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Vol. 3, No. 6
August 27, 2005

How To Sell Your Car On eBay
by John Lewis

Image: MILEPOSTS Garage

Three years ago I wrote an article about the various ways to sell a vintage car. If you missed it, it's here: Selling A Classic Car [link opens in new window or tab]. I discussed selling at auctions, but not specifically at online auctions, namely eBay. An auction is an auction, but when the car is online it's really a different ball game. At a normal auction, the car is available for personal inspection, so potential buyers can see it in person. Online, however, unless the car happens to be nearby geographically, or unless the prospect has a travel budget figured into their car purchase, they usually have to go by what the auction says. Every once in a while, there might be a trusted friend close enough to make an inspection, but that isn't normally the case.

No doubt you're here because you're contemplating selling your car, and you're trying to determine if eBay is the way to go. Or, you've tried everything else and eBay is your last resort. OK, fair enough. Pay attention and I'll tell you how to sell your car on eBay. Keep in mind that this will be a big purchase for whoever ends up the winning bidder. Whether it's a big dollar amount or not, the car itself is physically big, and will require a strong desire on the part of the bidder to stick with it to the end and win it. You're not selling red glass figurines here, you know. You're not going to just stuff it into a box and send it off to the winner.

That said, the number one thing you must have going for you to sell a car on eBay is TRUST. This can be accomplished several ways. If you're a long time eBayer, you have no doubt built up enough positive feedback to establish yourself as trustworthy. But if this car sale will be your first exposure to eBay, let me offer this advice: plan on selling your car several months down the road. Go ahead and join eBay now, and make a few purchases between now and then. Even if you don't need anything, you can find great gifts on eBay, and an unexpected token of affection to your wife or partner is always a good thing!

As you win auctions, make sure you pay for the items you win on time. This will start building up positive feedback. Don't hesitate trying to sell small, inexpensive items during this time, either. Bidders can be shy about bidding on a car when the seller is new to eBay, or has little or no feedback. But on smaller items there's less for them to lose, so you'll stand a better chance with the cheap stuff at first. Plus, this will provide feedback as a seller, which is important. Don' t think for one second that bidders won't check out everything they can about you, especially if the opening bid is a high one. They want to know who they're dealing with.

So we're going to assume at this point you've established yourself at eBay, and have a positive feedback history going back several months. The more feedback you have, the better. And the more time you have under your belt, the better. That's how it works. Longevity and quantity are of utmost importance. Now let's take a look at what you need to do before you start the auction.

Know what your car is worth. Keep a close eye on similar cars on eBay Motors, and see what they sell for, if they sell. Note what the opening bids are. Keep tabs on how many didn't sell if there was a reserve price placed on it. You don't want to price the car wrong, and knowing this information will help you get the auction off on the right foot.

Make a list of things you'd want to know if YOU were buying a car. Everything on this list should be in the auction description. When you have this done, inspect it closely for obvious omissions. Ask friends to look it over and add anything they feel might be missing. The more information you provide about your car, the better. "1971 Thunderbird, 104,000 miles, runs" isn't enough information! Perhaps you'd never really see an auction listed this way, but I've seen a few that were close. Bidders feel like you aren't really interested in selling, since you put forth so little effort to list the car.

Pictures are mandatory! Let me say this again: PICTURES ARE MANDATORY!! Don't even think about listing your car without pictures. And notice this is plural: you want several photos. And not Polaroids taken from 30 feet back! You want bright, sharp, colorful, detailed pictures. Front, sides, rear. Interior, front and rear and both side views. Engine compartment. Luggage compartment. Roof. If the car has something rare about it, you want a picture of that, too.

If you're selling a 1963 Thunderbird with a factory installed tachometer, you better believe it needs to be photographed! Same thing for the 1964 Lincoln Continental with bucket seats, and the 1965 Buick Riviera Gran Sport with special order leather interior.

Make sure the pictures are sized properly as well. They need to display large enough for people to see the details, but not so large that they must scroll sideways or up and down to view them. Too small, blurry, washed out photos are almost as bad as no photos. People wonder what you're trying to hide.

Show the defects. Be honest about the problems. If there's rust beginning in the rear quarters, take a picture of it. If it's missing something, or has non-original components on it, show them. If it's been hit or has missing trim, you need to show exactly the area in question. This is a very important consideration. Honestly discussing and showing defects and damage goes a long way towards establishing trust!

