Car Listing & Selling Mistakes That Will Cost You Money

Here at Garage Dreams, our primary focus is on helping you locate, inspect, purchase and maintain your dream classic car – whatever that might be.

However, we also appreciate that dreams sometimes change – or circumstances might need to change before you are in a position to act on your dreams!

In other words, there is probably going to be a time where you need to sell a car (or two) for whatever reason, whether that’s to upgrade, free up some cash, or for any other purpose.

While it’s relatively difficult to change the fundamental value of the car you are trying to sell – and ultimately the market is going to be the “arbiter” of what your car is worth – many vendors don’t help themselves by making some elementary mistakes that put off potential buyers and reduce the chance of a successful sale (or possibly result in a diminished sale price).

In this article we’re going to talk through several of the most common car listing mistakes and how to avoid them, so that you can get more money for your listing that you can put towards your next car (or whatever else you want to spend it on).

If you want to get top dollar for your car, then make sure to pay attention to the following listing and selling mistakes, and avoid making them yourself.

Please note that this article doesn’t focus on any specific listing platform, and much of the advice here would apply however you are looking to dispose of your current car.

Mistake #1 – Not Cleaning Your Car Prior To Sale

This mistake is easily one of the most commonly made, and also applies if you are considering trading in your car (whereas most of the other mistakes in this article only apply if you are directly selling your car).

Make sure you clean your car before you: a) take photos for your listing, and b) have someone inspect the car.

You don’t need to go totally overboard and spend hours and hours detailing the car (however, if you really want to maximise the resale value, then this might actually be a good idea – at least on a car with a higher potential sale price). A quick vacuum and wipe down of the interior along with a wash using something like Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax should have your car looking very decent.

If you’re short on time, we’d suggest looking at a professional valet/clean. You might be able to find a Groupon deal or something of a similar nature to get your car cleaned professionally for a reasonable price.

Make sure it’s clean when a prospective buyer comes to inspect and test drive as well. Once again, your car doesn’t need to be spotless but a dirty car full of trash, dog hair etc will be off-putting.

If you only do ONE thing to improve your listing, make sure it’s cleaning your car prior to sale and prior to inspection. As mentioned, you don’t need to go totally overboard – unless you happen to be a detailing enthusiast – but not cleaning your car will knock money off the sale price.

Mistake #2 – Not Making Easy Fixes

If there is something substantially wrong with your car, then you’re probably best just to list it with the issue and accept a diminished sale price (unless you think that you’ll get more back from fixing it … but the world is full of cars that “owe” the vendor a heck of a lot more than has ever been put in to the listing).

However, if there are easy, affordable or simple fixes you can make that will improve the overall look and feel of your car, then you’d be remiss to not do them.

For example, let’s say there is some paint that could probably be corrected and enhanced with a decent car polish/cutting compound – it’s almost certainly going to be worth spending an hour trying to fix that panel up to make it look better. You can see here in our review of Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound just how effectively some fairly noticeable paint imperfections can be improved (in the review the entire car is done by hand in an afternoon, and it looks substantially better than it did prior). This sort of thing is an easy fix that can add value.

Another example would be getting a replacement bulb fitted to a light that doesn’t work, or getting a routine service done.

What you shouldn’t do here is claim a potential fix is easy and then not actually do it – because potential buyers then draw the conclusion that the fix will be more complicated than first anticipated. The most common example of this being vendors who claim “the air conditioning just needs a cheap re-gas”. Never in the history of automotive sales has a car just needed a re-gas of the air conditioning system … if it were that simple and cheap to fix, the vendor would have done it prior to sale.

Mistake #3 – Taking Insufficient And/Or Poor Quality Photos

You don’t need to be a professional photographer or have the world’s best camera to take decent photos for your car’s listing.

Any modern smartphone should be good enough.

However, it’s worth putting a bit of effort into the photos you take for your listing.

At the very least, you should take enough photos to make it easy for a buyer to make an informed decision about whether or not they are interested in proceeding further.

We suspect that many sellers of cars in less-than-perfect condition think that hiding behind a few “well selected” pictures (that don’t fully show the nature of the car) or otherwise trying to avoid problem areas will result in a higher sale price. This is a bad strategy unless you are waiting on someone to buy remotely without inspection. A listing with low quality and/or too few photos will be off-putting, and even if you do manage to get someone to come look at the car they might be disappointed, wasting their time and yours.

At a minimum, we suggest the following set of photos:

  • Front of car
  • Back of car
  • Driver/passenger side
  • Engine bay
  • Instrument cluster (showing odometer reading)
  • Front seats
  • Rear seats
  • Trunk/boot
  • Tires and wheels

On top of this, you might wish to highlight any other areas of issue or note, e.g. if there is a particular panel that has specific damage then take a clear photo of that and indicate in the listing.

Make sure your photos are taken to a decent standard as well. As previously mentioned, they don’t need to be professional quality photographs, but do try to use a smartphone or camera with good image quality, and avoid blurry, obscured or otherwise hard-to-see images.

Mistake #4 – Not Writing A Sufficiently Detailed Description (Or Writing A Bad One)

As a prospective buyer, there’s nothing more off-putting than opening a listing to see a near non-existent description (or a poorly written one).

You don’t need to be William Shakespeare to be able to write a good car listing description. All you need to do is:

  • Explain what the car is (make, model, trim level, year)
  • Outline key details about the car such as mileage and specification
  • Provide an honest account of the car’s condition, outlining any particular areas of concern in terms of mechanical function, bodywork, interior etc
  • Give the most accurate possible account of how the car has been serviced and cared for

Also try to do this with passable writing.

