Best used car ad ever.
October 31, 2005 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Help me write an amazing ad for my used car to sell it really, really fast - I'm moving abroad in two weeks. Lots of questions.

I'm moving to Poland in a few weeks and need to get as much money as possible for what I've got left. The car is the biggest thing I'm selling, but for a variety of unforseeable reasons, the car's gone unsold and unadvertised.

It's a great car that's fun to drive, but it's got some issues - occasional knocks, squeaks, and rattles, a persistent "check engine" light which refuses to back down even after the car's been checked out, and a few minor paint chips/scratches. Other than that, it's mechanically sound and has been reasonably well-maintained, but it's been in college with me, so it wasn't garaged or washed every week or anything like that. Also, it's a manual, so there's that.

I know where to list it - Craigslist, the local newspapers, et cetera - but I need to know how to make the ad sizzle. What's the best angle for photos? Should I pimp the great gas mileage more? What about eBay or a place like Carmax, which, as I understand it, will just make an offer on whatever you bring them and pay you right there? (Carmax car-buying link:

Most of all, how do I convince a buyer that *this* car is right for them? I know very little about cars, and while I'm the second owner, I don't know how it was maintained for the 40k-odd miles before I bought it (with the help of my dad and a car-wholesaler neighbor). I've got some service records, but not receipts from oil changes or anything like that. What's the protocol on possible buyers wanting to take it to a mechanic and test-drive it? Can I ask for cash only? What about an ad would make you jump at this if you saw it?

Here's what I've got so far:

1998 [not-exactly-popular Japanese make] [model] GL Wagon $[less than Blue Book for its "clean/good" condition], OBO
Stick, 74k miles, 30+ mpg, clean int/ext, AC, CD, big storage, new eng/trans! Moving, must sell ASAP!

Am I sunk? I don't have a lot of money to work with, but I've got lots of time in the next few days to clean/fix up/maintain what I can.

On preview:
1. I live in Orange County, CA , so if you've got location-specific advice, awesome.
2. I hope this isn't interpreted as me trying to use AskMeFi to sell my car, which would be shady and regrettable. I've deleted the make, model, and price but can put them back in if people want that.
3. Sorry if this is super-long, but I'm getting nervous and panicky.
posted by mdonley to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to sell it quickly, what matters more than anything else is to make it cheap. That said, I'd guess in your area most used cars go to kids (or possibly wives) so think of what people would want in that case -- runs smooth, reliable, etc.
posted by dagnyscott at 2:29 PM on October 31, 2005

Use a lot of nicely lit (no flash) photos, and before you take them, detail your car. Not wash and vacuum, DETAIL. Wash it, buff it, wax it, shine the tires and any trim, dress all the interior vinyl, clean the doorjambs, wash the windows, etc. There is a reason why car dealerships pay don't put used cars on the lot untill they are detailed. It will sell faster if it looks as good as possible.
posted by bradn at 2:30 PM on October 31, 2005

I was in a similar situation, and I ended up selling it back to the dealer. I ended up getting less money than selling it to a private party, but they cut me a check within 24 hours.

I don't know if putting "must sell ASAP" would draw a lot of people attempting to take advantage and low-ball you on the price.
posted by falconred at 2:31 PM on October 31, 2005

I sold my '98 Mits Eclipse to Carmax - the one in Irvine no less. It had damage to the door and quarterpanel, the roof didn't go back properly and had a couple of holes in it, 2 speakers were blown, the interior had seen better days, it had 68K on the clock and they gave me 5 grand. It takes 40 minutes for them to do the appraisal and if you like their price and have your documents with you, they'll write you a check on the spot. Also, their offer is good for 7 days/ 200 miles so you can give it some thought if you want.
posted by forallmankind at 2:49 PM on October 31, 2005 has a page with a bunch of tips on how to sell your car, although it's skewed a bit toward selling you an ad package.
posted by lynda at 3:05 PM on October 31, 2005

I was in a sort-of-similar situation (selling a one-year-old car before leaving the country), and I also put in my ad "I'm moving to Africa!" My reasoning is that it helped people believe that it's not a lemon, but rather a nice car that I have a legitimate reason to sell.
posted by handful of rain at 3:15 PM on October 31, 2005

Throw in something cool and free to them, cheap to you (new floor mats? a year's subscription to Car and Driver?)
Or you could pretend it was haunted, that the face of Jesus can be seen in the carpeting, or that your wife made you sell it in some long and overly complicated story. That always works on eBay...
posted by GaelFC at 4:54 PM on October 31, 2005

First thing you need to know is that it is NOT legal to sell a car in CA without a valid SMOG certificate. They stay valid for 90 days and it is the sellers responsibility to get it done. The new owner has to have this to register the car. Your car will not pass smog if the "Check Engine" light stays on so you most likely NOT be able to sell this car till you get that fixed: maybe a dealer would take it, I don't know.

