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How to sell your car: 5 tips

A motoring expert reveals the five steps to selling a car

Updated

Selling a car can seem like a daunting task. There's the advertising, the endless phone calls and emails, viewings and paperwork to handle. However, it doesn't need to be that difficult.

Learn five tips to make the task a doddle, from an experienced motoring enthusiast who has sold dozens of vehicles over the years – from normal daily drivers to vintage, high-value classics.

Tip 1: Prepare your car

Start by preparing the car. It's a good time to walk around and evaluate the car's mechanical condition and see how well the bodywork is fairing. If there's anything major (depending on the value of your vehicle) it could be worth having it repaired to restore the paint. However, on an old banger, it's probably better to just give it a quick once over. Make some notes on condition, they'll come in useful when you're writing your ad later.

Here's how to prepare the car:

  • Clean your car. Remove all loose items and rubbish in your car, vacuum the carpets and seats, giving it a thorough interior valet. You can buy cheap kits of the products you'll need to make your passenger cabin clean and fresh. Wash the car externally too. Wax and polish it and use tyre blackener. Little touches like this can add dollars back on to the car. Some sellers might even clean the engine bay and have chipped wheels repaired, again this depends on the market you're selling to. If it's a classic or high-value vehicle, it may be worth doing this.

    Don't forget to clean out of sight places like the sills, under the bumpers, the boot surround and the underside of the bonnet. It's also a good idea to add a pleasing fragrance to the passenger compartment, nothing too strong or obvious, but it can make a difference.

    If you're a smoker, air the car out and don't smoke in the vehicle before the sale. If you're short on time or want to really present your car at its best, consider having a mobile car valeter come and give it a professional deep clean. This is known as detailing (some companies do a pre-sale cleaning deal) and prices vary from $99 for a basic package, right up to triple digits or more for a complete detail. Depending on your car's value, condition and the expected return you might have:

    • Cloudy/hazy headlights restored
    • Machine polish – a more intensive polish that adds a deep lustre, by cutting back the topcoat of paint
    • Paintless dent removal – a quick and clean way of taking out damage, or minimising it
    • Paint correction – touching up and blending chips and marks into surrounding paint
    • Leather interior conditioned
    • Stain removal
    • Interior and exterior plastics trim dressing
    • Tar, bug and sap removal
    • Clay barring – for taking out bits of trash and contaminants from paint

    After all that, your car will look as best as it possibly could, just like it did in the showroom.

  • Check the fluids and tyre air pressure. Exacting buyers will check things like the oil, fluids and the condition of the tyres. They want to determine how well the car has been cared for and also anticipate any potential mechanical problems or looming repair bills. Because of that, it's wise to top up your fluids. On higher value cars, it would be desirable to have a full-service history, without any outstanding jobs. You should follow our 31 car maintenance tips checklist to get yours into top condition.
  • Get your paperwork together. Make sure you have your logbooks, along with any receipts and records of services and work you've had carried out. If you have a history report for your car it's also a great time to find it so that prospective buyers can take a look. For classic cars, any photos, trophies or press/magazine coverage are also great. Documentation of restoration work is a must, to build up provenance.

Tip 2: Set a price

Deciding on a price for your car is a key step in the sales process. The price will determine how much interest you get and also pre-qualify the leads. Ideally, you'd want to set a price which isn't too low or too high. When a car is too cheap, buyers may worry there are faults or some other reason for the discount and when it's too high, you'll scare the majority of buyers away.

There are two great resources for helping you decide on what price you should sell your car for:

  • Existing advertisements. Search for your model on websites such as Carsales, Trading Post, eBay and Drive. Try to find cars with similar kilometres, transmission types and trim (and in similar condition approximately). Note what prices they're going for. This will help you establish a maximum and minimum price.
  • Car valuation databases. Resources such as Red Book are great for learning the values of cars, both new and used.

Once you've done your research, decide on a price and then add a few hundred dollars on top of it so you can knock it down if needed. Everyone likes a bargain.

Tip 3: Create your advert

If you had a good look at car advertisements similar to your own when figuring out a price, you'll hopefully have seen how their advertisements were written and have one or two good examples to base your own on.

The golden rule for car advertising is to be clear, upfront and concise. Withholding information buyers expect, such as a car's odometer reading, will just make them suspicious and move on to the next car.

Buyers want to know:

  • Odometer readings. How many kilometres it's travelled.
  • Trim and specs. Details about the engine and key features, paint colour.
  • Remaining warranty and registration information.
  • Reason for selling. If you're simply buying a new car, tell them so, you don't have to go into too much detail.
  • Tell them how you've used it. If it's a ute, did you use it for towing? Do you travel very little in it? Is it garaged? Are you a smoker or pet owner?
  • Repair and servicing history. How well have you looked after the car? Have you had any major and expensive mechanical faults remedied already? Have you replaced pricey consumables like the tyres, brakes, engine belts and bearings on higher mileage cars? This helps the buyer predict if they'll need to fork out money in the short term on repairs.
  • Any faults or problems you are aware of. Include past accident repair details.
  • Be honest. You could end up in a lot of trouble if it's proven you purposefully misled a buyer.