Make your listing look nice. You don't have to get fancy, with lots of colorful images that aren't part of the auction, and only distract from the item up for sale. But don't be boring, either. For instance, if you're selling a burgundy colored car, use burgundy text to describe it. Or, use different colors for different paragraphs. But keep it simple, use dark colors against a white background. People like white backgrounds when they're going to buy something. Use burgundy, dark blue, dark green, dark brown, etc.

And be wary of the fonts you use. Not everyone has the same fonts on their computers, so stick with common ones, like Times New Roman, Arial, or Verdana (that's what we're using here). And make sure it's a normal size, not too big, not too small.
Save the huge annoying lime green text for something else!

Believe it or not, I checked eBay right before I started writing this, and I was able to find more than one car for sale with huge annoying lime green text syndrome! Just goes to show there's no accounting for good taste!!

Be available for questions. Don't start your auction the day before you leave town for the weekend. It doesn't matter that you'll be back Monday night, this is frustrating to bidders to know that you don't even care enough to be available to answer questions. Wait a week until you can be available for questions. Put your E-mail address in the auction. Include your phone number. And tell them when you will accept calls. (Telling them what time zone you're in helps a lot!) If you don't want calls after 9:00 pm Eastern time, put that in the auction information.

Be prompt in responding to messages, and be prepared to take additional photographs to be sent in response to inquiries. Nothing puts a concern to rest like a prompt response with a photo backing up your position.

Clean it up and straighten it up. I don't care if it's been a parts car for the past three years, make it look nice! Vacuum it out, pick up all the screws, nuts, and bolts off the carpet. Clean the upholstery from top to bottom. No one wants to buy a car from a pig! Wash it, even if the paint is faded. In short, make it look as good as you possibly can. I saw a Thunderbird for sale not too long ago, and the black vinyl interior was so dusty from sitting, it looked awful. Underneath the dust, the upholstery might have been nice, but few people would ever get past the filth, the leaves on the floor, the slimy goo smeared on the stainless trim, etc.

Photo from eBay Motors of back seat from a 1968 Thunderbird for salePretty, ain't it? What do you suppose people think when they see this in an auction. They think you don't even care enough to clean the car up, so how bad must it really be? Now the truth is the car might be a huge mess, but spend the time and make it look as good as it possibly can. You will likely sell it for a much higher price if you do. Under all that dust in the photo at left is probably a very nice back seat that would look great cleaned up.

Show the car, not your girlfriend. Keep the focus on what's for sale: the car. You might find your girlfriend quite fetching, but not everyone will, and the wife of a potential bidder who's inspecting the photos of the car to give her approval might not find those sexy photos quite as much of a turn on as you do. If there's a possibility of objection, leave it out unless it's necessary to adequately describe the condition of the car.

Be honest, and avoid overused descriptive phrases. Potential bidders will likely view other auctions at the same time they view yours, so you must make yours stand out and be memorable. You can do this by being 100% honest in your description and depiction of the car, and by avoiding overused phrases and terms to describe the car. Things like, "Was running when parked", "Frame off restoration", "Fully loaded", do little to help. Instead, say: "Ran good three years ago, but hasn't been driven since", "Body removed from frame and all components were restored to factory specs before reassembly", or "Equipped with most factory options including the rare 'M' engine, tachometer, and leather upholstery." Some terms are so overused people skim over them, which makes them lose their importance. Automotive Mileposts has published an article about these overused sales terms in AUTO HUMOR: Classified Ad Translator.

Don't be insulting. When listing your car, avoid auction titles like "1973 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency not Cadillac Buick Lincoln" which are now frowned upon by eBay. Same thing for "1973 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Regency not 1971 72 74". Ummm...right. People who are looking for a vintage Ninety Eight likely already know those are similar cars, and will find them on their own. Be accurate in your auction title without the cute or clever additional information, it adds credibility to your auction.

Provide information above and beyond what's expected. Be sure to include information about the car title, possible transportation options in the area, proximity to airports, etc. Even links to auto loans and classic car financing options are helpful, as some bidders won't consider these things until they find a car to buy, and then will panic when they realize they need to come up with the money to buy it.

Follow these guidelines, and you'll avoid many of the pitfalls that prevent cars from selling online, and your listing will stand out among the others. Potential bidders will appreciate the accuracy and honesty of your description, and will also be more likely to decide to trust you, which is a very important consideration when selling your car at eBay.

Good luck to you, and happy selling!

Copyright © 2005 Automotive Mileposts, Inc.
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