Tips for Buying a Used Car on Craigslist

When it works like it should, buying a used car on Craigslist can be great. But since there’s no way to ensure what you’re getting, quality on Craigslist can be hit or miss and it can feel a bit like the Barbary Coast, with mischief and gold in equal measure. Here are 9 essential tips to get you through it.

Tip # 1: Use Craigslist filters

This is our top tip for buying a used car: narrow your search. We suggest taking advantage of Craigslist’s built-in filters, which include options such as price, year, color, transmission type, type of seller (owner or dealer), and more. This will help you narrow your search to what you’re looking for and avoid wading through listings of salvaged title, three-wheeled PT Cruisers.

  • Search by dealer. For those who would prefer the peace of mind of a dealer warranty, this filter’s for you.
  • Search by price or year. If you have a budget but don’t want anything too old, easily define your price and model year limits.
  • Search by feature. Buying a car for someone with very specific tastes but only drives automatic? You can specify for color and transmission, too.
  • Search by car. If you know exactly the car you want, say a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am with the screaming chicken on the hood and Burt Reynold’s scent on the seats, Craigslist is perfect. You can plug in the exact model specification, right down to the color, transmission, and condition.

Tip #2. Research a fair price range

Before you start test driving, it’s important to how have an idea how much a car in your area should cost. There are many pricing guides out there, and while one-sized-fits-all pricing guides like KBB won’t perfectly capture the fair price for your market, it’s a good starting point.

If it’s listed way over your fair price range, you may want to skip that car. Sometimes if you wait, the seller will come to their senses and lower the price to something more reasonable.

Tip #3: Heed warning signs

This is one of the most basic tips for buying a used car on Craigslist: The listing itself can tell you a lot about the seller, as well as the car. So pay attention to these red flags:

  • Low-quality listings. Suspiciously short listings with numerous misspellings, all caps, and a general lack of details about the car smack of “keep looking.”
  • Minimal photos. A listing with one blurry, sideways photo isn’t worth your time. A huge red flag is people who post pictures that are not even of their car. Not exactly trust-building stuff is it?
  • Sloppy presentation. When we wrote our guide to selling a car on Craigslist, there’s a reason we focused so much on presentation and cleanliness. Instilling buyer confidence is step #1, and junk strewn about the interior doesn’t do that. If the seller hasn’t bothered to present the car nicely for sale, they probably haven’t been any more thoughtful owning it, either.
  • Multiple listings of the same car. If you see a car posted multiple times over a few days, it’s not a good sign.

Some good signs are clear writing, lots of pictures of a relatively clean car (including the engine), a list of recent maintenance, and just a general sense that the seller knows their stuff. We vet every car listed on Shift to make sure you have all of these things, including detailed photos, a comprehensive inspection, and a seamless interaction (not to mention an amazing car).

How to Sell a Car on Craigslist

Tip #4: Make contact

It’s a good idea to call the seller before seeing the car. Communicating via email just isn’t going to tell you as much. Don’t be afraid to ask a few questions like: why are you selling the car, how long have you owned it, what maintenance is needed and what’s been done lately? Pay attention to how the seller responds. Do they seem trustworthy, or do they give you the creeps? Are they over-eager, or do they sound like they’ve been asleep for six days?

It’s important to consider the overall vibe that they are giving you. Your time is valuable, and nothing is worse than carving out a few hours of your Saturday to go see a car, then getting a text saying the seller flaked when you’re two blocks from where you planned to meet. You can learn a lot from a quick chat on the phone. It’s worth it.

Tip #5: Be Safe

This is, we think, one of the most important tips for buying a used car on Craigslist: do it safely. That means meeting in a safe, mutually agreed upon location in an area where you can really drive the car, ideally in a well-traveled area and during a safe hour of the day. (If you meet the seller downtown, it’ll be tough to get a full sense for how the car drives, so try for something like a mall parking lot.)