Don't write a sales pitch, just be straight and to the point. Buyers will really appreciate that. They don't need an overly optimistic and flowery description of a normal car, they want a direct and clear explanation of the condition and features.

Remember to check your spelling and grammar. Don't go mad with bright colours, bold type and large text. Use formatting sparingly, to assist a potential buyer in quickly scanning your ad. Exclamation marks and capital letters don't add dollars. Don't waffle and remember not everyone reading your vintage car listing will be a petrol head, so only use jargon where appropriate.

Without a doubt, photos are the most important part of a car listing. When looking to buy a car, I will skim through the key listing information and jump straight to the photos. I'll then decide if the car is worth studying in greater detail.

Take photos of your car

Cars look best when you take a 3/4 shot, with the front or rear showing prominently and the side also in view. Turn your wheels to show them off, not the tyre tread. This will make a great cover/lead image for the ad.

In addition to this, buyers will want to see several shots of the interior. Snaps of the engine bay are useful. Many take photos of the odometer. Photos of the documentation are also a good idea (though don't show details you don't want to share online).

Here is what to remember when taking photos of your car:

  • For full shots of the exterior of the car, make sure the car is within the frame of the photo.
  • Make sure you can clearly see the car in each photo.
  • Ensure the lighting is sufficient in the photos. Avoid taking photos at night unless it's a photo which you feel showcases the car in a great way. Early mornings and late afternoons can be great times to take photographs. Overcast days provide the most diffused and consistent lighting. If it has rained, wait till the car has dried off, buyers might be concerned you're hiding something.
  • Include as many images as you can, including close up shots of damage. This demonstrates you're honest and is great for attracting long-distance buyers.

The test drive

Once you have an interested buyer, they'll want to test drive the car. You might feel more comfortable meeting the buyer on neutral ground, so you're not showing them your home and possessions. The buyer may wish to take the car to a mechanic to get it inspected. They'll be also looking to see how your car rides, and if there are any unusual noises, sensations or tracking problems.

It's important to know two things about test drives in Australia: fines and traffic infringements are the responsibility of the driver, but damage costs are usually the responsibility of the car owner.

If you feel vulnerable, have a friend or family member come along with you. Remember to also get a copy of their driver's licence and other contact details before going for a drive. Some thieves use test drives as ploys to steal cars, so this can safeguard you against this. It'll also make it easier for you to get payment in the event they cause damage. If you have to get out mid-test drive, remove the keys. Watch the buyer when they are under the bonnet, making sure they don't tamper with anything to fake a fault.

Tip 4: Negotiate and close the deal

A lot of people hate haggling. But you're in control, it's your car after all. Buyers will try to come in with a low bid, aiming to meet you somewhere in the middle of that point and the asking price.

The usual order is:

  • People will look round the car, inspecting it thoroughly.
  • They'll take it for a drive.
  • If they want it, the majority will go for it there and then, if not, they might want to go away and think on it.
  • Once they've decided to take the plunge, many buyers like to list all the things they've found wrong with it in order to hammer the price down.

If you're not in the mood for haggling, just say "no" to a ridiculous offer and stay quiet. This is a powerful technique, I've used it myself with demanding and cheapskate punters. It's amazing how someone who's previously stated "I can't go any higher than that" will suddenly find a secret reserve of cash. One time, I bought a car from a trader who refused to knock even a single dollar from the price. I didn't think anything less of that person, I wanted to buy the car, the price was fair and, at the end of the day, it's a business deal.

Once you've got an interested buyer, you've both agreed on a price and the sale is complete, you'll have to fill out the relevant forms from your state transport authority to make sure the car is now in the new owner's name. This can prevent you from copping responsibility for anything related to the car which occurs after the sale.

Be on the lookout for cons from buyers who seem too good to be true, such as those offering more than the asking price, or those contacting you via email telling you they wish to buy the car from overseas. These are known scams.

Once you've sold your old car it's time to enter the car market again, but this time as a buyer. If you've already found the car you're interested in, compare car loans today and find the right option for you.

Tip 5: Get paid

It's worth putting together a simple agreement/invoice in which you state your name and address, as well as the buyer's particulars. Include the price, the registration number and key financial information. You should mark it as "caveat emptor" – buyer beware. This is an established legal understanding that so long as you've listed everything you're aware is wrong with the car, you're exonerated from blame. Specify how deposits need to be paid in this document.

The safest ways to get paid are:

  • A bank transfer. It's possible for the buyer to send you funds electronically from a banking app, or you could go into the branch to do this. Some buyers might want to pay part bank transfer, part cash.
  • Cash. As long as you can verify the banknotes are genuine, cash is always an option. Ideally, you'd meet at the bank and pay it straight in.

Compare car loans today

Picture: Shutterstock

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