Get thee to a Prius!
October 28, 2008 8:41 PM   Subscribe

Help us sell our two old junker-ish cars and buy a nice, new-ish, shiny cary.

I've got a few questions about how to buy and sell two cars. Here are the requisite details.

Car 1:
98 Ford Escort SE
150k miles
non working A/C
some body blemishes
currently doesn't run, but likely needs a new battery or alternator
needs brakes
registered in Michigan

Car 2:
99 Jetta Wolfsburg (98 boxy body style)
140k miles
several electrical system issues (stalls out, wipers don't work, sometimes headlights & fans for heat/AC don't work, etc.)
rear windows fall down
has some rust, but no major body damage
non-working cruise control
registered in Michigan

1. We want to sell our cars for cash, even though we could possibly get more in tax deductions. We're in a position where we need to free up some cash to help with a down payment.

2. We don't really care how we sell the cars, but we want to be ethical about it. We don't want to mislead anyone into thinking they're getting a great car, when in fact they're getting our crap Jetta or crap Escort which will need some work to get running.

So, here are my questions:

Where should I sell the cars?
How should I word an ad so as not to mislead buyers?
What exactly is involved in selling a car registered in Michigan to an Illinois buyer (we're in Chicago)?
What else do I need to know?
posted by santojulieta to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't help with advice on registering issues, but this is a common issue for a lot of people in Chicago, so I'm sure that the IDOT can answer this.

As for selling the cars, take some good pictures, do a nice write-up and ask a modest price and you should have no problem selling them on Chicago's hyper-active Craig's List. Be sure to preface your ad with bold wording: "ABSOLUTELY NO SCAMS! CASH ONLY! LOCAL SALES ONLY!" That weeds out about 99.9% of the trouble.

Neither of the cars sounds that awful - anyone looking for an Escort will likely expect to put a new battery or alternator in to it. Ditto for anyone shopping for a ten-year-old Jetta and the odd-ball electrical problems.

If you list them on Craig's List and explain the problems you'll likely attract some shade-tree mechanic types who are looking for a bargain.

Be sure to mention the issue over registration...
posted by wfrgms at 9:02 PM on October 28, 2008

The biggest thing is running/non-running -- a running car (of pretty much any year, make, or model) will be worth more than a non-running car (ignoring rare collector's items, of course).

So the Ford, as is, is maybe worth $200 as a parts car, but running it might be worth over $1000 (those numbers are fictitious; adjust for the local market, but the spread will be significant). So if you can get it running for a few dollars, you will come out way ahead. The goal isn't to have a perfect car -- just one that will start when the key is turned.

But that takes having the cash (and/or knowledge) to get it fixed enough to kind of run. If that's not possible, then you have to advertise it as is. You see those ads all the time in the paper -- "mechanic's special," "great winter project," or "just needs a little work." Unless it actually starts and runs when the buyer comes by, it is not worth what it would be if it ran.

For the VW, I'd suggest cleaning it inside and out, but not putting money in for the repairs, as long as it runs, except maybe the wipers -- that's a safety issue for the winter.

In the ads, be honest but positive. List the features, not the problems, and end with a subdued indication of the car's imperfections. eg: "1999 VW Jetta Wolfsburg, 140k, [auto or 5-spd], stereo, clean interior, etc etc etc, needs minor work, $XXXX obo." When asked, you mention the problems, but not in an OMG SO SCARY!!!! kind of way. Just matter of fact, "yeah it has some minor issues, and that's why I've priced it to sell."

People buy beater cars all the time, and as long as you are realistic on price they shouldn't be hard to sell. But it's easy to overprice cars like this -- look at what similar cars are being advertised locally, and look at what else someone could buy for the same money.

Advertise in the local paper and Craigslist, and check if your town has one of those free classified "Nickle Ads" or "Wheel Deals" weekly newsprint classified papers that get distributed to diners and grocery store entrances. If you aren't getting serious interest in the first week, drop the price. Does your town have a place (often out in front of a grocery store) where people park cars for sale? If so, park the car there with a sign in the window.

