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How to be your own used-car salesman

How do you get the most bucks out of your used car?

Simple -- sell it yourself.

You could pocket an extra $1,000 to $2,000, depending on the type of car, its age and how well it's been maintained.

Owners of late-model used cars could really make a bundle in a private sale.

On a typical 3-year-old family sedan, you could pocket an additional $3,000 or $4,000 by selling it yourself, according to David Van Sickle, director of automotive and consumer affairs for the national office of AAA.

A cash-strapped family would be wise to sell an extra car or truck on their own. A private sale is also a good back-up strategy for a new-car buyer that doesn't like a dealer's offer on a trade-in.

No interest from dealers
These days, you can expect to be under-whelmed by a dealer's offer on your used car.

New-car sales have shot through the roof, thanks to all those zero-percent financing offers. And many new-car buyers traded in old cars as part of the deal. The result: dealer lots are teeming with used cars.

"Dealers are awash in trade-ins. They are in a position now where they don't have to offer much at all for a trade-in," Van Sickle says.

A dealer's price will be especially low on a used vehicle with high mileage, say 90,000 miles or more.

"The dealer is probably not going to take it as a trade-in. He's going to offer you a wholesale price and you're going to get nothing for it," says Mark Eskeldson, an auto expert and author of CarInfo.com, a consumer information and advocacy Web site.

A few years ago, a dealer offered Eskeldson $300 for a two-door sedan with more than 100,000 miles. Instead, Eskeldson drove the car to a busy intersection, stuck a for-sale sign in the window and sold the car for $1,100 within an hour.

Before you show
Ready to be your own used-car salesman? Step one is making that old car shine. Wax and wash the exterior. Vacuum and shampoo the interior.

"Clean is good," Van Sickle says. "Make sure the car is spotless inside and out ... and don't forget about the trunk. That should be spotless, too."

Go ahead and make inexpensive repairs such as oil leaks and power steering leaks. Who wants to buy a car that leaves puddles everywhere it goes?

"The stuff that's really obvious you should probably get fixed," Eskeldson says.

But you may want to leave more expensive repairs and services to the new owner. For example, it makes little sense to put a $3,000 engine into a 6-year-old car that you want to sell. There's little chance you'll get your money back.

"It's not going to be worth $3,000 more because of the engine," Eskeldson says.

Are the tires getting worn down? Why not let the new owner replace them?

Use your judgment. Make a couple of quick, inexpensive repairs and leave the rest to the new owner.

Remember buyers are looking for well-maintained vehicles, not perfect ones. They'll be willing to look past a couple of bald tires if they can see from your service records that you've taken good care of the car for the past several years.

And that's why it's so important to have copies of maintenance and service records to show perspective buyers.

"The intelligent buyer is going to want to see all that to make sure you took care of the car," Eskeldson says. "Receipts and records prove it."

Picking the perfect price
The next step is pricing. Do your homework. � Edmund's Automobile Buyers Guide, AutoSite, Autopedia, Kelley Blue Book, CarPrice.com and NADAguides.com are among the sites offering timely pricing information.

Be sure to check local newspaper ads as well. Car and truck prices vary by region. It's important to price your vehicle appropriately.

"There's a local element to your car price," Eskeldson says. "You can't depend solely on what's in a car book."

Take note of body damage, bald tires and other imperfections when pricing the car. Set your asking price at 10 to 15 percent above the absolute rock-bottom price you'll take.

"Always leave yourself a little wiggle room because most buyers will expect to negotiate the price a little bit," Van Sickle says.

And they tell two friends and ...
After cleaning up and pricing your car, it's time to spread the word that it's for sale. Start by telling family, friends and co-workers.

"The most effective way to sell a car for a private individual is word-of-mouth, and it's probably the safest way," Van Sickle says. "Just spread the word. Do it in advance. It's even better."

Some of the best and quickest car sales occur when the seller knows the buyer or the seller knows someone who knows the buyer.

Jack Nerad, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buying or Leasing a Car, once sold a car to a relative of one of his in-laws. The sale was done in no time.

"It was a good car. She needed one. No advertising. No nothing. Just boom boom," Nerad says.

Things get a little bit trickier when it comes down to selling a car to a stranger. Again, the key is getting the word out.

You might want to try putting a for-sale sign in your car window and parking it at the end of a busy street. You may even be able to find a buyer in your neighborhood -- you never know.

If that fails, you could always put an ad in the local newspaper or online classified sites such as AutoTrader.com, Autoweb.com, and Cars.com.

What to put in an ad
Online ads tend to be cheaper than newspaper ads and they also give you the opportunity to communicate with potential buyers by e-mail.

What should you put in an auto ad? As many details as possible.

If you bought the car new and have taken good care of it, say so. Using phrases such as "original owner," "kept in garage" and "service records available" will help your ad stand out.

It's also a good idea to include a photo of the actual car whenever possible. Let potential buyers see the real deal.

Of course, you'll need to seal the deal in person. It's a good idea to bring a friend along, this is especially important for women.

"It's dangerous for a single woman to put an ad in the paper," Eskeldson says. "Have a friend along whenever you meet somebody."

And there's no need to give potential buyers your home address either. So pick a public location for meetings and test-drives.

Some used cars sell in a couple of days. Others take several weeks. So be patient and brace yourself for an annoyance or two.

Put your phone number on a for-sale sign or in an auto ad and you'll be getting phone calls from strangers at all hours. Some folks will make appointments to see the car and not bother showing up.

Keep your cool by focusing on the extra grand or two you'll be making by selling the car on your own.

"Be aware that there's going to be some hassles involved and perhaps a little risk," Van Sickle says. "But the rewards are significant."

 

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