Selling your car online

A step by step guide to maximising your car’s value from an experienced Brisbane car detailer

As a professional car detailer, I specialise in pre-sale car detailing. Needless to say, I have helped hundreds of people sell their car privately online. I wrote this car selling guide as I became aware that most people asked for similar advice, so rather than repeating it every time I was asked, I created this guide to help maximise your car’s value when selling your car privately online.

Prepping the car for sale

Over a period of time, it’s natural to develop an emotional connection with your car. At the time of sale however, it’s necessary to cut emotional ties. It’s almost guaranteed that there will have been a personal touch added to the car, however they won’t suit everyone.

When it’s time to sell, you will need to remove the personal stickers and fruity air fresheners from the car. There’s solid reasoning behind the need to make your car generic once again for sale. The principle is to appeal to the mass audience, and it’s the same reason you won’t see pink seat covers on cars in a used car lot.

Another facet of removing emotional ties with your trusty car is switching your frame of mind to that of a potential buyer. Putting yourself into the buyer’s perspective will naturally prepare you for questions a seller may not inherently prepare themselves for.

Do the research

Find your car’s price index on Redbook. Getting the average sale price will give you the ball park figure of what your car is worth.

The next step is to search leading online car sale sites to check out your competition. View similar cars and see similar model/Kms/condition and write down the listed price. When researching your competition try to note cars in similar condition what the listing price is and how long the ad has been live. Use this data when considering your initial list price.

The next step is to search leading online car sale sites to check out your competition. View similar cars and see similar models/ kms/ condition and write down the listed price. When researching your competition, try to note what cars that are in a similar condition to yours are being listed as and how long the ad has been live. Use this data when considering your initial list price.

Obtaining a roadworthy certificate

In Queensland, you must have a roadworthy certificate before listing your car online for sale. The only way you can list without is if you plan on selling it unregistered, in which case, you must hand in the plates to the Department of Transport and Main Roads.

A good idea before going for the RWC is to get your mechanic to do a service before the actual RWC assessment. This will help identify any potential fails that might arise from the check, i.e. low brake pads.

This will avoid any fails on the original RWC certificate that you will need to show at time of sale. Having a first time pass on the original safety certificate will help show that the car is well maintained and mechanically sound.

Car detailing

A professional detail can cost somewhere around a couple of hundred dollars, but is money well spent. The results they achieve are very hard or impossible to replicate, particularly if completed by someone who isn’t trained in car detailing work.

The home vacuum and wash may have worked years ago, but making your car stand out from the crowd usually involves a professional touch.

I have personally detailed cars that have previously been listed for months, however, after they were brought to me and underwent a thorough car detailing service, were sold just days afterwards for more than the asking price. This clearly shows just how important presentation is, especially if you want to maximise the amount of money you get for your car.

Never state that the car has been freshly detailed as you want to portray that you always keep it clean and tidy. When potential buyers were inspecting my cars, they would say things like, “Wow it’s clean”, or “Looks spotless”. My response would be quite nonchalant and I’d even flick a tiny bit of dust off of the car seat. Works every time.

Photographing your car

Photos are hands down the most important part of your listing in terms of attracting potential buyers and standing out from your competition. The difference between a great set of photos and the generic landscape shots can be that extra thousand dollars for sale.

Use a proper camera

Phone cameras lack dynamic range and the ability to focus on areas of interest. It doesn’t have to be a professional camera but the better the camera, the better pictures you can achieve. Remember that picture sizes are usually capped at 100k or 640x480 so there is no need to shoot at maximum resolution. Using a quality camera at low resolution will give you better results. (If you don’t have a digital camera, see if you can borrow one, or if you’re lucky and live in Brisbane, we can happily take the pictures for you)

Do not use the flash

Use ambient light to illuminate your pictures. Flash photography is an artform in itself and best to avoid in this scenario. If the pictures are too dark, it's a sign that you need more light. Morning and afternoon outdoor photos will give the best results.

