Many automotive enthusiasts are fairly well-versed in the art of online "For Sale" listings posted on anything from Craigslist, to eBay, or even the perpetual dinosaur that has become AutoTrader. As someone who has been driving for about twelve years, is a deeply-rooted enthusiast, and has owned a greater volume of vehicles than years spent behind the wheel, I have become somewhat of a classifieds junkie.
Even when I don't have the cash to spend on a car, I still find myself perusing ads online or stopping to look at cars and trucks with "For Sale" signs on their windshields as they sit in open parking lots, waiting for their new owner to show up. With all of this exposure and my fairly competent working knowledge of cars, I have put together my own personal guide to what should and should not be represented when a person is selling their car independently.
Results and opinions may vary.
-The Cheap Emblem/Sticker Situation-
That is a plastic Browning Arms Company logo adhered underneath the factory F-150 logo on this otherwise clean Ford example. Half of the teenage and young adult male population in Metro Atlanta believe themselves to be rednecks, so they go to Wal-Mart and buy these cheap, plastic emblems to stick on their trucks. Why? I have no idea, but for me those are right up there with the stick-on fender vents sold at Auto Zone next to the Betty Boop floor mats. This isn't just applicable to lick-and-stick redneck chrome bits, but pretty much any aftermarket sticker or emblem you currently have on your vehicle. The next potential endorser to said vehicle's title probably doesn't share your same religious affiliation, taste in music, love of cats, or hillbilly tendencies, so removing those little sticky relics could help you gain a sale because anything "cheap" which is stuck to your paintwork may make them wonder what other cheap practices you follow with you car.
-Return Minor Modifications Back To Stock-
When I am looking at a car, I prefer they not be extensively modified, and speaking for most people I know who have shopped for a daily driver in the past, I am not alone. If the car you are selling fits into the category of being lightly modified, returning it to its stock form can actually net you a quicker sale than if someone were to see random and unrelated modifications all over the place. Chances are if you changed your stock intake plumbing to some shiny, polished ducting bound by brightly-colored silicone elbows, with that being the extent of work done under the hood, putting the factory setup back in place may instill more confidence from the buyer. The same idea goes for loud blow off valves, cosmetic lighting, "custom" tail lights and headlights, or aftermarket head units. When I buy a car, the first thing I do is change the head unit and when I make a listing to sell that car, the first thing I do is put the factory unit back in (even if it is outdated) because it was designed to look correct in the dashboard. Even when I put a factory cassette tape deck back in, it has never had an effect on the sale.
-Night Pictures/Wet Pictures-
Everyone knows that a wet appearance makes things more visually appealing in most cases. This is why most of our cars have glossy paint, phones have shiny screens, and why there is an entire industry developed around making a vehicle's tires look wet. If you are trying to sell your car, taking a picture of it as soon as you drop the hose on the ground after a wash isn't doing you any favors if the goal is trying to make the worn out paint look more glossy. I see this all the time on Craigslist ads. When the potential buyer shows up and sees patches of oxidized clear coat all over the car which had been shown as glossy, wet paint in the pictures, you have immediately lost their trust in you. This same effect can be mimicked by going to a parking lot in the pitch black dark and parking under a streetlight at the right shadow angle. Just take your pictures in the sun, following a wash, but only after being given proper drying time.
-Janky Interior Pictures-
At some point or another, we all have a mess in any car we drive daily, some more so than others. When it comes time to sell that car and you take the interior pictures, make sure you clean out the junk and trash. If nothing else, open the doors, sit your junky items outside of the car, take your pictures, and then put it all back inside. You'll have to clean it out later when someone wants to look at the car, so why not give it a nice clean out, vacuum, and maybe a shampoo before taking the pictures? If I see anything related to Ronald McDonald in bag form when looking at cars, I immediately get in the frame of mind that the owner slacks in tidyness, which means they may also slack in maintenance.
-Mud Stains And Dirt-
Cars are dirty, they just are because they roll on dirty roads. I know a very small amount of people who wash their cars every single week and do so under the hood in the same measure, but the truth is that most of us do not. The cheap fix to a dirty engine is to hose it down with so much tire shine that you can't tell the difference between driving dust and plastic, which throws a flag for me purchasing a car unless it were owned by one of the meticulous types I mentioned before and shows well on the rest of the vehicle. When I see an engine that is a little "too" clean, it makes me wonder if they are trying to cover up an oil leak or permanent stains from a romp through a mud pit. Within the same context, I have also looked at trucks and Jeeps with fresh coats of spray paint on the chassis to cover up mud stains. The spray paint smell lingers for days, but after driving around, the person who applied it usually becomes accustomed to the aroma and no longer notices. If someone is covering up mud stains and excess dirt, it makes me wonder about things like wheel bearings and tie rods which may not have been properly cleaned. In short - grab some engine de-greaser, maybe a scrub brush, and a pressure washer if you need to, but leave the tire shine for the rubber that touches the pavement.