There are a lot of "as is" cars on craigslist but if you look you will notice that they do not normally sell fast, if at all.
posted by fshgrl at 6:16 PM on October 31, 2005

Best answer: My advice would be to quickly and cheaply try and work out as many wrinkles as possible, then take some nice pictures.

  1. Run a can of Seafoam through the intake. There's a specific way of doing this, and I wouldn't want you to screw up, so if you want details just ask. This should clean out the top end of your engine and get rid of any start-up engine ticks. There's a lot of snake oil for sale out there, but this stuff really works at smoothing out engines.
  2. Clean your car. Don't just take it to a car wash. Get some Meguiars Paint Restorer, a couple of old towels and a couple hours under a shady tree and go to town. Your car will look brand new for any potential buyers. Then vacuum up the interior.
  3. Find out whatever's causing the check engine light and fix it, pronto! This alone will knock at least a couple hundred off what you might get for the car. If your car is otherwise functioning properly, it's almost guaranteed that the problem is exhaust/emissions related: an EGR valve, an O2 sensor, a clogged catalytic converter... get it fixed.
  4. Photography advice:
    • photograph the car on an overcast day, or park under a large bunch of shady trees.
    • Minimize background clutter (everyone seems to ignore this, but it makes an enormous difference). That means no other cars in the background. If you can manage it, park on the grass somewhere, or in front of a beach. The idea is "giant wash of color in background/foreground that doesn't distract."
    • Stay away from flashes unless it's a really bright day and you need to fill in the shadows.
    • Use a polarizing filter if you have one to kill reflections.
    • Shoot low! Cars always look better when shot from crouching positions.
    • Turn the wheels in the opposite direction of where you're shooting so you can see the rims (old car-shooting tip.)
    • You can never have enough photos. NEVER. The more photos you have, the more likely you'll sell your car.
  5. Get a pbase account or something (free) to host the photos so you can quickly give someone a website with all the pertinent info. This is a great way to "bulk up" any ads you place--just put the basics in the description, then interested parties can get tons more details online. I can't tell you how simple and overlooked this is... it's infuriating to see all these car ads that don't have links to online pictures or information... it's free after all!
Hope this helps...
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:42 PM on October 31, 2005 [8 favorites]

Civil_Disobedient nailed most of it; pictures pictures pictures. As handful of rain mentioned, state not just that you're moving, but that you're moving out of the country - just sounds like a more valid reason to be hastily selling than if they think you're moving across town. I'd give as much detail as you can (in the ad) regarding service history etc - put it in a second paragraph so you don't clutter up the basics. If someone sees the make, model and options and is interested, they can read on. This might help prevent "interested" parties from contacting you with a week's worth of back and forth questions and answers before they drop off the face of the earth. Be prepared for this anyway, as well as for the distinct possibility that it may not sell before you've got to go. Have a backup plan like Carmax, or better yet, two or three backup plans, and don't wait until the last two days to use them. If I were you I'd definitely check out fshgrl's info regarding smog certs for CA. You may end up having to do something you haven't even considered, like donating it to a non-profit in a neighboring state for nothing more than a tax write-off.
posted by attercoppe at 9:21 PM on October 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks guys! I'm leaving in the morning, and after agreeing to sell the car to a lucky college student on Friday.

Civil_disobedient's advice, especially regarding the Meguiar's Paint Restorer (that stuff is amazing!) and putting oodles of photos online helped the most, so it's been marked best answer, though everyone gave great tips (and GaelFC, I threw in my folding reflective sunshield).

Whoo AskMeFi!
posted by mdonley at 1:42 AM on November 14, 2005

Response by poster: Er, minus that first "and." Some English teacher I'll make.
posted by mdonley at 1:43 AM on November 14, 2005

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