Pick the right time of day

Early morning or late afternoon is the best time to shoot. Avoid midday as shadows are dramatic and highlights often overexpose the pictures. It also makes sense to take photos following the professional detail, where the car is looking its best.

Fill the shot with the car

Fill the exposures with the car as there is no need for background in your car sale pictures. If you’re shooting the side of a car, don’t be scared to get up and close and take shots of just the driver's door.

Photograph any defects

Include close-up pictures of any damage to the exterior or interior. A common mistake is to leave out the scuffs and scratches in the pictures. This wastes your time and your buyers as they are eventually going to see the damage on inspection and will be left disappointed.

Interior pictures are a must

The most commonly forgotten pictures of used cars are interior pictures, but they are often the most important. The condition of a used car interior is of great importance and a huge selling point. The importance of interior presentation is huge and again, professional detailing will help achieve the best possible result.Photographing a car’s interior can be tricky, so utilising a wide angle lens or setting will help. Remember that you’re trying to give a realistic condition report so close-up pictures will set you apart from the traditional open a door and click.

Avoid direct sunlight

Taking photos in direct sunlight can cause strong shadows and highlights, so it’s a good idea to wait for a bit of cloud cover to give better results.Bright overcast days provide the best outdoor scenario with soft shadows and even lighting. Dark overcast days make the car look flat and dull, so try to avoid badly lit areas like garages or dark car parks for the same reason.

Take lots of photos

Take more photos than you think you will need, so then you will have the option of choosing the best ones. Always list the maximum amount for photos you can, as the more photos, the better. A good mix of interior and exterior photos gives a better overall picture of your vehicle.

Photograph your documents

I have found that taking a picture of all the paperwork, documents, safety certificates, spare keys and log book on a table sends a message that you are well prepared, have the correct documentation and will build confidence.

Writing a solid description

The descriptions should be objective and your aim is to list the important features concisely. Although some sites give you 2000 words in this section, I have found the most successful ads use bullet points and short paragraphs.

Why you are selling

The first point should be why you are selling so avoid long winded life stories. Simply selling due to a new addition to the family, or moving overseas are legitimate reasons. Disguising reasons such as excessive fuel consumption or it’s getting old are advised, as I have heard them all and strongly advise using my subtle reasoning such as purchased a new car and don’t have the room.

Unique selling points

List the unique selling points early in description and make them bold if you can. If the car has low km’s for its age, has had a recent major service, or only one owner, it’s good to list them straight up. I would usually put the three best USP’s first in bullet point and then a brief description following, for example:

Once you have listed your three main USPs, it is time to fill out with a bit more information. I would list any extra features and accessories that would set you apart from your competition. If your car has any optional add-ons and extras, these should be made apparent early on in description.

Remember to put the useful aspects of the car as well, stating that it has folding seats and how it’s easy to park should also be included. This will help sway buyers that are considering other makes and models.

The aftermarket options then follow, however, cheap aftermarket or inferior products should be left out of descriptions. On the other hand, quality aftermarket fitting such as bullbars, dual batteries, suspension and performance modifications should be listed in detail and where they were installed. Any warranties should be stated, but only if you have the documentation to accompany.

I distinctly remember a customer of mine that was trying to sell a used Toyota Celica. The car was in good condition and came up surprisingly well after the pre-sale detail. The issue was a cheap subwoofer box in the boot that wasn’t fixed down and had noticeable wear and tear.

It took a bit of convincing to the client to totally remove the speaker. The mentality of the seller was to keep it so they can say it has a subwoofer and subsequently add value to the car. In actual fact, because it was a cheap and inferior speaker, it actually devalued the car and gave the overall impression of being cheap and nasty. Within days of removing the speaker, the car was sold.

Personal touch

Finally, once all the objective information has been listed and explained, you can now put a bit of a personal touch. This would add emotion to your listing and will give the serious buyers something to simmer on. I would usually say something about how it’s a real head turner and you won’t find a better example.

Things like saying that it’s sad to see it go also helps get your point across that it’s a good car. Avoid overstating a regretful sale, as this term is overused. Subtle is the key, remember to put yourself into the buyer’s shoes, because you first want to read about the specifics of the car before hearing about how sad the seller is.