You don’t have to have the best spelling or grammar, but there’s no doubt that a well-written listing description is going to enhance your chances of getting top dollar.

Mistake #5 – Not Responding To Questions

Most vehicle listing platforms allow for potential buyers to ask questions – either publicly or privately. For example, a prospective buyer might want some additional information on an element of service history, vehicle condition etc.

A mistake that we see many sellers make is either not responding to these questions, or responding too slowly.

If you respond in a timely fashion and with good detail and information, it will help to build trust and demonstrate to prospective buyers that you are serious about selling the car and not trying to hide anything.

You don’t need to respond the nanosecond someone asks a question, but trying to do so as swiftly as possible is a good idea.

Mistake #6 – Incorrectly Categorising Your Car

This doesn’t happen all that often, but it can cost you a lot of dough if you’re the one making this mistake.

For example, if you have a limited edition car (with paperwork, numbering plate etc to match) but you forget to mention this in the listing – or you aren’t even actually sure of what you’ve got – and then someone notices you may wind up selling your car for a lot less than it’s potentially worth.

Another example would be a car where there are many different trim levels. You might have a premium spec car, but if you list it as a basic spec model then you could once again miss out on the full potential sale price.

Savvy buyers who are patient and enterprising can take advantage of this kind of mistake and score a bargain, so be wary as a seller.

Mistake #7 – Only Listing In One Location

Unless you are listing your car on a platform that requires exclusivity (which may be the case if you are running an auction on it, versus a regular classified ad) it is a mistake to only list in one place.

For example, here in New Zealand you could list your car on TradeMe and Facebook Marketplace as a classified listing and invite the best offer(s).

Have a look at the top listing platforms in your area and identify the best opportunities to reach more prospective buyers.

Shameless plug, but we also have a new (and in beta/testing) classified system on this site – click here to learn more and we’ll give you a free listing!

Mistake #8 – Being Hostile To Prospective Buyers

This is a less commonly-made mistake, but a frustrating one nonetheless from a buyer’s perspective – when a vendor is hostile to genuine interest and inquiry about a car. This can be one of the most off-putting experiences for a prospective buyer.

For example, many years ago I was interested in buying a Mitsubishi Galant VR-4. However, at the time I didn’t know much about cars, and had bought into the meme that you had to have a turbo timer on your car to keep it in good condition. The seller hadn’t mentioned in the listing whether or not the car had a turbo timer, so I asked via text message and received a very rude reply telling me I knew nothing about cars and that the owner was a qualified, A-grade mechanic who was sick of time wasting questions.

I had the cash ready to go, I would have bought that car if it was good … but not from that seller.

A shame, as the Galant VR-4 was a superb piece of kit!

Fielding annoying questions is just part of the game when it comes to listing a car for sale, and you need to play to win. Be polite, respond with an informative answer, and then move on.

Mistake #9 – Playing Pricing Games

Knowing where to price your car can be a challenge. However, once you’ve done your research (ideally by seeing what similar vehicles of comparable age/condition/specification sell for your in your area) FINISH

For example, there’s a seller in our area who is currently trying to get rid of a V6 Alfa Romeo Spyder – a lovely car with the legendary Busso engine. The car is for sale by way of auction, as opposed to a regular classified, with a starting bid that is several thousand dollars below the ‘buy now’ price which would secure the car. However, the seller has indicated that the reserve price at which one could win the car is somewhere between the starting bid and the buy now.

Who has time to play such games? Especially when there are other examples for sale where the seller has placed a clear, unequivocal asking price or reserve price.

Be clear in your own mind as to the price you’d be comfortable receiving (bearing in mind that no matter what you sell your car for, you’ll always wish and think you could have got more for it) and then price accordingly. For example, if you’re running a classified listing for a car you’d be happy to let go at $10,000, then maybe listing it for $11,000 with a view to negotiate is a good move.

Don’t list it at $20,000 (it will put people off) and don’t do the opposite – which some vendors seem to think is a good idea – and start the listing at a lower price and then increase it over time.

Mistake #10 – Not Going The Extra Mile

One final tip to improve the sale price of your car is to “go the extra” mile with your listing.

For example, here are a few ideas:

  • Consider recording a video walking around the car, highlighting any problem areas, showing the car starting and running etc. Some listing platforms allow video embeds and uploads, or you could host on YouTube and link to it from your listing.
  • Pay the small price for a vehicle history check on a platform like CarVertical (or CarJam for the New Zealand equivalent) and then upload this with your listing. Much like with selling a home, a savvy buyer will often not want to rely 100% on the vendor’s ‘builder’s report’ but it shows good faith and a desire to be open and honest about the car.
  • Consider paying for a more premium listing such as category featured listings. This varies depending on the platform you’re using, but it might be worth investing $100 into your listing to get more attention and command a higher price.

Recap

Ultimately, there are many factors that affect the price you are able to get for your car when selling on the used market.

For example, over the last 12-18 months cars have been selling like hot cakes due to shortages, inflation concerns and an overheated economy. Even mediocre cars have been selling for more than they are probably truly worth. It has been a seller’s market for sure, and buyers have largely had to pay the price of admission or miss out.

But there are are signs that car sales might be slowing down (along with the wider economy). Certainly we are noticing cars sitting around for longer here in New Zealand, and both dealers and private sellers being more open to discounting.

If the market shifts to be more buyer friendly, then as a seller you need to be positioned to defend the value of your car as much as possible by having the best possible listing. By avoiding the listing mistakes outlined in this article, you’ll be able to enhance the sale value of your car and get top dollar

What are your listing strategies? Feel free to leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you.

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