How to Sell Your Car on Craigslist

Want to sell your car? Selling a car yourself is not only a good way to beat the dealer’s offer, it’s actually easier than you think.

Shift specializes in selling your car for you, but for sellers looking to do it themselves, Craigslist is the most popular option. It attracts a large number of car shoppers and gives you the best shot of quickly selling your car. It isn’t always seamless, but if you follow these steps, you’ll avoid the typical Craigslist hassle and cash your check in no time.

The keys to a winning Craigslist listing

Once you’ve pulled the trigger and decided to sell, there are a few things you’ll need to think about before you list your car.

Step 1: Decide on a price
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. There are many ways to go about determining it, but the quickest is to visit the Kelley Blue Book (KBB) website.

KBB doesn’t factor in your locale or compare live listings, so a second opinion might be a good idea. Shift’s car pricing tool takes all that and more into account, and it’s totally free.

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.

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 overlooked steps in the pre-listing process. 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.

  • Camera – It helps if you have a great digital camera, but the image quality from phone cameras are so good that a recent iPhone or Android will do just fine.
  • 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 s/he’s 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.

Craigslist photo angles

Step 4: Get a Google Voice number
Google Voice is a great service. It gets you a temporary second phone number that forwards calls to your real phone. This free service will let you maintain privacy, screen calls, and transcribe voicemails throughout the selling process.

Step 5: Write your description
Paired with your awesome photos, a good description and title is going to help your car stand out from the pack. 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 your listing
Now you’re all set to introduce the world to your car. Head over to, 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 insert your Google Voice phone number to give buyers a phone and text option. Congratulations, you’re ready to submit your post. Let the inquiries roll in.

Scheduling test drives

Now that your post is up, get your calendar ready, because you’re about to start meeting buyers.

Preparing for the test drive
For many sellers, privacy will be a concern. You may want pick a public place to meet buyers at a convenient place for both you and the buyer. You’ll want to have all your paperwork lined up:

  • Title
  • Registration
  • Dealer and repair paperwork (if you have it)
  • Contract of sale

If either the title or the registration are missing, you’ll have to apply for a replacement with the DMV. Luckily, this is a common process that is inexpensive and straightforward.

You’ll want to have two copies of a contract of sale, which can be downloaded from the internet and printed out. Some sellers will have a printout of their car’s Carfax history report and KBB price as well to pre-empt lowballers or aggressive negotiators.

Give your car a once-over to get rid of any bits of trash and other unsightly elements, then go meet your buyer. Some sellers insist on being in the car during the test drive, but it’s probably easier and more comfortable for both you and the buyer to just take a picture of their driver’s license and let them take it for a spin themselves.

Sealing the deal

If you’ve done all your work, pretty soon you’ll find yourself in the closing negotiations. It’s normal for buyers to negotiate for a better price. Decide beforehand a price that you won’t go below. If a buyer does try to go lower than that number, don’t be afraid to say no. It’ll only be a matter of time before you find someone else.

Closing the sale
Once you’ve agreed on a price, it’s time for the paperwork:

  • Collect your cashier’s check (politely decline personal checks)
  • Fill out the contract of sale
  • If you have a loan on the vehicle, contact your bank to notify them of the sale. You won’t be able to get the title from them if you don’t, and without the title there is no sale.

Since every state has slightly different laws, it’s best to do a Google search for car sales in your state to check if there’s additional documentation. Work with the buyer on the timeline for sale to agree on something that works for everyone.

Selling your car yourself can be an intimidating process, but with preparation and time, it’s completely doable. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to have a little help. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C. areas, Shift can take care of the entire process for you. We’ll provide an in-person valuation, handle every test drive, and file the paperwork so all you do is cash a check when all is said and done.

Happy selling!

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