As a buyer, you may be asked to go to the seller’s house. Be sure that you feel comfortable doing so, and if you do, it’s not a bad idea to bring a friend. Continue to assess the seller and make sure they are someone you trust. Ask a lot of questions and insist that you drive the car. If the seller balks, don’t be afraid to walk away.

Carfax's Carfox
Easily our favorite mascot in the car space

Tip #6: Do an inspection

We’ve covered this in another article, but a post-purchase inspection (often called the PPI) is worth paying for. Buying a car without inspecting it is like buying a house without an appraisal. A seller with nothing to hide should agree to it, so negotiate an appropriate deposit to leave with the seller while you take it to the mechanic. Bonus: What you learn can be used to help negotiate the price, which brings us to our next tip.

Tip #7: Run a Carfax report

A Carfax vehicle history report is a must-have for buying any used car. It’s easy, it can tell you a lot about the car’s history, and it can help you make sure you’re not driving off in a car with a bent frame, flood damage, and 17 owners in three years.

It’s a known Craigslist scam for a seller to kindly provide a Carfax report—from three years ago, prior to extensive post-accident bodywork. If the seller is providing their own Carfax, check the date.

If you care at all about full transparency (and with a purchase as big as a car, you should), buying with Shift not only gets you a full Carfax report for free, but also high-res wear-and-tear photos and a complete 200-point inspection report for every car we sell.

Tip #8: Don’t be afraid to negotiate

Craigslist is one of the few places where Americans can still (sometimes) haggle. Sellers often list their cars at a slightly inflated price expecting to negotiate down. That said, this isn’t a rug shop in Marrakesh, so be realistic. When negotiating, try not to be too emotional (or rude) and be able to explain your reasoning with facts.

For example, you can use information gleaned from the inspection to help support your case for a lower price. If the car needs a $300 brake job, you can see if the seller will accommodate for that in the price. Or, if the seller has the car priced well above book value (which you should research beforehand), you can see if they are willing to reflect that discrepancy with a lower price.

That said, don’t let it ruffle your feathers if they don’t want to come down on their price. It’s their car and they are not obliged to do so.

Tip #9: Take your time and trust your gut

Rushing to buy a car is the easiest way to get a healthy dose of buyer’s remorse. Throughout it all, listen to your gut. Don’t force a deal if something feels off. Buying a used car should be a methodical process, not a quick fix. When you find the right car, you’ll probably know it, and it will probably not be the first car you see.

Buying a used car on the private market can be intimidating, which is part of the reason we founded Shift in the first place. If you’re looking for a safer, more straight-forward alternative (that’s a heck of a lot of more convenient), check us out.

Inspection Reports Now Available on Every Vehicle Description Page

Nobody wants to buy a lemon. That’s why from day one, we knew that a big part of adding value to the peer-to-peer car market was providing greater transparency into a car’s condition. From that goal, we’ve developed an entire 200-point inspection to identify and repair wear & tear to make sure every car we list is as safe and reliable as possible.

Continue reading “Inspection Reports Now Available on Every Vehicle Description Page”

How to do a lease buyout

Looking to get out of a lease? You’re not alone—buying out your car’s lease can be surprisingly unapproachable. Every car lease is different, but what they all have in common is their complexity. That’s why we talked to our  team of lease specialists to put together an easy guide on how to do a lease buyout.

Little Mermaid contract signing

Why would you buy out a lease?
New baby? Moving house? Went over your mileage allotment? Or maybe the lease on a car you love is expiring soon? Whatever your reason, anyone leasing a car should consider when and whether buying out your lease makes sense. No matter the case, weighing a buyout will depend on how the current market value of your car compares to your total cost of buyout.

Calculating your cost of buyout
The primary consideration of your buyout is: what’s it gonna cost me? Calculate it with the following equation:

Cost of buyout = Residual value + Outstanding monthly payments + Fees

Residual value: the lion’s share of your buyout
A car’s residual value is an estimate of the car’s worth at the end of its lease term. This number is agreed upon with the dealership when you signed your lease and can usually be found on the lease’s first page. However, only considering this number is insufficient, because the other two factors can often be fairly substantial, so read on, friend.

