will sell. If the online listing is free, upload the maximum number of photos the site allows. With sites that charge for listings, it's worth the extra cost to have more photos in the ad. You don't have to spring for the top package, either. Something that gives you about 10 photos should be sufficient.
Take photos of the car at eye level. There's no need to get creative with fancy high and low angles. Start out in front of the car and make your way around it, snapping a photo from every angle. You may not use them all in the ad, but you can sort that out later.
Make sure you get the basic car-selling angles covered. This includes the front, back, side profile and wheels. Turn the wheels left slightly so that you can take a photo of the tire tread. Finally, open up the hood and take a photo of the engine.
Inside the car, make sure you take a photo of the seats, paying close attention to the driver seat, which tends to get more wear. Sit in the back of the car and recline the front seats to take photos of the front section of the interior. You'll want to show the stereo and instrument cluster, the shifter (to show whether the car is an automatic or manual) and the condition of the steering wheel. Be sure to snap a photo of the odometer so that prospective buyers can see that the mileage reading shown is consistent with what you have said in your ad.
If your car has any special selling points or features (for example if it's a convertible), show them. Photograph it with the top both up and down. If it's a big SUV with folding seats, fold them down to show off the storage space.
If the car has any imperfections, don't try to angle the shots to hide them. In fact, you should take a photo of any dents or scratches on the car. Be up front about them. The same goes for any curbed wheels. A buyer is going to see the car eventually, and it is best to be able to say, "I had a photo of this in the ad," rather than "Oops, I forgot about that."
Being honest with the imperfections can help with your negotiations. A prospective buyer is likely to offer you a lower amount if he inspects the car and finds a dent that wasn't shown in the ad. But if you had a photo of that dent in the ad, you can hold your ground and say that you were up front about the damage and have priced the car accordingly.
Too Good To Be True?
A final word of caution comes from Edmunds.com staff photographer Kurt Niebuhr: If your photos look too well-produced, they may make people suspicious. Potential buyers might think you used stock photos and will be less likely to reply to the ad. Honest images, not glamour shots, are what you're after.
Make a YouTube Video Ad To Sell Your Used Car
Give Your Used Car Curb Appeal
Just like Sweet 16 or the Big 4-Oh, a used car has significant turning points in its lifetime. In the case of a used car, these aren't birthdays but instead mileage milestones, and they can affect the car's value. If you're planning to sell or trade in your car soon, keep your eye on the odometer and sell before hitting these significant mileage points. If you're buying a used car, you should also know about these milestones and understand that extensive maintenance may soon be due — or should have been done already.
While the mileage always affects the price of a used car, and is factored into the Edmunds.com True Market Value (TMV ® ) appraisal tool , three mileage markers have a greater impact on a used car's price. Here's the breakdown.
First Turning Point: 30,000-40,000 Miles
Most cars come with a bumper-to-bumper factory warranty that expires at either 36,000 miles or three years, whichever comes first. This is the point at which many cars are returned to the dealer from the first "owner," meaning the person who leased the car.
In addition, a car's first major service visit usually comes in the range of 30,000-40,000 miles. This is when the carmaker calls for more than just an oil change and tire rotation, and it's not uncommon for this major service to cost more than $350. In addition, certain "wear items" may soon need service. Wear items are things such as brakes and tires that are expected to wear out, as opposed to things that break and need to be repaired.
With this in mind, anyone getting ready to sell a car would want to put it up for sale a few thousand miles before the 36,000-mile mark or before the major service visit. Anyone shopping for used cars in this range should check that the required maintenance has been done. A savvy buyer could use the fact that the service hasn't been done yet as a bargaining chip to make a lower opening offer.
To find out more about the major service visits for different cars, check the Edmunds.com Maintenance Guide .
Second Turning Point: 60,000-70,000 Miles
The second major service visit is sometimes even more expensive than the first. This is particularly true of cars that have timing belts, which coordinate the turning of the pistons and the camshaft. If this belt is not changed, it will eventually snap and could cause engine damage. This service item alone costs at least $300.
By the time a car has 60,000 miles it will almost certainly need tires and brakes, although more modern cars are going farther with less maintenance. Still, a seller can save money by selling or trading in a car well before this work is required. Edmunds' article, "Fix Up or Trade Up," can help guide the decision.
