Last week I sold my used car in three days. Not bad for my first attempt at selling a bunch of 18-year-old bolts on four decent wheels. The fast sale was a bit of a surprise, especially since my used car wasn’t anything special to look at, had a bit of rust, and didn’t smell great — kind of like me after drinking too much vino. I digress.

Anysoldclunker, there comes a time when we all need to sell our well-loved automobiles. When the rubber hits the road, most of us would like to sell sooner rather than later, and at minimal cost. Besides, keeping lots of cash tied up in a clunker isn’t exactly a fun ride for anyone’s wallet.

To help you get your motor running and your car off the lot, I’ve put together this little 5-Step Guide to help you sell your car sooner and still score some cash from the deal. (For buyers, see How To Buy a Used Car.) Here’s how to sell your used auto using free online car classifieds:

1. Get Your Facts Right

I’ve bought a few used cars in my lifetime, and what turns me off faster than a dead battery is when the owner doesn’t know squat about the car they’re selling.

What’s the mileage? How often was the oil changed? Did your kid ever pee in the back seat?

This is all important stuff to know. And you’d better get your facts straight and your battery recharged before inviting prospective buyers over to take your ride for a spin. Knowing your vehicle inside and out is a sure-fire way to instill confidence in a buyer and entice them to drive away with your deal.

Here’s a list of features to know:

  • year, make, model, trim level
  • mileage on vehicle
  • average gas mileage (see Gas Mileage Calculator for help)
  • maintenance records
  • mechanic’s contact number
  • accident history
  • power features (windows, locks, mirrors)
  • tire wear, winter tires, rims
  • air conditioning, heating features
  • transmission (auto, manual)
  • fuel type (gas, diesel)
  • air bags
  • stereo system features
  • sunroof, moon roof
  • interior/exterior condition
  • VIN number (buyers may want to run a CARFAX)

Tip: If you’re not sure about your car’s features, then take a look at the owner’s manual. Chances are all the marketable features are listed in the index. Big love to all technical writers.

Check out the Gas Efficient Car Calculator to see if your current used car measures up to a newer model or cut your fuel consumption using these 10 Ways to Save Money on Gas.

Also, think about your ideal buyer — who is most likely to buy such a car? A new driver, a family, a single person, or a senior? Get your facts right to market your ride to the ideal buyer and watch them drive away with a smile.

2. Price Your Car Right

Yes, you probably love your car and have had some good times driving it around town. Butt (with two t’s) sentimental value doesn’t translate into a sale. Cars are not priced based on your emotional attachment, they are priced based on value to the buyer.

So how do you set the price right to get your car to move? Easy. Grab your used car feature list and surf on over to a bevy of beautiful internet web sites. Online classified sites like Kelley Blue Book, Craigslist, Kijiji, and even Ebay can give you some serious insight into the going rates on comparable vehicles.

Doing your homework by researching both the online and local newspaper classifieds is the way to roll before pricing your ride. When you’ve found the right price range for your car’s make, model, and year, be sure to factor these features into your selling price:

  • Mileage: less distance equals more dollars.
  • Condition: is the interior clean or stained and is the roof rusted?
  • Special features: dog fur is not a special feature, but heated seats are a win for winter climates.

Other important factors that determine your car’s selling price are: gas mileage (how much does it cost to fill the tank and how far can you go?), vehicle location (a winter-driven car may not last as long), and who the driver was. Lady driven vehicles seem to market well, but it could also mean that the clutch is kaput. Yep, I’m a lady driver and I’ve killed a clutch. Expensive lesson learned. 🙂

Before settling on your selling price, make note of any mechanical or cosmetic upgrades and raise your price realistically. Is your vehicle still under warranty, does it come with upgraded rims, a rebuilt engine, a new transmission, a snazzy paint job, custom heated seats, or is the interior freshly detailed? Always keep this paperwork handy with all receipts and show all prospective buyers the goods.

Lastly, once you’ve found a fair price, go ahead and boost it by a hundred or two. Giving your buyers some negotiating room makes everyone feel good.

3. Write a Killer Online Classified

A well written advertisement has the power to sell your car, fast. Zoom! Plus, crafting a great classified the first time will help you target prospective buyers, saving you time by dealing with only relevant callers and emailers. A poorly written online classified won’t compete well with similarly listed vehicles.

