The Smart Way To Sell Your Clunker Of A Car

That umpteenth major repair has finally compelled you to sell your money pit of a car once and for all. But who's willing to buy an ancient or mechanically troubled vehicle, especially if it also looks like it's been through a war? You could trade it in, but only if you're in the market for another car (with another monthly car payment), and only if you're willing to get much less than the car's street value. Here are some steps that will help you sell your burdensome beast to a private buyer without lying, cheating or getting next to nothing for it.

Fix What You Can

You don't have to sell your car in the same disastrous condition you've lived with all this time. In fact, those previous major repairs may have substantially improved the vehicle's attractiveness to prospective buyers. If you've suffered the financial agonies of replacing the timing belt, tires, half-axles or other wear-prone components, you've already improved the perceived value of your car. If you've had to drop in a rebuilt engine or transmission, you've gone a long way toward creating a new car, no matter what else may be wrong with it. If the car is a "lemon" or has open recall notices, get those manufacturer's issues dealt with. Make sure you trumpet these fixes loud and clear in your classified ads or other promotional efforts.

An ugly car can yield an ugly price, even after you've performed basic tasks such as washing, waxing and vacuuming. Pricing guides include cosmetic problems when rating a car's condition, so if these issues are fixable for a reasonable price, fix them before you put the car up for sale. You may be able to do some of the less challenging work yourself. Examples include:

  • Headlight cleanup - You can purchase kits to polish old headlights, removed the yellowish haze that reduces their effectiveness and attractiveness.
  • Minor paint scratches or chips - Automotive manufacturers sell exact matches for the paint colors currently used on their vehicles, so you can purchase a touch-up kit directly from your manufacturer.
  • Isolated bumper dents - If your plastic bumper has a dent near the wheel well, you can simply pour boiling water over it to soften it up and then push it outward to make it disappear.

For more substantial work, or if you don't feel confident performing these tasks yourself, visit your local auto body repair shop. Trained auto body technicians can hammer out dented metal, repaint entire sections of the car as needed, and deal with chipped auto glass or dull-looking headlights. Ask for an itemized estimate so you can cherry-pick the auto body services most likely to make a difference in the selling price. 

Set a Reasonable Price Range (and Stick to It)

Once your clunker is in the best condition it can realistically attain, it's time to set an asking price. Online pricing guides will help you determine the approximate value of your car based on its age, mechanical condition and any remaining cosmetic issues. Set your price on the high side of this range, but don't count on getting much more, since it's a fair bet that your prospective buyers are using similar pricing guides to figure out what they should pay. But don't let anyone browbeat you below this range unless your car has had no buyer for months and you're desperate to get it out of your life.

Be Totally Honest

The smartest way to sell a troubled car is to come clean about its issues right from the beginning. If it needs a new transmission, say so in the ad. If it has more hail damage than you're willing to let your auto body shop fix, make it clear that the buyer is getting a great price on a solid performer thanks to this superficial disfigurement. If the car has numerous things wrong with it, sell it as a DIY project for an enthusiastic hobbyist or professional mechanic.

Being less than honest might net you some extra money, but it can also have serious consequences. For one thing, buyers who visit your driveway expecting a more pristine vehicle may simply drive away in disillusionment and disgust without even giving your car a fair inspection. They're not just disappointed in the car -- they've lost all trust in the seller. Additionally, you really don't want to leave a customer feeling cheated and angry. Remember, these people have your contact information, and they may even know your home address -- and you don't know how violently they'll react to being ripped off.

From getting your car hammered out at the auto body shop to presenting your vehicle for what it is, you'll find that the right tactics can help you sell a less-than-fabulous car for a reasonable price. Good luck!