A buyer shopping for a good used car should look up the major service visits for the specific make and model and make sure the work has been done on the car under consideration. Also, buyers should check tires and brakes and use the information on their condition when negotiating the price.
Third Turning Point: 100,000 Miles
Twenty years ago, if a car had 100,000 miles on it, it was likely to be running on borrowed time. But cars are becoming more reliable and long-lived, so today's 100,000-mile car is likely still in its prime. Perceptions haven't kept pace with engineering, however, and at the 100,000-mile mark, there is a significant drop in a car's value. For example, CarMax , the used-car store, will buy cars with 100,000 miles on them, but it won't resell them to consumers. It will send them to used-car auctions , where other dealers might buy them at deeply discounted prices.
With this information in mind, consider selling your car while it still has fewer than 95,000 miles on it. By doing so, shoppers using online sites will find your car if they set mileage limits below the dreaded 100,000-mile mark.
To Infinity and Beyond
Once a car hits 100,000 miles, the service schedules begin to repeat themselves, requiring a major service every 30,000 or 40,000 miles. But by this time, the car's interior and exterior condition begin to overshadow other factors. After 100,000 miles, the paint might be showing its age. There's likely to be some wear and tear to the seats and other parts of the interior. In many cases, it will need other repairs as well, so the standard milestones become less important.
Knowing a car's milestones and anticipating when your car will reach them can help you get the maximum value for your car when you sell it. The milestones are also important for used-car shoppers, helping them make smarter decisions when they're negotiating and buying. By keeping an eye on the odometer, both seller and buyer can strike a better deal.
Setting the right price for a used car is almost an art — a blend of research and intuition. Set the right price and you will quickly get the full value of your car. Set it the wrong way and you'll wait weeks for a call or e-mail from a buyer.
Your goal is to list your car at a competitive price, but one that's on the high end of the price range. This allows you room to negotiate and still wind up with a good chunk of change. So decide where you want to close the deal and work backward from there.
Say you want to sell your car for $5,000. You should list it at about $5,750. With more expensive cars, you need to leave more room, so to get $15,000, you should list the car at $16,500.
There are plenty of tools and resources for finding the sweet spot for pricing your used car. Here's a step-by-step guide to this important process.
1. Consider the market. Is your car in demand? Can you ask for top dollar? Is this the right time to sell it? Here are a few general rules to help you answer these questions.
Family sedans, while boring to many car enthusiasts, are in constant demand by people who need basic, inexpensive transportation.
Getting a good price for a convertible or sports car depends on the season in which you sell it. Sunny, summerlike weather brings out the buyers. If you sell in the fall and winter, prepare for the process to take longer.
Trucks and vans, which people often use for work, sell quickly and command competitive prices. Don't underestimate their value.
Collector cars take longer to sell and are tricky to price. However, these cars can bring good sale prices — if you find the right buyer.
Take into account any other market conditions that might have an impact on your car. For example, if your car gets good fuel economy and gas prices are high, you will be able to ask more for it than when gas is cheap. Similarly, selling a supersize SUV for top dollar is going to be tough if gas prices are sky high.
2. Check the Pricing Guides. Use Edmunds.com True Market Value (TMV ® ) pricing to determine the fair value of your car. TMV prices are adjusted for mileage, color, options, condition and even region of the country. Keep in mind that TMV is a transaction price — not an asking price. It's where you want to wind up after negotiations. And don't forget to take a look at other pricing guides for comparison sake.
3. Survey your competition. Review classified ads on such Web sites as Auto Trader , Craigslist and eBay Motors to see the asking prices for other cars like yours. Most sites offer advanced searches to find close matches to your vehicle. But keep in mind that these are asking prices, not selling prices, and might just be wishful thinking by the seller. Compare the cars' condition, mileage, geographic location and asking price to your vehicle to guide you in setting the right price.
4. Price your car competitively. As mentioned earlier, be sure to leave wiggle room for negotiations. Ask for slightly more money than you expect. If you get your asking price, that's great. But if you have to go lower, it won't be a terrible loss.