5 Used Car Classifieds Do’s:

Write your classified ad right to sell your used auto fast.

  1. Get the title right. Put your car’s make, model, year, price, and mileage in the title. Get qualified interest from the start.
  2. List the selling features. Remember that list of features from earlier? Include these selling points in your classified ad.
  3. Put your buyer in the driver’s seat. Describe who the perfect driver is for your used car. For example: A real gas miser of a car, perfect for a budget conscious driver or a student. Four wheel drive keeps you going in the cold, snowy winter months.
  4. Set negotiating terms. If the price is firm, then say so. Used car classifieds often use these terms to describe pricing: firm, obo (or best offer), negotiable, and must sell.
  5. Post a pretty photo. Classified ads with photos help buyers connect to the car. Take clear shots of the exterior and interior to show the goods. And only post clear shots. Photos snapped on a cloudy day have less glare.

5 Used Car Classifieds Don’ts:

Watch out for these big mistakes when writing auto classifieds.

  1. Don’t list multiple ads with different prices. Want to weaken the sale, undermine trust, and confuse the heck out of shoppers? Then list multiple ads across many used car classified sites and ask for different prices.
  2. Don’t photograph a messy car. Mess happens, but don’t post a photo if your car is dirty, filled with crap, or covered in dog hair. Get your car detailed or clean the car yourself.
  3. Don’t lie. Don’t waste buyer’s time by trying to hide minor accidents, mechanical failures, or baby barf. If buyer’s take a whiff of a stinky CARFAX report, your deal is done. Misrepresenting the truth hurts your credibility.
  4. Don’t overprice or change the price frequently. Buyers watch online classifieds for competing deals — so don’t go switching your price every few days to gauge interest. You won’t look legitimate.
  5. Don’t ignore phone calls or emails. If you don’t have time to answer calls or reply to emails, then don’t list your car in multiple classified ads. A prompt reply shows buyers you value their interest.

Here’s the online classified for my little used car.

used car classifieds

How could I have improved it? Easy. Posting a few photos of the clean interior would have enticed more interest, but since the car was priced right it sold in three days.

4. Advertise Your Car

I sold my 18-year-old Subaru Justy using free online classifieds. Here are the most popular options:

  • Online auto classifieds: There are a number of online classified sites that allow car owners to sell their used car for free. Your country, state, province, or region may have a specific site tailored for your market — so ask your friends or query Facebook for the classified site nearest you. The most popular free online auto classified sites are: Craigslist, Autotrader, Kijiji, and Facebook Marketplace.
  • Local newspaper classifieds: A printed ad will cost you a few bucks, so be sure to target your car correctly by getting the listing under the right make, model, and year.
  • Tweet on Twitter: If you’re into tweeting on Twitter, then go ahead and broadcast the sale to your followers. If your ad has a bit of humor, you may just get retweeted. See 5 Ways Twitter Can Make You Rich for some helpful tweeting tips or follow @Squawkfox.
  • Add a For Sale sign: If you’re still driving your well-loved auto, then post a FOR SALE sign on the rear window. Be sure to write your contact information clearly.

These are just a few ideas. Do you have a favorite online classified site to share?

5. Close the Deal

Know how you would like to receive payment before showing your used car to online buyers. Knowing your payment terms in advance can help defray any uncomfortable moments during the sale. Payment options include: personal check, cash, PayPal, or even via credit card.

This is also the time to stand firm on your price. If you’ve left yourself some wiggle room on your asking price, then go ahead and let your buyer knock you down a few bucks. During my car sale the buyer wanted to go lower than $1,600, but I didn’t budge on my price. I had a number of interested parties and I knew that my asking price was priced below other similarly listed vehicles in my area. So I stood my ground citing that the car was already priced for a fast sale.

If your buyer makes a reasonable offer, be prepared to say yes. Should a buyer offer a ridiculous amount, then don’t be afraid to decline the offer. Thank them for their time and move along to you next appointment, but be sure to leave them with your contact information in case they change their mind. It happens all the time after a “cooling off” period.

Lastly, be aware of your region’s paperwork requirements. Get copies of title transfer documents and environmental certifications to help close the deal on the spot.

Squawkback: Got any tips for selling a used car?