How to write a good used car ad…

For the last few weeks I’ve been shopping on-line for a new (to us) used car. And in the process of doing so, I’ve looked at hundreds of ads for cars within a 2-3 hour driving distance of our home in Groveland, California.

The bulk of my shopping has been via craigslist (of course) and I’ve found that a surprisingly number of sellers are either remarkably lazy or don’t know what basic information to include to to answer the obvious questions that most buyers are likely to have. This is especially true in the realm of cars with a salvage title (which can be a good deal).

So, in no particular order, I present a list of tips to for use car sellers. This is not at all specific to craigslist, but it certainly would hurt of more sellers there paid attention to these.

When selling a car on-line, it’s helpful if you:

  1. Include photos of the interior and exterior. If you can’t be bothered to snap a few pics, I’m assuming the car has issues with appearance and won’t give it a second thought.
  2. Make sure the photos are in focus and up-right. It only takes a few seconds to get right.
  3. Note any un-repaired damage. This stuff will come up anyway when the buyer comes to see it and realizes why the price is lower than expected.
  4. Say whether or not you’re the original owner. If you’re the only owner and have taken good care of it, say so in your ad.
  5. Specify the “trim package” so one can tell the difference between “Honda Accord DX” and “Honda Accord EX.” There’s a difference and it’s worth some real money.
  6. Include the VIN so that a potential buyer can do their homework before pestering you, busy seller. You ma not know this, but sites like AutoCheck and CarFax are really handy.
  7. In the case of a salvage car, offer to provide pictures of the damage and the name of the body shop that did the repair work (seriously, put yourself in the buyer’s shoes for a minute).
  8. Actually respond to emails when sellers contact you with questions. You do want to sell it, right?
  9. Describe what routine maintenance has or has not been done (tires, brakes, timing belt, water pump, oil/fluids, etc.)

#8 is particularly amazing. I, as “cash in hand” buyer looking to replace an aging car, got NO RESPONSES to 75% of the sellers I contacted via email. And I wasn’t asking any difficult questions.

The bottom line is that the more detail you can include in the ad, the more sellers are likely to pay attention, trust you, and want to deal with you. Don’t make the seller have to ask a dozen questions.

This will come as no surprise, but the car we ended up buying was from a seller who posted an ad with lots of detail, good pictures, and was very prompt to reply via email (including taking a few additional pictures we asked for).

Thanks car sellers!

About Jeremy Zawodny

I'm a software engineer and pilot. I work at craigslist by day, hacking on various bits of back-end software and data systems. As a pilot, I fly Glastar N97BM, Just AirCraft SuperSTOL N119AM, Bonanza N200TE, and high performance gliders in the northern California and Nevada area. I'm also the original author of "High Performance MySQL" published by O'Reilly Media. I still speak at conferences and user groups on occasion.
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