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How-to directions for becoming your own car's salesman

By John WilsonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / April 10, 1986



TRADE it in, or sell it yourself? It depends how much effort you want to spend in order to get the full value out of your car.

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If you trade it to an auto dealer, he won't care that you've just replaced the radiator, the alternator, and the starter motor. Nor will he allow you any more against the price of your new car. On the other hand, trading can be as easy as handing over the keys. It saves time and trouble.

A private buyer, however, might be more interested in the car's repair and maintenance record -- and be willing to pay a little more for it. But if you take the sales route, you'll need to place an ad, answer phone calls, be prepared to show your car to anyone who responds to the ad, listen to their complaints and criticisms, and probably have to wheel and deal a bit to get your price. In addition, if you sell your car without first buying another, you may have to go a few days without the use of one. `Hiring' a dealer

But there is a third alternative -- consignment.

You could put your on the dealer's lot. You give him a nominal assignment fee, and then so much a day until the car is sold. In effect you rent the space on his lot and hire him as a commissioned salesman. When the car is sold, you pay the dealer either a flat fee or a percentage of the sales price.

You decide the base price below which you won't sell, and you have the right to refuse any negotiated figure unless you've agreed to it. You also retain the right to remove your car at any time with no loss to you other than the original assignment fee and the per-diem amount agreed upon.

But before you assign your car or offer it for sale yourself, you need to do a little legwork and find out what your car would sell for on the used-car lot of any of the local dealers. Visit them with your car and find out what they will give you on it, as a trade. After two or three stops, you'll get a good idea of what they will pay.

At the same time, if you check on what similar models to yours are selling for on their lots, you will learn what their mark-up is. If you price your car somewhere in between, you will be offering prospective buyers a bargain and still be getting more for it than if you simply traded it in. Writing a good ad

Next you'll need to advertise.

There's a talent to writing a good ad, one that pulls. In writing yours, include the make and model, its best feature, condition, price, and something to pique a buyer's interest. Example: ``Mustang, 1968 convertible, new top, one owner, $2,200, a cream puff, but must have larger car. Call 777-7777 after six.''

Put a ``for sale'' sign with your telephone number in the rear windows on both sides. Try advertising in ``shoppers'' newspapers, on university bulletin boards, and on radio shows that have a listener's market program, as well as the local newspaper.

You may sell the car from the very first call you get, or you may have many inquiries but no buyer. If you run your ads twice and this still happens, you most likely are overpricing. In that case, you can either lower the price or spruce up your car to get the price you want. Cleaning the car

Experts in the field will tell you that as little as $50 and some elbow grease, properly invested, can bring any car that is not rusted out or badly damaged up to salable condition.

Start by cleaning the car from bumper to bumper and giving it a wax-wash. While at the do-it-yourself car wash, cover the distributor and alternator tightly with plastic wrap and use a soap-wash to clean the entire motor and engine compartment. This alone will give the impression of a well-cared-for motor. Then rinse, remembering afterward to remove the plastic wrap before starting the motor.

Back home again, clean the inside of the car and cover, repair, or spray paint every blemish you find. Tape small cuts in the upholstery with matching vinyl tape. If the car has a vinyl top, touch it up by spraying it with the same color vinyl paint (after taping around the edges for neatness).

Finally, have the car tuned up if needed.

Before showing it to a prospective buyer, bring the oil up to mark and make sure that the water in the radiator isn't low. The buyer may judge your care of the car by such items.

Then polish your sales technique. Remember, you do have several advantages over the used-car salesman. Generally, buyers will tend to trust you more than him. And you have quite a bit more information about your car to share than any dealer. You know how old the battery is, what new parts you've installed, what kind of realistic gas mileage the car gets -- and, most important, its weaknesses. Signing the agreement

Let's suppose that you and the buyer have a meeting of the minds and he agrees to take it off your hands, what do you do next?

If he pays you in cash, you should still write out a sales agreement in duplicate and have both copies signed and dated. If something goes wrong with the car he may come back to get his money. On the other hand, if you have a sales agreement that specifies ``sold as is,'' he has no recourse.

If the buyer wants to pay by check, be cautious. What will you do if the check bounces and he has your car? Work out a solution with the buyer. Whatever you do, don't hand over the keys or the pink slip until the deal is settled and you have your money.

On the other hand, if you still owe money on the car, and he wants to pay you by check, you both have something to lose. In that case, it's best for you both to meet at his bank to pick up the money, and then go together to the lender to pay that off and get the pink slip.