Turns out selling a car is a nightmare.
May 22, 2010 4:52 PM   Subscribe

How do I ditch my old car without taking a bath?

My AskMe history shows a long series of car travails involving my SUV. It's a '97 Mountaineer with cosmetic flaws, but low mileage. (I'm not trying to sell it to you, dear reader.) It's a little busted looking but it runs.

Nonetheless (probably because it's a gas guzzler), it's been sitting on Craigslist for over two months with barely a nibble, and I've gradually lowered my asking price to 2/3 of the Blue Book. The insurance to keep it on the street is a fair chunk of wasted money, and pretty soon it'll need new tags.

I've been seriously considering driving 11 hours to the CarMax in Sacramento, selling it, and catching a cheap bus home just to get it off my hands. Am I going to get screwed by doing something like that? Would I be better off selling it to a local dealer? It seems like most used car dealers aren't interested in anything older than a 2000 model, and I don't even know if CarMax would buy a car like that. What's the best way to move it, quickly?
posted by zvs to Work & Money (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The car will sell for what it is worth on the market. Keep lowering the price until someone accepts it. I suspect you'll get more for it doing that than taking it to a dealer or wholesaler.
posted by HuronBob at 5:21 PM on May 22, 2010

Best answer: There is one that recently sold on eBay for $2k (1998, 118k mi, Rhode Island).

If your asking considerably more than that, reconsider.

If your asking less, eBay it.

The Mountaineer is a nicer Ford Explorer. Check what those are going for locally, and don't price more than 10%-15% over them. Someone who is in the market for a 1997 SUV probably doesn't care that its a Mountaineer vs anything else.

On my local Craigslist things either sell almost immediately (2-3 days), or don't sell.
posted by SirStan at 5:32 PM on May 22, 2010

Best answer: You have several things going against you. First, it is a 13 year old gas guzzler. Second its "a little busted looking...". Third and probably most important, you seem to be 11 hours away from a functioning car market. With its age and cosmetic issues, I doubt CarMax would want it. I would certainly give them a call before hauling out there.

You mention that you have lowered your price to 2/3 of the Blue Book value. What value is this? Kelly and others value a car based upon reasonable condition considering only "normal" wear and tear. Have you gone through the tedious exercise of adding and deducting for equipment, cosmetic condition, etc. My guess is that 2/3 of base wholesale value for an ugly SUV may well be too high still.

Let's look at your needs. Do you need to keep it on the street? Would you be able to put it into Non-op status and lower your insurance or are you still using it as a daily driver? Have you looked at similar vehicles on places like ebay and Auto Trader? Would you consider selling it on ebay? With a few safeguards on your part, ebay is no more risky than Craigslist and it offers a much wider audience. If some guy in Sacramento wanted to look at your SUV because he saw it in the Auto Trader there, would you be willing to drive half-way there to show it to him?

Just some thoughts.
posted by Old Geezer at 5:32 PM on May 22, 2010

As far as I know, CarMax will make an offer on any car. It's just that they may (and probably will) offer you very little. The problem is driving 11 hours and taking a cheap bus back sounds awful, especially if you don't get much, if anything, out of it. If it were close, I'd recommend CarMax for any one that wanted to dump a car quickly. I got my car appraised there, and it was pretty painless. I had an offer within 30 minutes. (However, I ended up selling my car to a friend instead.)

If I were you, I would lower the price on craigslist and see how much the local dealers offer. You might consider CarMax as a last resort.
posted by aloysius on the mixing boards at 5:42 PM on May 22, 2010

Response by poster: Unfortunately, I do have to keep it on the street, otherwise I would no doubt ditch the insurance... I live in the city and have no driveway or garage. It's actually cheaper than equivalent vehicles on Craigslist, although those aren't selling either, I suppose.

The Kelley blue book is the "fair" condition, which seemed to describe it pretty accurately ("cosmetic or body issues, good running order" or some phrase like that).