Also consider the psychological aspects of car pricing by staying just below benchmark numbers such as $10,000 (price it at $9,900) or $20,000 (price it at $19,900). Car dealers take this philosophy to an extreme by listing everything on their lots with a price that ends in "999" ($12,999, for example; apparently, we shoppers are not supposed to notice that the car basically costs $13,000). Still, this tactic demonstrates the psychology of setting prices. A product that doesn't sell well at $20 might jump off the shelf at $19.95.
As a private-party seller, however, you don't want to look like a car dealer. Therefore, you might want to take a simplified approach and set your price at round figures such as $12,750 or $12,500.
5. Tap your intuition. Once you have considered all the hard data, it's time to consult your intuition. Perhaps you have a hunch that your car is desirable, or that the time is right for you to ask a certain price. As you do this gut check, remember that it's always a good idea to err on the side of a higher asking price. If necessary, you can lower the price until you get callers. On the other hand, if you err on the low side, you'll sell it quickly but won't get the car's full value.
What To Do About Hard-To-Price Cars
If you have a very old car or unusual car, you might not find it in some pricing guides or be able to locate others of its kind on sales sites for comparison. However, you can check AutoTrader Classics and also Hemmings . Both have online listings of collector cars.
You also can try talking to other collectors or mechanics. And you can always just type the year, make and model of the car into the Google search box and then add: "for sale." For example, if you type "1967 Saab 96 for sale," you'll get many local classified ad listings.
Research Equals Reward
Whether you're selling a 2001 Toyota Camry or a 1963 Studebaker Avanti, take the time to do some research before you set a price for your used car. If you do your job correctly, the car will almost seem to sell itself.
A man who listed his car for sale on Craigslist is killed by a man who wanted to strip the turbocharger and other parts from the vehicle. A New York man lists his BMW online, only to be stabbed and stuffed into the car's trunk by an ex-con who arranged a meeting on the pretext of buying the vehicle.
Although such stories show the potential danger of private-party used-car sales, don't let these extreme cases deter you. You can safely sell your used car — and maximize its value — by taking the right preventive measures.
Craigslist , one of several sites that facilitate private-party car sales, says that its buyers and sellers complete billions of transactions with an "extremely low" incidence of violent crime. Still, selling your car does put you at risk of fraud , scams, robbery and possible personal attacks.
The safety advice in this article comes from the police and my own personal experience selling more than 50 cars from Edmunds' long-term test fleet . There's also another very knowledgeable but less obvious source of good tips : real-estate agents. They often meet strangers to arrange a sale and sometimes the transactions put them in vulnerable positions. Just like private-party car sellers.
The Big 4 Tips for Car-Selling Safety
1. Vet callers thoroughly. When Steve Goddard, former president of the California Association of Realtors, takes a call from someone he's never met, he makes sure the caller is serious about buying a property and isn't trying to lure him into a trap to rob him. "I ask them lots of questions about what they are looking for and what their needs are," he says. "The more I engage them in conversation, the more you get a feel for them."
2. Don't go to a meeting alone. It's that simple, says Rico Fernandez, a sergeant with the Long Beach Police Department in California. "Take someone with you. People are less apt to harm you if there is someone else there."
3. Meet in a public place. Goddard says that when he meets someone for the first time, he does so at his office. While you can't do that when you're selling a car, you can arrange to meet would-be buyers in a public place, such as a shopping mall parking lot.
4. Trust your gut. Qualifying callers is a combination of intuition and experience, Goddard says. And if you're not comfortable meeting with strangers under any circumstances, you should turn the sale over to an auto broker or trade in the vehicle. You'll have to accept that you might not get the best deal, but peace of mind is priceless. So is your life.
If you do a good job screening buyers before you meet them face-to-face, selling your car will go much more smoothly. Listing your car on Craigslist or Autotrader.com will bring e-mails, text messages and calls from interested parties. Use your intuition to spot anything suspicious about these prospective buyers:
Don't be overly eager for a sale or you might miss a warning sign. If a caller seems suspicious to you, simply hang up.
Only schedule a test-drive with serious buyers you are able to reach by phone. Invite questions when you talk with them. This prevents you from having to show the car to someone who isn't really interested, or someone you'd rather not deal with. If the caller doesn't seem to know what to ask, volunteer the basics about the car: year, make, model, color, number of doors, number of miles on the car and its key features.