Outstanding monthly payments: the time-dependent cost
This is what you still owe on the car for the agreed upon lease period. Depending on when you are considering buying out your lease, this number can be small (buying out at end of lease), or large (early buyouts). To calculate this number, multiply the number of remaining months by your monthly payment.

Fees: the unavoidable 🙁 in leasing
Like death and taxes, fees are pretty much unavoidable when it comes to leasing an automobile. On top of that, there is no standard lease and each one is likely to have different fees associated with it. The key consideration here is 1) what types of fees you are on the hook for in case of lease buyout or expiration and 2) how much they’ll cost.
Here are some examples of the types of lease fees you may encounter at expiration:

  • Mileage fee for exceeding your agreed upon mileage allotment. Usually charged on a per mile basis.
  • Damage fee for dents and harm to the car beyond normal wear and tear.
  • Disposition fee for turning your car over at the end of your lease. This covers the lienholder’s cost to recondition and re-detail your car.

Even if you buyout, you can’t avoid fees. Often you will see a purchase option fee if you decide to buy the car. You can usually find the fees you’ll be responsible for in the case of a buyout or at lease expiration outlined near the residual on your original lease, often a bit further down the page.

Cost of buyout vs. market value
The lower the total cost of buyout is relative to a car’s market value, the more sense a lease buyout makes for you. Here are some examples:

Total cost of buyout > market value

  • Total cost of buyout = $15,000 and your estimated value = $13,000. Unlikely to be a profitable buyout, but other personal considerations may apply.

Total cost of buyout < market value

  • Total cost of buyout = $15,000 and your estimated value = $17,000. Definitely consider buying out your lease, it’s time to make some money!

Total cost of buyout is very close to market value

  • The wisdom of a lease buyout will depend on a case-by-case basis here. Maybe you love the car or are happy with it and aren’t ready to part ways with it. In cases where profit is not the primary consideration, it may make sense to buy the lease out.

When should I be thinking about a lease buyout?
You’ll want to start thinking about buying out a lease a few months before your lease actually ends. You may say, “but I still have weeks on my lease!” but it’s best not to wait too long. For one, you’ll need time to do your research. For another, you need to find a buyer if you want to sell your car. Some states have a limit on the time you can wait to resell your vehicle before you have to resell it.

California, for instance, only gives you ten days to transfer ownership to a new buyer before you’re charged sales tax on the lease buyout. If you transfer ownership within 10 days, then they acknowledge that you completed the buyout with the intent to sell and don’t charge you sales tax (which, at California tax rates, is no small sum!). At Shift, we work with sellers to line up a buyer up before the buyout so that you’ll never run into this problem.  

Still have more questions on selling and lease buyouts? We’re here to help.

Introducing the Shift iPhone app

By George Arison, Shift CEO

In 2011, I tried to buyout a lease on my lovely Saab. What should have been an easy task turned into a runaround between my dealer and my bank. The painful process helped me realize what now seems obvious: almost every step of buying or selling a car asks the customer to work around the process. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Continue reading “Introducing the Shift iPhone app”

How to Buy a Used Car: What to Know & What to Avoid

Buying a car is tricky business. After your house, a car purchase is likely to be the most expensive decision you make. To help you have the best possible experience, here are some tips on how to buy a used car.

Don’t buy a used car with a salvaged title

This is the mother of all car buying mistakes. Why? First, the reason the car was salvaged—totaled in an accident, stolen, or flooded—are sufficient reasons to walk away. Second, resale value is going to be awful, and most buyers won’t even be interested. Third, these cars can be hard to register and insure.