When someone comes by to look at the car, and they want to talk price, ask "do you have cash in fist?" before negotiating. People will negotiate on price, and then say, "ok, well, I'll think about it," and then try to lowball you even more a few days later. Don't get into price negotiations unless the person is claiming to have the money ready to spend. Just say that the price is negotiable and that you can talk specifics when the cash is on the table.

(Lastly, those are pretty new cars to be effectively disposable now -- I hope you aren't going to sink lots of cash into a new car to have it deteriorate so quickly.)
posted by Forktine at 9:30 PM on October 28, 2008

For car 1: get it jump started. If it runs, then you know it's a battery / alternator problem.

If it doesn't run, either bite the bullet and somehow get it to a mechanic for an inspection and estimate, or bring it to Pick-n-Pull (a junkyard that seems to give the best prices for beaters).
posted by zippy at 9:56 PM on October 28, 2008

Best price of the junkyards, that is.
posted by zippy at 1:00 AM on October 29, 2008

As everyone else has said, the non-running issue is huge. If a buyer can't drive it away then you're stuck selling to people who both can and want to tow it away, which is a very small pool of people.

The Ford is probably nearly worthless as-is. I would (as Zippy suggested) start by trying to jump it. If the problem is the battery, you can invest $60 and increase the car's value by hundreds. If jumping it doesn't work, prepare to practically give the thing away. If it both doesn't run and the brakes are so bad that it would be unsafe to drive if it did run, give it away.

It's probably worth having a good shop - even a VW dealer - spend a little time trying to find the Jetta's electrical problem. Unless rodents have been shredding the whole wiring harness, getting it to run consistently would probably be well worthwhile.
posted by jon1270 at 4:04 AM on October 29, 2008

Have you thought about using them as trade ins at a dealership? I did this and had a good experience. I traded in an old Mercury Topaz that I bought a few years earlier for about $500 and got $1100 for the trade in. I have no illusions about what they thought the car was worth- this was part of the bargaining process. But a dealership can get some value out of a car, either from the parts or by prettying it up and selling it for auction, so it can be a good tool as you negotiate with a dealer for a new car. Many dealerships will even guarantee that you'll get a minimum amount for a trade in, like $1000. If your cars reliably turn on and run, you could get even more.

This tactic allowed me to get a relatively new (but still used) car that was on the lot for $12,900 down to about $9,700. It's about like I got a private sale price, but I got a clean car, a year and a half warranty, and free oil changes for a year. Worth looking into. I'm sure someone can suggest a reputable dealership around Chicago (go for the new car places that happen to sell some used cars, not a straight up used car place).
posted by ohio at 4:47 AM on October 29, 2008

Oh, and for the cash for down payment issue, if you're that hard up for cash you can frame the negotiations in such a way that your trade in becomes your down payment. If you have good credit, a car dealer will do a whole lot for you to make that sale. With car sales down to nearly Model-T levels in the past few months, buyers with good credit are like crack to salespeople-- they'll do anything to get you. (If you don't have good credit, still worth a try!)
posted by ohio at 4:50 AM on October 29, 2008

Have you thought about using them as trade ins at a dealership?

This is not a bad suggestion at all. The other year I bought a used car at a dealership, and while sitting there with the salesman waiting for someone to finish printing some paperwork, I asked him about this, because they had one of those signs up about guaranteeing $1000 for a trade in.

He said that yes, sometimes people will tow in one or two junkers, and indeed they will get the minimum guaranteed trade in, but that the quid pro quo is that the sale will happen for close to the asking price -- you don't both get to offload the junkers and bargain them way down on the price. And that makes some sense -- there are advantages to doing the trade in for the buyer (including sales tax discounts in some states), while they just send the junkers straight to the junkyard, and still have to make an overall profit on the deal.

Anyway, you need to do your math and make sure the overall deal is good for you, but it is something to consider.
posted by Forktine at 6:19 AM on October 29, 2008

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