Have you ever tried to sell a car or motorcycle on Craigslist and wondered why no one called you? There’s probably a simple explanation for that: Your Craigslist ad sucks. Think about it. You’re trying to get a total stranger to come to your house and give you thousands of dollars. If you expect that to happen, you have to take the time to create an ad that provokes enough interest in your car or bike to make somebody at least give you a call. Show a minimal amount of effort, for crying out loud! Here’s a few tips.
I could do a whole article on pictures alone, but there are a few basic rules about pictures that you should follow.
First off, never post an ad without pictures. I’m not even going to look at the ad. For all I know, your car is a moldering pile of rust and plastic. I need to see it if I’m going to have any interest in it all. You don’t need to drag out a professional-grade Canon 1D digital SLR. You can take cell phone pics. It’s a few minutes out of your day. You aren’t so busy that you can take a few iPhone snaps.
But a single picture of your car, taken in portrait mode from the next county, isn’t gonna cut it. You might as well just download the Google satellite image of your house with the car parked in your driveway. I don’t want to see a vacation snapshot of the grand canyon with your car lurking in the corner. I want to see the car. Indeed, while we’re on the subject, I don’t want to see any pictures in portrait mode at all. Your car is wider and longer than it is tall. If two-thirds of your picture shows the sky or the pavement, you’re doing it wrong. Remember, we hold our guns straight up when we shoot people, we hold our cell phones sideways when we shoot pictures.
When you take your pictures, park your car someplace in the open. It doesn’t do you any good to have your car lurking in the jungle like a Viet Cong supply battalion sneaking down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Or sitting in your garage, for that matter. Put it in the street in front of your house, or a supermarket parking lot. Have as few distractions as possible that might take away from the subject of the photo, which is your vehicle.
Maybe you should take some time to create your photographs in the daytime. That way, Mr. Sun can give you light that helps people see what the car is supposed to be. I’m sure your black SUV looks fantastically menacing in the darkness, but unless you’re a professional photographer, it will just be a big, black blob that’s only slightly darker than the big, black night. Moonlight is not an acceptable light source. Nor is the little LED flash on your smartphone. I don’t care if you’re the CEO of Dow Chemical, you have ten free minutes in your day to take pictures before the sun goes down. Unless you can prove that you’re a vampire who will burst into incandescent flames if you’re exposed to sunlight, there’s no excuse for taking pictures of your car at night.
Wipe off your camera lens. Just drag it across your shirt a couple of times. I can’t tell anything about your car if you shoot it through a two-inch layer of finger oils that have accumulated on your camera phone. Seriously, this takes, like, five seconds. How lazy are you that you see you’ve taken a picture that looks like you shot it through a layer of surgical gauze, and you think, “yeah, that’ll be fine”? Take some pride in your craft, for cripes sake.
Also, don’t upload tiny pictures. Your cell phone takes pretty big pics. Post them. Little, 200-pixel-wide shots aren’t going to cut it.
Don’t have your girlfriend do “sexy” poses with your car. I honestly don’t care if you think your girl is hot. I do not, therefore, want to see her posing with your car. Maybe I want to see the ugly body kit on your car, but I really don’t care to see the ugly body kit on your slutty girlfriend. What exactly are you selling here? It looks to me like a chance for a quick anal session with your chick. How do think prostituting your lover will help? I mean, the best you can hope for is that I’ll see your stripper girlfriend and won’t mind that she’s obscuring your car. The worst is that I come by and take her away from you, along with the car. And talk you down an extra $1,000 or so in price.
Be sure the pictures are of your car. In what possible way does it help me to see a studio picture you copied from the manufacturer’s web site? Do you think I’m going to be fooled by the elegantly-lit interior photo? This is especially true if you’ve already taken the effort to shoot a couple of exterior pics. Because now I know that you do, in fact, have the capability of taking your own pictures. So, I’m going to wonder why you didn’t shoot some interior pics instead of taking the extra time and effort to download them from the web. “What are you hiding,” I‘ll wonder.
There are some pictures I do want to see of your car. I want to see at least four exterior pictures of the car that clearly show all four sides of it. I want to see at least four pictures of the interior, showing me the front and back seats, as well as the dash and instruments. No matter how the nice the car looks on the outside, if the interior is coated with a layer of dried vomit and feces, I want to know that, mainly because it’s not going to be a place I want to spend any time. Don’t try to be clever and hide the torn upholstery, or other flaws. If I’m buying a car on Craigslist, I’m probably not going to expect it’ll be in showroom condition. I also want to see a close-up of the instrument panels, and especially the odometer. Finally, open the hood and give me one, good shot of the motor. Take the time to give me eight good, relatively large pictures of the inside and outside of the car, and I won’t complain. I may, in fact, be quite interested.
Be honest. Don’t tell me that the 200,000 miles on the odometer were “all highway miles,” because a) they probably aren’t, and b) the kind of miles is sort of irrelevant. If there are mechanical problems, let me know. If I don’t know that your car can’t pass a smog test or inspection, and it hasn’t been registered for a year, I’m gonna be really peeved if I don’t learn that until after I’ve driven across town to see it. Even if there are problems with the car, people will appreciate knowing about it from the ad, and the people who call you will probably be interested in it, warts and all. You don’t waste your time or mine by being honest, but you do waste it if you try to get cute in minimizing the vehicle’s problems. Also, people who think you’ve been less than honest with them won’t want to buy your car because you’re an ass.
Don’t be terse. There’s no word limit on Craigslist, so you don’t have to add words like you’re giving out vials of your own blood. Tell me everything about your car that I might be interested in. Having said that, don’t go overboard. I don’t need you to go to Edmunds to copy and paste the full spec sheet. I can get that myself in about 30 seconds. Tell me things about your car, not all cars of that make and model. Let me know what kind of transmission and engine it has, and the odometer mileage.
Know your car. You do not have a 2001 Chevy PT Cruiser. You do not have a Mustang GT with a 6-cylinder engine. You’ve been driving this car for years. How do you not know what kind of car you have? Try to be sure that you get your facts right. And get your spelling right, too. Your car is not a “Chevy Camero” or a “Toyota Celice”. There are about 100 different spell-checking options available to you when you’re on your computer. Avail yourself of them.
Be reasonable about the price. Your 2006 Mustang isn’t worth $20,000. Don’t say things like, “I replaced all the hoses, timing belt, and tires, so I just put $3,000 into it,” as an excuse to gouge me for some extra cash. The fact that you’ve decided to do some regular maintenance doesn’t obligate me to toss you a few grand in thanks. It’s just going to make me wonder what other maintenance you were putting off before you decided to sell it.
Don’t expect your odd customizations to add to the price either. This is true of cars, but it’s especially true of motorcycles. You’ve customized your vehicle to reflect your tastes, and that’s fine, but don’t expect my tastes to be the same. KBB or Edmunds have already told me how much your car is worth. Unless you dropped your car off to Steve Saleen for your customizations and upgrades, don’t expect them to be worth much.
If you follow these tips, your Craigslist or eBay ad will be much better, and will probably get you a much more appreciative customer base. Your ad will be much more useful to both you and your prospective buyers. Too many people don’t follow these tips. That makes vehicle shopping on Craigslist a much worse experience than it needs to be. How do I know that so many Craigslist ads are bad? Well, all of the examples above came off of Craigslist. In a single search session.
Imagine the horrors I could find if I did a couple of days of research.