Yes, $2,000 for a 2005 BMW 3-series seems like a screaming deal, but you’ll be very sad when the car breaks and you can’t sell it to anyone as it sits in front of your house for two years like a tribute to foolishness. The solution here is easy, don’t do it. How do you know if a car has a salvaged title? You need to get a vehicle history report. Which brings us to our next common mistake.

Always get a vehicle history report

Running a vehicle history report such as Carfax is crucial when car shopping. You want to look for things like accidents, evidence of maintenance, and number of previous owners. You can also see if a celebrity once owned the car (bonus points if it was John Voight). If the car has had five owners in three years, you might want to be suspicious. Why would so many people want to part ways with this car?

If the report shows that the car has been in an accident, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if the repairs were done correctly. That being said, you’ll want to be extra careful to look for issues during the test drive. On Shift, you’ll find the Carfax report available from every car’s listing page.

Don’t go in with rose-colored glasses

This sounds strange, but falling in love with a car before you buy it can be a mistake. It can cause you to gloss over some things that you’ll regret not noticing later. A friend recently wanted a Toyota 4Runner so badly that he lost sight of the fact that it wasn’t a good choice for him. The 4Runner got poor mileage and was too large and too expensive for his needs.

Try not to get too excited before you agree on a purchase price. Even if the car is right for you, if the seller sees how badly you want it, you might have less bargaining power. (Especially at dealerships.)

Stay within your budget

Making a budget for your purchase is important. Ask yourself what you can realistically afford. Consider not just monthly payments, but how long you’d be making those payments. Then be sure to add on costs for maintenance, gas, registration, and insurance. If you haven’t considered these extra costs, you could be in for a sad surprise.

Cars that were more expensive new tend to have higher maintenance costs. Just because a ten year old BMW is the same price as a five-year old Honda doesn’t mean the cost of ownership will be the same.

Do a pre-purchase inspection

Before finalizing the purchase, ask if you can have your mechanic take a look at the car. Often referred to as a PPI, it’s an expense that more than pays for itself. Unless you’re great with cars, it’s really hard to spot everything a professional will. If you can, take it to your usual mechanic, since a new mechanic who performs a PPI may suggest unnecessary repairs or fixes that aren’t needed yet.

At Shift we think this is such an important step that we perform a 200-point inspection on every car we list. We include our findings in an inspection report we give every buyer on their test drive, at no extra cost. The inspection is that important.

Do your research

You wouldn’t go to a restaurant that you’d heard nothing about for a first date (especially if that meal cost thousands of dollars). You’d ask for a friends advice, you’d check a ratings website, or you’d read a review in the local newspaper. It’s the same deal with buying a car. The internet is full of information about cars, so spend some time learning about your potential new whip before you test drive it.

Don’t be a stickler for brand

Just because a car manufacturer built your favorite car—the little yellow hatchback you’ve had since you were a freshman in college—doesn’t mean you should blindly buy from them again. Car manufacturers change over the years. Standards change, manufacturing facilities move, engineers retire, and new CEOs come in. Blind Faith is a great name for a classic rock band, but not a great strategy for buying a car.

Make sure it’s passed its emissions and smog tests

In states that require smog tests, this is a bugaboo that really should be avoided. If you buy a car that hasn’t been tested recently, you could get stuck paying for a lot of repairs to make the car passable. It’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure that a car has been smogged recently, so ask for a proof of a current smog certification on the test drive.

Be wary of overdue DMV fees 

Unbeknownst to you, a car may have accrued registration fees, parking tickets, or toll violations. You don’t want to be saddled with the previous owner’s baggage, but how do you know if you are? First, you can ask the owner. If you don’t trust them, put on your PI hat and contact the DMV with the license plate number.

Ask for maintenance history

If the owner has no idea when the oil was last changed, or has no record of it ever being changed, you should walk away. It’s a sign that the car has been neglected. A good sign is a folder full of receipts for work done at a reputable shop.