Beware of professional buyers who just want to "flip" cars, which means reselling them quickly at a profit. Flippers bargain aggressively. You can usually identify these callers because they quickly want to get to your lowest selling price. If you have doubts, ask them if they're buying to resell. While flippers might not pose a hazard to your personal safety, it's better to avoid dealing with them.
Ask who is coming on the test-drive. Evasive answers might indicate that the caller is setting up a trap.
Tell the caller you will want to see a driver license before the test-drive. This might discourage anyone with criminal intentions from going any further.
On the Test-Drive
When you ask to see the buyer's driver license before the test-drive, make a copy of it, if possible, and leave it with a third party.
Have a friend or family member come along with you. If no one is available, at the very least let someone know where you are going and with whom you're meeting.
Take your cell phone with you so you can call for help if anything goes wrong. If you are suspicious and don't want the would-be buyer to know that, arrange a code word beforehand with a friend or family member. Using the code word will be your way of telling your friend you need help.
Meet prospective buyers during the day in a public area such as the parking lot of a mall. Park the car in a high traffic area where people can see you.
Don't leave any valuables in the car on the test-drive. Don't leave your wallet in the center console.
Accompany the buyer on the test-drive. This ensures that he can't just drive off with your car, never to be seen again. Furthermore, the buyer may be unfamiliar with the area and will need directions for the test-drive.
If for some reason you can't ride along, don't give your only car key to the prospective buyer. If the "buyer" decides to take a joy ride and abandons your car, it's easier to retrieve if you have an extra key.
Keep the test-drive short and go through populated areas. Most buyers don't expect a long test-drive. If your buyer wants more time, let him ask you for it.
Negotiation and Sale
If the person is serious about buying the car, he will want to negotiate the price. Here are a few tips to make sure that transaction goes smoothly:
Refuse any unusual requests, such as driving the would-be buyer to another location. Often, such a request is framed in terms of getting the money or arranging a loan to finish the sale. Instead, tell the buyer to make his arrangements on his own and call you back when he is ready to conclude the sale.
If the test-drive begins and ends at your home, don't let the prospective buyer into the house. Conduct the transaction at the curb. Have the paperwork ready beforehand and keep the car's title, often called "pink slip," unsigned and out of sight until you have full payment.
Once the deal is complete and the car is out of your hands, immediately file a "release of liability" form with the registry of motor vehicles. Then, if it's used in a crime, you won't be held responsible.
A powerful way to sell your used car is to create a simple video "walkaround" of your vehicle. It's what car salesmen do with potential buyers: walk them around a vehicle as they point out various features and options. You then post your video on YouTube , a site that's visited by millions of viewers each day.
Now that most digital cameras can record video, and you have a free, heavily trafficked place to upload videos, it makes sense to have a video ad in addition to an online classified. Put the video link in the classified ad and the classified link in the video to reach different types of buyers.
A video ad gives shoppers the sense that they are standing beside your car, listening to you describe the key features and options while they enjoy total anonymity and no risk. They don't have to drive anywhere to see the car you're selling and have no sense of obligation about purchasing it. Clicking on a video link is a lot easier than picking up the phone and calling a seller they don't know.
According to Dealer.com , 59 percent of shoppers reported that they would choose a dealership with video product descriptions over one without, if they were to find similar vehicles on both sites. Meanwhile, a YouTube spokesperson said that online video ads are growing, pointing to the fact that a search for the term "used cars" produces 256,000 hits on the site.
If video advertising works for car dealers, it can — with a little modification — work for you. All you need is an Internet connection and a camera that digitally records video.
Here are some tips on creating your ad:
Park your car in an attractive location that's free of noise or traffic.
Briefly rehearse what you want to show and say in the video.
Start your walkaround facing the front left headlight and move clockwise around the vehicle.
Provide basic information, including the vehicle's year, make, model, approximate mileage and any special features or damage.
Don't try to hype the car in your narration, so shoppers know they won't be dealing with a high-pressure seller and will feel more comfortable calling you.
Keep the video short — under 2 minutes — and create one continuous take to avoid the need for editing.
To improve the quality of the video:
Shoot several versions and review them all to see which is best.
If possible, record the video just before sundown, when there are no shadows and the light is most attractive.