-Not Taking Care Of "Simple" Fixes-
Ads pop up all the time saying things such as: "All it needs is a five dollar part and it will be good as new." or "The muffler has a hole in it, but you can get a new one for $20 and have it put on in half an hour.". The question is, if these fixes are so "simple" and take such minimal effort to correct, why has the owner not taken care of it before placing the ad? I can understand this if you have just put your black market, 2003 Fiat Barchetta up for sale and are having a logistical problem with sourcing a replacement door handle from Italy. However, if your eight year old Mustang GT has a broken ten-dollar side marker, and a snapped off ten-dollar dash vent, it makes the potential buyer wonder if you have kept up on the real maintenance required for your car.
-Not Mentioning Major Issues Immediately In Your Ad Or Not At All-
The above listing shows an example of a seller who has probably listed his truck properly. He kept the description to the point and mentioned the major problems right off the bat, which is the ideal way as far as I am concerned. If I am looking at an ad and spend a few minutes reading through details about the greatness that is this person's vehicle, and after that time investment read the last sentence which says "but the engine is blown", it has wasted my time. Yeah, more people will read your entire ad, but if they are not looking for a 240SX with a blown SR20 to buy at full retail value, you wouldn't have sold it to them anyway. As far as those who don't even disclose the issue, I actually drove over three hours to pick up a Jeep Wrangler the owner assured me was in great shape. When I arrived in South Carolina the Jeep looked great, ran great, but when I shifted to second gear *crunch*. When I came back, he said "You just have to learn how to drive it." I can drive with a bad synchro and it wasn't something I hadn't done before, but he never mentioned it in his ad, nor our conversations, so it made me question his integrity as a whole. I drove back to Atlanta without the Jeep and wasted an entire day, as well as gallons of diesel for the trip. The same can be said for emissions compliance. If your area requires SMOG compliance but you have somehow walked around the system, mention that in your ad or be sure your tell the potential buyer. I have also ventured out to look at cars, only to be told on arrival that it won't pass emissions compliance, but that he "knows a guy" who will SMOG it for $50. No thank you. A car isn't worth a felony.
-Don't Claim Your Stock Engine Is Something It Isn't-
I see this mostly with the GM crowd, and that isn't me being critical, because I have owned two F-Bodies myself. If you are a lover of General Motors small blocks, you have read an ad like this before:
If your engine was not installed in a Corvette (insert any other car) from the factory, you do not have a Corvette engine. Is it the same block? Sometimes, yes, but they don't carry the same tuning, exhaust, or accessories. In the case of an iron block LT1, the Corvette block was made with four bolt mains, while the rest of them were made with two bolt mains. This is a case of picking the most expensive car to use the same basic engine design as the car you are selling as an attempt to make it more appealing. It isn't a good tactic.
-Using The Word "Custom" In Your Ad Title-
Unless you are selling a 1960's-1980's era pickup truck or van which uses the word "Custom" in the model name, do not use that to describe anything about your vehicle. The end. I'm not elaborating on that. Just type that word into the Craigslist search and have fun on your journey.
To wrap this up, when in doubt, have a car-fluent friend look over your car before you place the "For Sale" ad or park it on the side of the road with a sign on it. Someone who doesn't see your car everyday will be able to pick out the little issues and imperfections you have become accustomed to living with which may put off a potential buyer. In this case, outside opinion really helps with the process and makes sure you aren't forgetful about any details and allows you to price your car according to the real world and not your own value. When I sell a car, I try to price it while taking defects into consideration, because extensive negotiating is a pain to deal with. I'm just a car guy, not a licensed dealership.
There are some exceptions to this crude list I have complied, such as the disease-infested Chevrolet Beretta our race team bought for $500 because we knew at that price there couldn't be much to the car and really nothing to negotiate since we were well aware of its junker status. This also does not apply to the 1983 Pontiac 6000 you found abandoned on a recently purchased property which had so many weeds growing through it, you originally assumed it to be a bale of hay. Again, a buyer should be able to figure out what they are getting on their own in that case when they see the jungle which has grown around it in your pictures.
So, what am I missing and where am I off base?
Let's talk about it.
Grace and Peace,