Don’t buy a really dirty or rusty car

rusty carWhat mold is to bread, rust is to cars. You don’t eat moldy bread, right? So you don’t want buy a rusty car. If you look under a car and everything looks rusty, walk away. Rust destroys body panels, engine components, suspension pieces, and even hardware. It can mean changing a routine bolt becomes a day-long job for a mechanic. If that sounds expensive, that’s because it is. Do yourself a favor and check the car for rust, especially if you live in an area where the roads are salted during the winter.

Similarly, a dirty car can be a red flag; it mean that the owner doesn’t take good care of it. If they can’t be bothered to clean it up for a prospective buyer, can you expect them to have bothered to change the oil? Also, dirt can conceal dents, body repairs, or paint work. So be wary!

The truth is, car shopping isn’t easy. In fact, it’s enough to make your head spin like a set of radials. But with this list of car buying mistakes and a steady hand, you’ll be behind the wheel of a great car for years to come.

How To Test Drive a Used Car: Your Ultimate Checklist

Most people will buy a used car at least once in their life. It can be an exciting, maddening, and intimidating experience. But if you do it right, it can mean the difference between a lemon and a cherry on top (see what we did there?). Luckily, we’ve learned a few things along the way that can help you make sense of it all. Here’s how to test drive a used car, in a nifty checklist.

Test Drive Pro Tip # 1. Do Your Homework 

Before you head out to do the test drive, do some research. It’s easy to access a mound of information on pretty much any car via the (sometimes) trusty internet. Will you be looking at a Pontiac Aztek because you loved Breaking Bad? Chances are there’s a forum that specializes in Azteks where you can find a buyer’s guide. Go into the test drive knowing what to look for and what to ask about, such as common maintenance items and maladies. Speaking of asking good questions…

Test Drive Pro Tip #2: Ask All the Questions

Asking questions of the owner is absolutely critical and can be as elucidating as driving the car. You want to hit the owner with some great questions, not just “what’s she do in the quarter bro?” You want to buy a car from a person you trust, and you want to get a sense for what ownership is like, and why the owner would want to end their relationship with the vehicle. Some important questions:

  • Why are you selling the car?
  • How long have you owned it, and are you the first owner?
  • Has the car been in an accident?
  • What have you used it for? (If their answer is racing, pass)
  • Has it given you any trouble?
  • How often do you change the oil? (Every 3k miles is the best answer here.)
  • Do you have service records?
  • Where do you get it serviced? (A reputable shop is a good answer, and you can always call them and ask their opinion of the car.)
  • Do you have the title? Is it clean?
  • Where did you buy it?
  • Who did you buy it from?
  • Does it have any issues currently? Does it go through any oil/coolant?

Remember, nobody likes a jerk, so be nice about it; this isn’t Law and Order and you’re not Ice T. If the owner’s answers seem vague, sketchy, or don’t match up, use it as a sign that this car may not be for you.

Test Drive Pro Tip # 3: Look for clues

Bring your flashlight and look around, in, and under the car thoroughly with an eye for the following:

A. Bodywork and VINs: Work your way around the car looking for signs of repainting or overspray around each body panel. Overspray occurs when the body shop repaints a panel and accidentally gets paint spray on an adjacent panel or trim piece.

  • Does one panel look newer than the surrounding panels?
  • Does an area have more texture or undulations than others? Look from different angles and use your flashlight.
  • Look for VIN tags. If a car has had a panel replaced, it may not have the original tag with the VIN stamped onto it. Instead, it might say DOT, which means the panel has been replaced. If so, assume the car has been in an accident.
  • Look for different-sized gaps between the panels.
  • When the owner is not looking, whisper “tell me your secrets, car.”

An accident isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker if it was repaired properly. But if it wasn’t, you could be in for trouble.

B. Leaks: Specifically look for leaking fluids around the engine.

  • Is there oil, coolant, or other fluid dripping anywhere near the engine?
  • Is the engine relatively clean, and is any part of the engine wet with oil?
  • Look for fluid leaking from the shock absorbers.