Watch out for harsh reflections from the car's chrome, which will streak the video.
Try to keep your shadow and reflection out of the shot.
Don't mention price in the video, since that might be changing. You don't want to have to re-record the video.
Once you're satisfied with your video, post it on YouTube first. (If you've never uploaded to YouTube before and need help, watch the channel's YouTube 101 video, How To Upload .) Make sure to include appropriate keywords, such as year, make and model, for easy searching.
Then, create a free classified listing on Craigslist or eBay Motors and link to your video ad. (Unfortunately, AutoTrader, which is an effective site for selling a car, does not permit actual links to be included in its ads.) Remember that most of your traffic will come from the classified ad, rather than the video, so it's best to list your contact information there. And it's a good idea to shoot close-up still photos of the vehicle's details and put these into your classified ad. That will whet buyers' appetites for your video.
Once all the ads are posted, check back every day and watch the number of views grow as more shoppers watch your video. And don't forget to take down the video once you've sold the car.
When people come to look at your used car, they will probably make up their minds whether to buy it within the initial few seconds. Since this decision is based on first impressions, you want your car to have "curb appeal." Say a potential buyer is coming to look at your used car in an hour. What can you do between now and then to boost the selling price of your car and ensure a quick sale?
Sellers often think they have to have their car detailed. But that can cost more than $100 and take hours. You can deliver most of the impact of a professional detailing job at a fraction of the time and cost. Here's a triage of tweaks, fixes and cleaning tricks.
Wash your car
For expediency's sake, run your car through a coin-operated car wash. Use the foaming brush to scrub off dirt and make absolutely sure to use a spot-free rinse so there are no drying marks left on the paint. If you want to make it look even better, dry all the glass surfaces, especially the windshield. You can also use a spray detailer such as Meguiar's Supreme Shine Protectant to give it an extra shine.
Vacuum the interior
It's cheap, essential and will make a great impression when the prospect opens the driver-side door. Remember to vacuum the front and rear seats (get in all the cracks and cupholders) and also clean the trunk.
Wipe down the interior
You can use a damp rag or a product such as Ice Interior Care Wipes from Turtle Wax . These products will usually improve the interior smell of your car, too, but please, don't go too heavy on the air fresheners. Be especially sure to clean all those things around the driver seat that the buyer will see.
Get the junk out of the trunk
And more importantly, get all your personal items out of the car. You don't want the interior to look like an unmade bed, and you want the prospective buyer to picture the car as his or her own.
Clean the engine
Most modern cars have plastic covers over the engine. These surfaces gather grease and road dirt and can look pretty nasty. You can use a spray detailer or any cleaner. This is a good time to check the fluids too, such as oil and coolant levels.
Blacken the tires
Tire black or tire shine is sold by many car care companies. Cleaning off the brake dust and putting some kind of treatment on the tires will sharpen up the look of your car more than anything else you can do. And take a rag to the rims before you spruce up the tires. Especially with the front wheels, brake dust will coat surfaces that should be shiny.
Touch up glaring scratches
If there is an ugly scratch in a noticeable place, it might be easier to fix than you think. Sometimes, the scratch is only in the clearcoat, the protective outer paint layer that is basically clear plastic. If you get a clearcoat pen, you can make the scratch nearly invisible.
Give it the curb appeal test
Now, clear your mind and look at your used car with fresh eyes. What jumps out at you? Is there anything else that needs to be touched up or cleaned? Or does it look so good you are going to raise your asking price?
There are a number of other things you need to do to sell your car, including locating the title and having the service records ready to show the buyer. A complete description of the process can be found in "10 Steps to Selling Your Car." However, the items listed above are specifically for producing a positive first impression. After all, you want their very first thought when they see your car to be: "Nice!"
Selling a car for less than $2,000 is a very different experience from selling wheels that go for $20,000, $10,000 or even $5,000. This is the bottom of the market, and you'll encounter unique questions and problems. This article will help you navigate this territory, anticipate challenges that may come your way and ultimately maximize your selling price.
Under $2K Selling Steps
1. Decide what to repair
Let's face facts: In this price range, your car is probably an older vehicle with lots of miles on the clock. Trading the car in at a dealership would likely net you next to nothing. So should you fix it or sell it "as is"? Of course this will depend on the cost of repairs, but the selling process will be quicker and smoother if you make major repairs beforehand.