Deciding on a list price

This is the last step, although I commonly hear people say I need X amount for the car and that’s why I’m getting it detailed. I always reassure them that the price they will get will depend on more than how clean it is.

If you have followed all the above steps, you will have given yourself the best possible chance of maximising the sale value. However, there are still variables out of your control. You should already have a ballpark figure of your vehicle’s market price, so now you must decide whether you want a quick sale or if you’re happy to wait for the right buyer.

Listing the price too low

Listing the price too low will attract low ballers who are looking for a bargain and will cause more trouble than offering a sensible low price if you’re after that quick sale. When I say sensible, I mean that compared to your competition, you are a good 1-10% lower than similar cars in your area. Price is only one stand out, and if you’ve followed this guide, you will have a sparkling clean car, a great set of photos and an informative description that will portray your car in the best possible light.

Setting a high price initially

Setting a high price initially and then coming down is a typical tactic for people who have time on their hands. I have used this method a few times without success. The times where I was chasing a premium price, I listed high and stayed there for months. If you are looking for a substantial premium over your competition, you will need to be patient. The benefit of having a premium price is that you have a lot less tyre kickers and inspections are usually followed by offers. The downside is the waiting because finding the right buyer can take months and even years if your car’s unique.

Following the car selling guide

If you want a hassle-free quick sale, you will need to follow all the tips above as well as list a price identical or slightly lower than your competition. Remember that you will have a better chance with great photos and descriptions but you will have to be objective with how to rate other cars on sale. If the competition has lower km’s or is obviously in better condition, you will need to advertise at a discount to sway buyers towards your listing.

It is hard to get it right the first time and is why many people list high first and then come down. I do not practise the initial high price listing method anymore but will instead, research my competition rigorously and make sure I advertise the price I’m prepared to sell at.

I always think of myself as a buyer and at what price I would buy my car over the next best thing. Using this method, I do not ever list ONO (or nearest offer). This tells me straight away the seller is fishing, and you will get lowballers throwing silly offers at you. My list price is realistic and firm, and often I will actually state “no offers please”.

I update my listing weekly so that potential buyers see that the listing is recent and fresh, which also helps you quickly disregard low offers you may get. A good tip is to say that you’re not open to offers, as you only listed last week and have had many phone calls. This normally shuts lowballers down and will separate legitimate buyers straight away.

Avoiding Scammers

Whichever online car marketplace you use, be sure to read their seller safety section as this will outline the different types of scam out there and will prepare you for any fraudulent activity. I have sold plenty of cars and bikes for clients over the years and have some personal tips I can pass on to you.

If they offer to pay more than the asking price and haven’t even seen the car, It’s a probably a scam. If they want to pay via Western Union and want to send a friend to pick it up, it’s definitely a scam. If they ask for any personal details before seeing the car, I would be very careful. Asking about the car history is fine but I always insist that if they are interested, they should come have a look before going any further.

Real buyers want to see the car before offering money, so if you get offers before inspection, I would approach very carefully.

General rule is if the offer is too good to be true, it probably is. I have been offered excessive amounts over the asking price for a motorbike I was selling by a person claiming to be on an oil rig. He wanted to paypal the funds and get a courier service to pick up the bike at his cost. Obviously it was a total scam and you should be aware whenever someone offers you money when they have not seen the car.

Other forms of scams

Other types of scams are payment scams which usually involve making it look like they have paid you until you check your account. Do not hand over the keys unless you can see the money is your personal bank account, or have the cash in your hand.

Bank cheques can be cancelled and I have numerous stories of people paying for expensive cars with cancelled bank cheques. If unsure, take the buyer with you to the bank and make sure the funds are in your account. A little bit of inconvenience will only bother a non-genuine buyer so don’t be pressured into a sale by pushy buyers as they are probably trying to scam you.

Preparing for an inspection

Below is a short checklist you should follow in order to make the most of all of the work you’ve done to increase your car’s value.

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