C. Rust: If you see rust, you probably want to walk away. Like Neil Young said, rust never sleeps, and you don’t want it not sleeping in your car.

  • Look up in the wheel wells with your flashlight.
  • Look at the suspension and inside the quarter panels.

D. Mold and mildew: Mold and mildew inside the car can mean water is leaking into the car. Water: great in oceans, bad in cars.

  • Pull back trunk carpets, look under floor mats, look at the headliner for signs of water.
  • Look at the rubber seals around the doors to make sure they are not torn, brittle, and cracked.

How To Pay for Your Used Car

Test Drive Pro Tip #4. Kick the Tires

Tires are perhaps the most important part of the car, and should not be overlooked, as they can tell you a surprising amount about the car.

  • Do they have decent tread left or are they bald as an eagle?
  • Is the wear even across the tire? If the tires are more worn on the inside than on the outside, the car needs an alignment.
  • Are all four tires equally worn?
  • Are they a brand you’ve heard of?

Tires are not something to be skimped on, and quality tires are a sign that the car has been well-maintained.

Test Drive Pro Tip #5. Check the Fluid 

Oil, coolant, and other fluids are paramount to vehicle operation, so you want to make sure your potential next car has the fluids in the right place. Make sure you do this when the car is not hot.

  • Check the oil and the coolant. If the dipstick indicates that the oil is low, that’s bad. If it is dry, that’s really bad. You’d be surprised how many cars we’ve test driven with low oil. It’s direct evidence that the car hasn’t been well-maintained, which means expensive repairs are looming.

Test Drive Pro Tip #6. Fire it Up

Start the car with the hood open. Listen for funny sounds.

  • Does it idle well?
  • Does it sound smooth?
  • Does it sound like air is escaping?
  • Does smoke come off of the engine?
  • Walk around to the back; does smoke come out of the exhaust? Smoke that doesn’t dissipate shortly after the engine starts could mean the car is burning oil or coolant.

A lot goes into the inspection process, which is just one of the reasons we inspect every car sold on Shift for our customers. The findings from the 200-point inspection are compiled into a report that we give both buyers and sellers so that everyone is on the same page.

Test Drive Pro Tip #7. (Actually) Test Drive It 

You want to drive the car in a way that is going to reveal any issues or maladies that may not be apparent if you were to drive it around the parking lot.

  • Go on the freeway and accelerate briskly up to speed.
  • Brake aggressively (just warn the passengers first) and pay attention to how the pedal feels and if the car pulls in either direction.
  • Does the suspension make a lot of crashing, thumping noises over bumps?
  • Is there a popping sound when your turn?
  • Does the transmission shift smoothly?
  • If it’s a manual, does the clutch engage in a smooth manner? Does it slip?
  • As you drive, pay attention to the sensations from the steering wheel, the pedals, the shifter, and the seat of your pants. You want to look for any signs of anything not working properly. Don’t be afraid to make notes and ask the owner why a vehicle does something odd. If their answer seems satisfactory, that’s a good sign. If not, you can have your mechanic take a closer look. More on that in a bit.
  • Does everything work? Windows, locks, stereo, lights, air conditioning?

After the drive, pop the hood again. Is there any smoke? Is there a sweet smell? If so, that’s not like your grandma’s cookies, that’s coolant, and it’s a bad thing.

Why’s it So Hard To Finance a Used Car?

Test Drive Pro Tip #8. Check the Carfax

This is critical. Run the VIN through Carfax. Does the history match what the owner stated? Are there any reported accidents? You may also want to check if any recalls have been issued. Look to make sure the title hasn’t been salvaged. If it has, this car is definitely not for you.

Test Drive Pro Tip #9: Pre-purchase inspection

At Shift, every car is pre-inspected and put through a 200-point examination. But, you might be buying in a car outside of the San Francisco, Los Angeles, and DC areas that Shift serves. If that’s the case, you might want to ask the owner if you can have your mechanic check it out.