Experts say that getting a repair estimate will help determine your sales tactic. "If the cost of fixing it is half the price of what you're asking for, you may be better off selling it for less as a 'parts car,'" said Edmunds Automotive Editor John DiPietro. If repair costs are less than half the car's value but are still more than you want to shoulder, offer a copy of the estimate to the potential buyer, who can factor this into his or her decision.
You can also offer potential buyers a vehicle history report to show you're negotiating in good faith by disclosing potential problems. This can also prevent misunderstandings and problems after you make the sale.
2. Set a price with wiggle room
Determine the value using Edmunds' used car True Market Value (TMV ® ) appraiser , then look at what comparable vehicles are selling for in your area. This gives you an idea what your target selling price should be. But there will be some negotiating before you get to this price, so you have to add a little wiggle room.
For example, we recently had to sell one of our personal vehicles. It was an older salvage title car, but we wanted to get no less than $500 for it. When we posted it on Craigslist, we set the asking price to $900. The car eventually sold for $650.
3. Decide where to advertise
When selling a car in this range, Craigslist is a valuable tool in getting the word out. Auto Trader is a more established venue for advertising your vehicle, but the listings cost about $40 each. Since your profit margin is already pretty thin, start with Craigslist or other local free listing services, and move on to paid ads if you aren't getting results in about three weeks.
4. Create an effective ad
The more details you give about the car's condition, the more likely you are to make a quick sale. "You have an unlimited amount of space, so use it," said Susan MacTavish Best, spokeswoman for Craigslist. In the body of your ad, give all pertinent information about the car's condition. "Be honest in your description," says Best. "If it's a lemon, say it's a lemon."
Make it easy to read by using bullet points, and include photos from different angles of the car's interior and exterior. Craigslist lets you post up to four photographs, but they tend to be small. So consider posting more photos on a sharing site like Flickr and include the link in your ad.
We recommend posting only your e-mail address at first to avoid getting annoying calls early in the morning and late at night.
5. Get paid in cash
In this price bracket, asking to be paid in cash is essential since this will avoid problems with bad checks or fraudulent money orders.
What To Expect After Placing Your Ad
1. Initial flurry of prospective buyers
When you post something on Craigslist, you'll get the most activity the first few days after the entry is posted (after the third or fourth day, your post will be buried under countless new ads). One way of managing the heavy activity is to schedule your posting at the beginning of the weekend or when you have a day off so you are able to show the car to multiple shoppers.
2. Scam e-mails
A common scam we have seen, particularly on Craigslist, is an e-mail asking you to click on a link to "get an insurance quote." Other fraud schemes suggest that you can get a better price if you go to their Web site, or people from out of state will "wire the money" to you. According to Craigslist's fraud/scam page, if you deal locally with people you can meet in person, you will avoid 99 percent of the scams.
3. Blind negotiators
With low-end cars, many people will want to negotiate a price before even seeing the car. This is problematic, since they will likely request a further price reduction once they inspect the car. Obviously they're trying to save time, test your price flexibility and take advantage of the anonymity of e-mail or the telephone. As a rule of thumb, "Don't negotiate until a person has seen the car," said DiPietro. Tell prospective buyers you can't negotiate because any price adjustments should be specifically related to issues concerning the car's condition.
4. Ridiculous offers
Since the Internet and telephone are anonymous, people feel more confident and more likely to make offers that they would never make in person. We've had people offer to trade us an even older vehicle; another person asked us to donate the car to him since he was a struggling teacher. One guy even offered to give us 13 Playstation games and $150 in exchange for our car. Don't acknowledge these offers.
5. People who want to flip your car
There are many people who buy old cars, make a few repairs, and sell them for a profit. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but the main goal is to offer you the bare minimum, so they can maximize their profit.
6. No-show headaches
In this price category, buyers are more apt to schedule an appointment to come see the car and then fail to show up. You will make your life much easier if you try to weed out the flakes over the phone. Set only a specific time rather than saying, "Stop by any time this afternoon." Also, politely let them know that you will not be available outside the agreed-upon time. Then, urge them to call if their plans change, and reschedule the inspection.
