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Open Diff – The do’s and don’ts of selling a vehicle online

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Good example of a bad image: my 2000 BMW R1100R, shot on a cell phone at 700 pixels wide. Photos by author.

We look at a lot of classified ads in putting together each day’s Hemmings Daily. In addition to Finds of the Day, we run pieces like Scavenger Hunt and the $5,000 Challenge, all of which require time sifting through the ads that customers place with Hemmings. For better or worse, that makes us qualified to offer a few tips on things that are done right, and conversely, things that have definite room for improvement.

Dodge Challenger Hellcat

Better. Here’s front (almost a front 3/4) shot of the Challenger Hellcat at high-enough resolution.

We also receive a significant number of complaints (though to be honest, nowhere near the number fielded by our customer service team) from prospective buyers, who aren’t hearing back from sellers, contacted via email, in a timely manner. Though we’ve covered most of this ground in the past, it never hurts to publish a refresher course on what to do, and what to avoid, when submitting an online ad with us.

  • Pictures (and now video) sell vehicles. Every single day I reject 5-10 potentially interesting vehicles for Finds of the Day for one reason: images. Either there aren’t enough, or the images supplies are out of focus or too small. Worse, some include scanned images of when the vehicle was purchased 10 or 20 years earlier, which aren’t at all relevant to its current condition.At a minimum, an ad should include a front ¾ shot, a rear ¾ shot, profile shots of driver and passenger side, a front shot, a rear shot, an engine shot and an interior shot. More are better, and each file uploaded should be a minimum of 1,000 pixels wide. Modern smartphones are good enough to provide reasonable images, especially in bright daylight, but digital cameras have gotten considerably less expensive (and easier to use), too. If you’re not comfortable taking the photos, enlist the help of a neighbor or relative who’s more comfortable taking pictures. If you’ve got the ability to shoot video of your vehicle, even a simple walkaround, this helps, too.Good images will do more to sell a vehicle than even the best ad copy, since potential buyers (and Hemmings editors) will almost always pass by ads without them.
  • Don’t skimp on the description. While pictures draw in potential buyers, it’s the description that will have them hitting the “Contact Seller” button. We’ll pass by potential Finds of the Day for this reason as well, since “Totally restored, one-owner, 25K miles, must sell” doesn’t give us much to go on.Whenever possible, include your history with the vehicle. What have you fixed, added or improved since purchase? What was the history before it landed in your garage? What sets this apart from all the other like year, make and model examples on the internet? What work still needs to be done?Another key point is to ensure you’re using the correct terms. While a frame-off restoration is possible on a Pontiac Catalina, it isn’t on a unibody Chevrolet Camaro. If you don’t know the history of a vehicle, don’t throw out “numbers matching” in the description unless you’ve thoroughly researched this. As with most things in life, honesty is the best policy, even if it lowers the potential selling price. Speaking of this…
  • Be realistic with your selling price expectations. Forget what you see watching auctions on television, and don’t expect to get the maximum price shown by online guides such as NADA, Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book. Condition is everything, and sellers often overestimate the shape their car is in. A “showroom fresh” example won’t have mis-matched tires, worn pedals, stained seats and scratched paint.
  • Be communicative with both buyers and sellers. As previously mentioned, the number of complaints we receive from potential buyers not hearing back from sellers is reaching all-time highs. If a vehicle has already sold, take a minute and respond to an inquiry with “Sorry, already sold,” after you’ve let us know to take down the ad. Check any email accounts linked to the ad regularly, too – as much as you want to sell your vehicle, there’s someone out there who wants to buy it even more. Make them wait, and chances are they’ll go elsewhere.As a potential buyer, be respectful of sellers and their time. This isn’t Craigslist, so it isn’t likely a seller will accept an offer at half the selling price, regardless of what you feel the vehicle is worth. An opening dialogue isn’t the place to pitch out an offer, either, and nothing will shut down a seller’s interest more than the question, “What’s the lowest price you’ll take.”
  • If something doesn’t feel right, let us know. We go to great lengths to ensure that Hemmings is scam-free, and have worked with law enforcement in the past to shut down scam sellers and buyers. If you suspect that a transaction isn’t what its represented to be, don’t be afraid to get us involved.