A good mechanic will have the tools, skills, and knowledge to spot things that you can’t. Plus, if they find something amiss, you can use it as a way to negotiate a lower price. At Shift, the inspection is a standard part of the process for every car we help sell. Otherwise, the PPI will cost you $100-150, but it’s money well spent as you can know exactly what kind of car you’re buying.

That’s it! Remember, after you’ve gone through this used car test drive checklist, don’t be afraid to walk away from a car that doesn’t seem right. Finding a good used car takes time and patience. When you do find the right car, you’ll smile with satisfaction knowing you bought a ride you can trust.

What’s My Car Worth? The Science of Car Pricing

We heard this one all the time. A simple question with a not-so-simple answer: What is my car worth? Since the car market isn’t usually top of mind, it can be hard to think about value of your car. Car pricing guides like Kelley Blue Book act as good price anchors. But one-size-fits-all car pricing guides tend not to capture every element that could affect a car’s true value.

So we put together three real-world considerations that can impact car value that every seller (and buyer!) should have in mind the next time they’re in the market.

How Market Forces Affect Your Car’s Worth

The question of what your car is worth depends, in part, on what people are willing to pay for it. The laws of supply and demand lie at the heart of every transaction, and used cars are no different. But unlike commoditized goods like milk and coffee beans, the supply and demand for used car can vary widely from place to place. Think about if you live in a rural area — you probably want a car that can handle rough roads. If you live in a packed city on the other hand, a compact car is your best bet. So the demand for those vehicles will change with the location. When it comes to supply… well, your car might be a great one, but if there’s lot of your exact same car on the local market, it could make yours harder to sell at its KBB value.

Other things like area dealer presence and activity, seasonality, and even weather can also impact car pricing. The best way to capture this would be to look at a variety of actual, live listings in your area, how long they’ve been on the market, and compare them to each other. Shift’s estimate tool actually does this precise calculation for you, and when you schedule an evaluation, our Car Enthusiast will actually show you a graph of local vehicle listings similar to yours for your reference.

How Features Affect Your Car’s Worth

The car’s features can also throw a monkey wrench into an already tough calculation. How do the features of your car influence price? Well, it depends:

Paint color – 61% of the cars sold through Shift are black, white, silver, or grey. While not the most exciting, safe neutral colors are still the easiest to sell.

Shift's most popular car colors
Grayscale colors represent a whopping 61% of cars sold on Shift

Bright or exotic colors can fare well among collectors and buyers looking on edges of the color palette, but because there are simply fewer adventurous buyers, you’ll either have to be more patient or lower the price of that lime green Beetle.

Color's effect on sale price at Shift
Purple: a fun color that’s not fun to sell

Transmission – Much to the dismay of car enthusiasts everywhere, fewer and fewer cars are being made with manual transmissions. As a result, fewer people are learning to drive stick. So if your ride sports a manual transmission, you are already significantly limiting your potential buyer audience and may have to lower the price or wait longer to sell.

Trim and package – While most used car shoppers would prefer leather seats and premium audio (hey, who wouldn’t?), whether or not they are willing to pay a premium for it is going to depend from buyer to buyer. Generally speaking, the older a car is, the harder it is to recoup the original cost of your car’s options.

Aftermarket parts – You’ll often see Craigslist listings that list out how much money has been put into the car in after market parts, but these modifications almost never bring a very good return on investment. In fact, because aftermarket parts have a poorer reputation for quality and durability, they could even hurt a car’s resale value. Some sellers will even reinstall the stock parts and just throw the aftermarket pieces into the deal (or sometimes not at all). When it comes to aftermarket mods, seller beware.

How Condition Affect Your Car’s Worth

It should come as no surprise that a car’s condition is a huge factor in determining its value, but when it comes to flaws, not all damage is the same. Deployed airbags, wheel misalignment, and frame damage, for example, are far more likely to hurt a vehicle’s value than fender dents or paint scratches. (That’s just one reason why every car listed on Shift must first pass a detailed inspection by our ASE-certified master mechanics — and why only 3 out of 5 cars make the cut.)