How do you sell your used car for the most money and the least amount of hassle? The giant eBay Motors will move your used car in a little over a week without bombarding you with phone calls or strangers coming to your house. When you hold a seven- or 10-day auction, bidders are pitted against each other to drive the price up above a "reserve" amount that you can set.
A "VIP service" offered by AutoTrader is the new alternative to your typical online sale. The VIP staff photographs the car and posts the ad online. Callers are screened and only serious buyers are passed along to you.
Selling a Nissan GT-R
We sampled both these sales methods while selling a 2009 Nissan GT-R with 33,000 miles on it. While the car was eventually sold using the eBay auction, we had a chance to experience the advantages of the VIP sales service provided by Mota Motors through AutoTrader.
AutoTrader's VIP Service
For an up-front fee of $279, a photographer came and took pictures of all the key details of our GT-R. Some 27 photos were posted on AutoTrader. A spokesman commented that studies have shown that the more photographs displayed, the higher the selling price of the vehicle. Also included were a vehicle history report and a paragraph describing the car. (In some cases, an inspection of the car is included. However, since our car was still under the factory warranty, this step was omitted.)
A VIP consultant was assigned to our car and he suggested we list it for $62,000. We discussed this with him for a few minutes and eventually decided to start by asking for $66,000. A few days later we received an e-mail from our consultant saying he had someone very interested in buying the car. We called the number we were given and spoke with an auto broker who offered $54,000. We declined. Over the three-week period the ad ran, we received seven other queries about our car but no solid offers.
The eBay Motors Auction
It took us about an hour to create the eBay auction and we set the reserve at $52,000, just a bit above the $50,000 the used car superstore CarMax offered us for the car. The reserve is the lowest amount we would be willing to take for the GT-R.
We soon began receiving bids for our car and the amount rapidly approached the reserve amount. However, the bidding seemed to stall at about $50,000, just short of the reserve. An eBay spokesman suggested we drop the reserve by a small amount. The bidders would then be notified of the change and they might become curious and start bidding again. We followed his advice by dropping the price $100 and saw an uptick of activity.
The auction ended with a selling price of $52,600. The buyer, from the Atlanta area, wired us the money and flew out to get the car. We signed over the title and he drove away. When we received our bill from eBay, the charges for the ad and auction were $125.
eBay's Amazing Track Record
A car is sold every minute on eBay Motors, which has amounted to a total of 3.5 million passenger vehicle transactions over the span of its history. A company spokesman said that a classic car is sold every nine minutes and the Ford Mustang is its top-selling vehicle. Over the course of our eBay auction, more than 6,900 people viewed our page.
But what about price? "It's really on a case-by-case basis, where auctions work best for some types of cars and the fixed price listing format works better for others," said Danny Chang, senior manager at eBay Motors. "The value of eBay is that it's a marketplace offering both an auction and a fixed price model, so depending on the many factors that go into the online sale of a vehicle, the seller can choose which method best fits, and the market will ultimately bear out a fair price."
But what about doubts buyers might have about the car's condition? "Buyers are definitely more open to purchasing vehicles online," Chang said. "We even have buyers purchasing vehicles via their mobile phones through eBay's mobile application. Also, 75 percent of vehicles sold on eBay Motors [in the third quarter of 2009] were interstate transactions, indicating a high trust factor among buyers and sellers."
For more sales strategies, see " Buying and Selling Cars on eBay ."
Bottom Line for Used Car Sellers
It's impossible to say which method is best since car owners have different expectations. Many sellers want to get the absolute highest amount for their used car. However, unless you know the market very well, or are lucky enough to find an uninformed buyer, this could be a long process and still end up short of the mark.
The VIP service sped up the listing process and completely blocked bogus calls that make the selling process so annoying. The photographs were top-notch and the price suggested by our consultant was realistic.
On the other hand, the deadline imposed by the eBay auction excites buyers and brings a rapid conclusion to the sale. Furthermore, questions about the car arrive via e-mail and can be addressed easily without requiring you to spend time on the phone.
A New Sales Strategy
If you have the time and want to get top dollar, use the VIP service. If you want to quickly move on with your life, set up an eBay auction. However, to see real action, be realistic about the reserve. Whichever route you take, you will enjoy the convenience of online car selling and the vast number of customers it can reach.