So you’re ready to list your used car for sale. If you’ve already followed the steps in my previous posts on detailing your car for sale and photographing your car for sale (if you haven’t, make sure to check those out), all that’s left to do is write the perfect ad.
Writing the description for your for sale ad is something I see so many people get wrong. Either they do way too little by adding one short line with very minimal info or they go on and on with an entire essay that isn’t even helpful.
You need to be right in the middle of those two extremes – keep it short and sweet, but answer as many questions as you can. Potential buyers will appreciate that.
Do your research
Before you can list your car for sale properly, you need to take a look at what everyone else is doing. Do a search for vehicles just like yours and see what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong.
Take note of anything you think you can do better. Compare their car to yours and begin to fill your mind with ways to make your car stand out from all the others. Try to look at things the way a potential buyer would.
Simply put: compare the competition, then beat them. This is how you’ll build the most sales leads possible.
Begin with the basics
Most of the websites you’ll be listing your car for sale on will have fields where you can add all of your car’s basic info. Try to use everything you’re given.
The idea is to provide the most information possible in the shortest description possible (more on people’s attention spans later). Any details you can provide separately will save space in your description. This makes it much easier for potential buyers to read your listing and answer their own questions.
Now, on to your actual description. You’ll want to mention all of the obvious info like the year, make, model, and trim level.
Any options or features that weren’t mentioned in the fields above can be mentioned here but be careful – only share ones that buyers will find interesting. It’s 2020 – every car has power steering and brakes nowadays. Listing these obvious features will only clutter your ad and give people more to sift through to get to the good stuff.
Share your car’s positive traits
This is where the research you did earlier will pay off. Tell everyone why your car is awesome. Anything that makes it stand out from the others is important to share. Some unique traits might be:
- 1 owner
- Low mileage
- Garage kept
- Never winter driven
- Any problems that are common to this model that yours doesn’t have or have been fixed
- Maintenance history
- Reliability / great fuel economy
This is the time to show that you’re a proud owner. It’s okay to brag about your car. This shows potential buyers how much you care about it. Just remember to stick to the important relevant info.
Try to imagine what would be important to someone shopping for a car like yours. If your car is well known for being reliable, it’s not a bad idea to remind people how great yours has been. Mentioning the cargo space of a large SUV or the towing capability of a pickup can also be helpful.
Don’t hide the negative parts
Car buyers have never been more savvy than they are today. There is a ton of information available for free on the internet so you have to assume that anyone looking at your car is going to know what they’re looking at.
If there’s any damage that they’re going to notice as soon as they see it in person, mention it. They’re going to find out anyway and getting out in front of the issue not only shows you’re an honest person, but it also saves the buyer (and yourself) time from going to see a car they won’t want to buy.
Of course, you shouldn’t go too far. It’s fine to save some things for a discussion in person. Just use your judgment and if you think you’d want to know if you were the one buying the car, disclose it in your ad.
Explain how you used it
This is often overlooked but can be really useful information for some buyers. Let them know what you used the vehicle for. Was it a 2nd car that was only driven occasionally? Is it a diesel truck that you used to pull your toy hauler? Has it been your daily driver for your commute to work for the past 5 years?
This will help people to picture the life your car has lived so be honest about this. Tell them how long you’ve owned it as well. That can put your other claims in perspective – people will take your reliability claims more seriously if they know you’ve owned it for a decade.
Everyone wants to buy a car that’s been babied or at least well cared for most of its life. So if your car falls under that category, make sure to let them know! It’s a huge selling point.
Mention what’s included in the sale
Here in Canada, it’s quite common to have a second set of wheels with snow tires on them for the wintertime. If you’re including something like that in the sale of the car, make sure to state it. Something like winter tires is a potential $1,000+ expense that someone can avoid by choosing your car.
It’s also nice to know what kind of paperwork and documentation comes with the car. Mentioning that you have a binder full of maintenance and service history can really get people’s attention. Some people go as far as keeping the original window sticker and every receipt from every trip to the shop. This is all nice for the new owner to have.