I guess I need to keep dropping the price until it falls into that 'sells in 3 days' category. This is a useful reality check. It was indeed over $2K. I feel like a sucker!
posted by zvs at 5:42 PM on May 22, 2010

I have no idea what your tax situation is or if you itemize your deductions, but it could be worth more to you to donate the car than sell it. The return would not be until when you file next year, but it stops the outflow now and would work as a forced savings for a year.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:50 PM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

CarMax offered me $750 for a car that I sold for $2500 on ebay. Try ebay.
posted by gjc at 6:14 PM on May 22, 2010

Have you thought about giving it to charity? Get a feel-nice feeling and a tax rightoff!

I was about to give my Geo Metro to a local non-profit radio station. Yeah, being car-free!

I think it was through one of the thrift stores - like Salvation Army, or something like that.

What they usually do is, fix it up and then auction it off.
posted by alex_skazat at 7:25 PM on May 22, 2010

Ebay - people pay stupid prices on Ebay. Also, KBB as any kind of frame of reference in the real world is worthless in my experience. Edmunds.com is better, though with a car that old, it can get very tricky and depend heavily on the local market.
posted by VikingSword at 7:53 PM on May 22, 2010

Plan to give it to charity when the next insurance or registration is due. I don't know how much you need a tax deduction, but you will get that, and you can unload the car quickly when the day arrives. In the meantime, try to sell it by lowering the price. You'll have a specific time period to get rid of it, and you'll know that you won't sink any more money into it. Lower the price in steps as the charity date approaches. How aggressively should you lower the price? It depends on how much you like the idea of giving to charity.
posted by Alizaria at 8:50 PM on May 22, 2010

Run as far away as you can from CarMax unless you're desperate to unload at any price. You definitely can do better yourself by advertising it...
posted by shoe478 at 10:43 PM on May 22, 2010

Best answer: There's only one '97 Mountaineer in the 'cars by owner' section Seattle Craigslist. Assuming it's yours, it's a pretty uninspiring ad. You've given a bulleted list of flaws, but said almost nothing re: what's good about the vehicle - no list of options, nothing about its power, comfort, cargo capacity, stereo, etc. If you want to sell it, sell it. You don't have to like the car yourself, but you have to figure out what's likable about it so you can describe it to someone who will like it.
posted by jon1270 at 3:20 AM on May 23, 2010

As far as I know, CarMax will make an offer on any car.

My wife took her 14-year-old Ford Escort to CarMax, looking slightly beat up and frankly barely driveable, and they gave her $250 for it. So, yeah, I think they'll buy anything that moves under its own power, although you'll probably get significantly more money if you put in some effort and sell it yourself.
posted by intermod at 11:22 AM on May 23, 2010

I checked out the ad that jon1270 posted. If that is indeed your ad, his advice is stellar. List everything that is good at the top of the list to hook people. You might want to fix the issue with the rear reflector, assuming that won't take very much time. Then everything you mention as a negative could be put into one sentence: " It has some minor cosmetic flaws, one of the headlights jiggles a bit in the housing (but is held in plance and works well), and the child lock is stuck on one of the back doors." That will draw less attention to its negative attributes, which are really quite minor. Then end on a good note about how reliable the car has been, etc.
posted by studioaudience at 8:24 PM on May 23, 2010

This new trade-in service from AutoTrader might be useful to you.
posted by spilon at 8:55 PM on May 23, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all. Spruced up the ad a lot by everyone's smart recommendations, dropped the price, and almost immediately got a phone call -- from a scammy reseller. Oh, well, hopefully it'll move soon.

spilon: Sadly, not available in Seattle.
posted by zvs at 2:37 PM on May 24, 2010

Nice job. That's a far better ad.
posted by jon1270 at 3:26 PM on May 24, 2010

Response by poster: Aaaand, as of earlier this week, it's gone. At a substantially lower price.
posted by zvs at 12:41 AM on July 16, 2010

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