By that same token, not all repairs are the same, either. Even assuming that all repairs are done by an equally skilled hand (which isn’t always the case), some repairs can do more to improve a car’s value than others.

So if you find yourself confused about car pricing, you’re not alone—determining a car’s worth is no easy task. Know that car pricing guides such as KBB are just starting points. If you’re ever looking for a second opinion, check out our quote estimate tool, which already takes your local market into account.

How to Sell Your Car on Craigslist — Part I

Looking to sell your car on Craigslist? There’s a reason it’s so popular — it attracts a large number of car shoppers and you can generally get more for your car than what a dealership will offer you. It isn’t always seamless, and can be downright dread-inducing if you don’t know what you’re doing. But is IS possible to avoid the stereotypical hassle and cash your check in fast. Here’s how.

Step 1: Decide How Much To Sell Your Car For
The price is a primary search criteria for any buyer, so you’ll want to pick a number that reflects your car’s worth but will attract reasonable buyer inquiries relatively quickly. This is one of the most critical factors to selling your car. There are many ways to go about determining it, but the quickest is to visit the Kelley Blue Book (KBB) website.

(Bear in mind: KBB doesn’t factor in your locale or compare live listings, so a second opinion might be a good idea.)

Once you have some figures in hand, consider your urgency, willingness to negotiate, and the car’s condition to arrive at your listing price.

Step 2: Wash Your Car
Every buyer is going to want to see pictures of the car, so before you do that, let’s get your ride looking as presentable as possible. This is important to do to sell your car quickly.

Basic car wash or a full exterior detailing? Generally speaking, how good your car looks will have an impact on how much you can sell it for, and you’ll often make up the cost of the detailing in the sale price. Ultimately, how you clean your car is up to you, but get it spic-n-span before moving onto step 3.

Step 3: Photograph your vehicle
This is one of the most important but overlooked steps when you go to sell your vehicle. Done well, good photos show off your car in its best possible light. They help set proper buyer expectations, and they make it easier to establish trust.

  • Exterior – Start by shooting the exterior in good daylight. Get multiple angles of the exterior and try not to get too high or too low. Hold the camera at a medium height and frame the car well.
  • Dents and flaws – It may be counterintuitive to take highly detailed photos of damage, but they’ll make sure the buyer knows exactly what they’re buying. If you avoid them, it’s only ammo for the buyer to negotiate during the test drive, so save yourself some time and hassle and capture the dents, tire wear, and paint chips.
  • Interior – Get good shots of the driver’s view and don’t forget the odometer and dash. Don’t forget the trunk area, which is often an important buyer consideration. Get some detail shots of the fabric or leather, as well as interesting interior highlights.

What’s My Car (Really) Worth? The Mushy, Inexact Science of Car Pricing

Step 4: Write an Awesome Description
Paired with your awesome photos, a good description and title is going to help your car stand out from the pack and ultimately sell your car faster. In the title, Craigslist will add the price and location automatically, so you should start your title with your car’s year, make, and model.

For the description, keep it skimmable. Use bullets and break out the basics (mileage, interior/exterior colors, engine details and horsepower) from the detailed features and options. Include a paragraph on its general condition, why you’re selling the car, how you used it, and accepted method of payment (cashier’s check is recommended). Feel free to apply your creativity here, but avoid writing too much.

Step 6: Create the Listing
Now you’re all set to introduce the world to your car. Head over to Craigslist.org, select your geography, and click post to classifieds > for sale by owner > cars & trucks > your neighborhood to get the process started.

Insert the title and description you’ve already written, and fill in the rest of your car’s details. Select CL mail relay (which won’t make your email public) and click publish (it costs $5 dollars).

Congratulations, you did it! Let the test drives commence.

Read PART 11: Test drives & sale