Any spare parts that are included with the car are worth noting. People love to get extra or free stuff so if you’re offering it, make sure that they know.
Keep your ad as short as possible
I know it sounds like I’m advocating for you to write out a huge description. I’m not. What I’m saying is to offer as much useful info in the shortest amount of text as possible. Keep it concise!
This is not the time to be artistic. No one wants to read the story of your favorite road trip or what the car means to you. You don’t need to quote statements from your favorite car magazines. People want to know if your car is worth buying – that’s it.
Avoid any fluff or silliness. Keep it straight and to the point by sticking with the cold hard facts. Sure, we’ve seen all of those for sale ads that went viral due to their funny nature. Trying to build your social media following? Go for it. But just know that’s not what sells cars.
Check your spelling and grammar
Good grief. It’s 2020. There’s absolutely no excuse to post an ad filled with typos and grammatical errors. You can use free apps like Grammarly to help you to spell check and make sure you’re using words properly.
It only takes a minute to proofread your ad so make sure you double-check what you’ve written. Having a bunch of mistakes can really turn off potential buyers – it shows that you lack attention to detail and that can reflect how you’ve treated your car.
Break up your text
When creating your for sale ad, remember that you’re writing for the internet and not your high school English teacher. Peoples’ attention spans are extra short these days and the way we consume information has changed. This is why it’s important to keep your description as short as possible but there’s more to it than that.
People are far less likely to read a big block of text. That can easily cause them to hit the back button before they ever read what you have to say. You’d be surprised to know how much of a difference it makes to break your text up into shorter paragraphs. It adds some white space and makes it easier to read, especially when someone is trying to skim over it quickly.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the articles on this very website. You’ll very rarely see me write a paragraph that’s longer than 5 lines. There’s a reason for that – people on the internet don’t read big chunks of text.
Remember that some people might not know the lingo
As car enthusiasts, it’s easy for us to assume everyone knows what we know. It might be a slang term or an abbreviation that we think everyone understands but the average person might not. Consider avoiding short-form terms or nicknames. It’s better to make what you’re referring to obvious.
List your price but don’t bother with “OBO”
Stating that your price is firm or using “OBO” or “Or Best Offer” is a waste of time. Why? Well, I hate to break it to you but if someone wants to negotiate with you, they’re going to do it regardless. They aren’t going to offer your asking price just because you told them you’re firm on it.
Instead, make sure to factor in a little wiggle room for negotiating in your asking price. Sure, it’s always up to you whether or not you’re going to accept what someone is offering you. But it’s best to save those decisions for when you’re talking with them in person. You never know, having a serious buyer come close enough to the price you were firm on might just change how flexible you are.
Be clear about your conditions
Make your terms as clear as possible, but don’t be negative. I see so many people say things like “no lowballers” or “trades will be ignored”. This just puts out a rude vibe before you ever have the chance to meet someone. And just like negotiating the price, people are going to do what they want regardless of what you tell them.
It’s good to let people know things in a positive way though. Mentioning things like the vehicle being sold as-is and how you prefer to be contacted are fine. If you have to mention something like not wanting any offers for trades, do it politely. The important thing is to avoid ending your for sale ad on a sour note.
Organize your photos
The finishing touch to your for sale ad is to make sure your photos are uploaded and organized in the right order. Keeping the exterior and interior ones together makes for a more consistent and professional look.
Start with the exterior shots, then the interior shots, and finish with the engine bay and detail shots. This isn’t crucial, but can really grab peoples’ attention when combined with all the other tips in these articles.
That’s it, your vehicle is now detailed, photographed, and ready to be listed for sale. I have personally turned a vehicle that had been on the market for over a month into one that had multiple offers (within a week of posting) by using this process. Detail it, photograph it, and describe it. It isn’t complicated, but it works!
This post is part of our series about selling your used car.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: