Chances are by now you know I’ve sold my B7 Audi S4. It was the first time I’ve sold a car private-party, but I knew that no dealership would want such a heavily modified vehicle as a trade-in, and it pained me to think about taking off all of the aftermarket parts to return it back to stock. Finding a buyer wasn’t going to be easy, but I was hopeful that since my modifications were tasteful (in my opinion) and reversible, someone might see the car and fall in love with it just like I did. In this article I’ll give a step by step guide to how I sold my modified car private party to a buyer on the other side of the country without any hiccups and got above the KBB value of the car in the process. It should be noted that 9 times out of 10 it will be easier to sell a car stock (or mostly stock), so this article is mostly geared towards those who have modified their vehicles and want to sell them as-is.
Determining Your Price
This is probably the hardest and most critical part. A price too high will steer away a lot of interest, but a price too low will sell yourself short. Remember that NO ONE will pay for full price for a car, especially from a private buyer so never start with your bottom line. You are not CarMax, negotiation & haggling is to be expected and buyers want to feel like they “won” a great deal on your car…so be sure to build in a little buffer into the price knowing you won’t get full ask. Personally I think that in any negotiation (cars, business, etc.) if you get full ask without much hesitation that means you didn’t ask for enough. Start with the KBB & NADA prices as a baseline, then factor in whatever premium you think is reasonable given the condition, rarity, and modifications done to the vehicle (consider this the premium you think you can justify. Sometimes the KBB & NADA prices are completely off-base, especially if you have a rare car – othertimes they are pretty spot on. Look at other cars that are listing on popular sites like Cars.com & CarGurus.com, as well as sold listings on message boards that have similar mods or rarity to get an idea of what comparable listings got. Ultimately you need to make sure you can justify your price and back it up with data as this will make the negotiation process a lot easier – much like real-estate, the most compelling data point is “comps” or comparable sales in the last 90 days or so.
Feel free to list out how much you spent on modifications, maintenance, and installation, but keep in mind that no buyer in their right mind will pay you 100% of your modification costs (and assumes those modification costs are highly inflated because they usually are) and very little if anything for your maintenance costs…a better rule of thumb is 50% of modification cost and closer to 0% of maintenance costs, with the exception of a transferable warranty which you can pro-rate cost for. In my opinion it’s best to provide a base price for the car (and non removable modifications) so buyers can compare to other “stock” cars, and then provide ala carte pricing for easy to remove parts so that you can negotiate these separately – for instance I was asking $20k for my car on stock wheels, $21k with aftermarket wheels, $22k with both sets of wheels included…this is much easier for a buyer to swallow then asking $22k straight up, and it will line up with the KBB price better.
Writing Your Classified Listing
It’s amazing how many people screw this part up, but after searching high and low for my next vehicle it’s a shockingly high percentage of people. From listings that are virtually unreadable in all caps and no punctuation, to those missing critical details like mileage and year, there are a lot of used car listings out there that are immediately going to steer away buyers, especially enthusiasts. Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes for a minute and you’ll understand that once you’ve decide what Make, Model and Year you’re looking for, the decision largely comes down to how trustworthy the seller is and how well maintained the vehicle is (along with color & options of course). A poor listing with bad photos that lacks detail isn’t trustworthy, and probably not worth following up on. I spent several hours photography and writing the ad for my car, which can be found here: https://www.nickscarblog.com/cars/officially-for-sale-my-b7-audi-s4 and then republished on Audizine, Craigslist, Audi Facebook Groups, and the like.
Must haves for your listing – if you don’t have these, don’t bother listing it IMO:
- Year: 2006
- Make: Audi
- Model: S4
- Price: $20,000 OBO
- Mileage: 65,XXX
- Color: Brilliant Red
- Private or Dealer Listing: Private Listing
- Location: San Diego, CA
- Transmission: Manual
- Drivetrain: AWD (quattro)
- High resolution photos showing the car from every angle, including wheels, engine, interior, and exterior. Two shots of the exterior will NOT cut it. Showing tread depth of tires, curb rash (or lack thereof) of wheels, and a shot of the odometer is a plus. Also offer photos of any defects or flaws such as wear & tear on the seats, paint chips, missing items, etc. Chance are you have a friend with a DSLR camera that is an aspiring photographer, enlist them and offer to pay (or at least buy them a beer!) for best results.
- Contact Information!
Strongly recommended – include all of these as well:
- Options: Any options it came with from factory (i.e. Cold Weather Package, etc.) – try to make this line up to the KBB pricing tool so that they know which boxes to check and you get extra value when they price out the value on their own.
- Modifications: Any modifications you’ve done, either OEM parts or aftermarket. Ideally list when it was installed, price of part & installation, and a link to the manufacturer’s description that describes benefits, warranty, etc.
- Maintenance history: note any maintenance records you have over the life of the car. Real enthusiasts will want to know oil change brand and frequency, and listing details like this also signal to the buyer that you took meticulous care of your car and are more trustworthy to buy from. Major maintenance (and cost of repair) can also be helpful so buyers know these items are already taken care of if they are familiar with common maintenance issues and are trying to understand if they should budget for upcoming major service items or not.
- Issues/Defects/Flaws: this one is most important! If you’ve got a 10 year old car, no one will believe it is in perfect condition. By listing out the car’s flaws (ideally with photos) you build trust with the buyer. They know what they’re getting, and will be understanding of the condition. It is better to underpromise and over deliver. If someone tries to tell me their 10 year old car is in perfect shape, I’m not going to waste my time. If someone takes a picture of every little ding and scratch, I know I can trust them and am much more comfortable buying site unseen (or investing in a trip to go see it, as I know the trip won’t be a complete waste of time). If you really don’t want to post pictures of your car’s issues, then get them fixed before hand so you really do have a “perfect” condition car (and note the recent work completed above).
- Reason for sale: it’s helpful to know why someone is selling, so it’s clear they’re not selling because the car is about to implode.
- CarFax: if you have a recent report, show it. If not, buyer can get it done.
- PPI Inspection: if you’ve had one done, show it. If not, buyer can get it done.
- Other Terms & Conditions: is there a loan on the car? are you willing to ship? any warranty left and is it transferrable? etc.
Basically, the more details the better. Remember it is about building trust as much as anything.
Where to List Your Car
I started small given the niche market for my car; the “mainstream” doesn’t want to buy a heavily modified vehicle, so I didn’t list on the major sites initially. If you’re selling a modified car, start with the forums & message boards that enthusiasts of your car (or similar cars) like to congregate. For me that was Audizine & VWVortex. For Porsche enthusiasts that might be Rennlist & 6SpeedOnline. Do your research if you’re not familiar with the right message boards, and make sure your listing is extremely thorough and not stretching the truth anywhere (i.e. don’t put an outrageous HP estimate unless you can back it up, you will get called out). Most of these message boards let you list your car (or other parts) for free as long as you’ve got a few posts under your belt and follow the rules of the board. These forums will also give valuable feedback on the listing thoroughness & accuracy, as well as your price – just be aware that people will not hold back to “flame” you if your price is wildly out of touch with reality. Depending on your car and modifications you may start to get offers to sell off specific parts or modifications; if you get a really good offer, I’d recommend you consider it as the more stock your car gets the easier it is to sell in general. While the right buyer will give you a premium for modifications, that premium isn’t usually as high as the profit you can bring in by taking parts off and selling them individually since the market gets much bigger (higher demand, lower supply). Occasionally bump your thread to get it additional exposure, but don’t overdo it and be respectful of the norms of the message board – ideally try to bump the thread with something of substance like a new photo you took or an update to the price, answering a question someone asked, or indicating a certain part has been removed (and corresponding price drop).
Once you’ve give the message boards a little while and gotten good feedback on your listing and car, start to cast a wider net. More mainstream places to list the car include:
- Cars.com – their listings are syndicated across the web to places like Motor Trend. Free to private parties.
- CarGurus.com – free, and really easy to use, most comprehensive listings since they feed into dealer management software.
- Autotrader.com – small fee, but also syndicated and good resource.
- Craigslist – a lot of bottom feeders & scammers, but it’s free and local so give it a shot
- Facebook – post to your friends in case they know anyone, but also look for Public Groups. For me there are some SoCal Classified groups as well as places like San Diego Audi Club, Autobahn Club of LA, SoCal Euro Classifieds, Audi Club of North America, etc.
- Instagram – it’s a long shot, but I actually got some interest over IG for my car. Your experience will vary based on how much you actively use IG and the type of followers you have.
Negotiating Price & Bill of Sale
At this point hopefully you’ve gotten some interest – from my experience a lot of that interest will be from people who don’t have the funds (but once they sell their car, get their tax return, and win the lottery they’ll be right in touch, lol) or want to low ball the crap out of you. Stay patient, as long as you’re getting some interest then you’re on the right track. Much like going fishing you need to understand you’ll get a few “nibbles” before you can set the hook – don’t get discourage and don’t start to ignore people or assume they aren’t qualified just because you’ve had a string of tire kickers. The hardest part about selling a modified car is that buyers can only typically get financed for the KBB value of the car at most, so any premium above KBB for modifications or rarity of the car needs to come out of their pocket. Ideally you’ll find a cash buyer, as someone financing the vehicle will have a lot of hoops to jump through. Insist on a phone call if you can to weed out scammers, but as long as their emails seem like a human wrote them and are very specific to your listing and not speaking in vague/general terms that could be applicable to any car listing on the internet, you’re probably okay. Ask how they will be paying and specific questions about them so that you can confirm they’re not wasting your time and are a real person.
Once Mr. or Mrs. Interested contacts you, stay firm on your price if you’re confident in it. Explain how you arrived at your price (per step 1 this should be a really well thought out and justifable price) and let them know you’ve gotten other interest and are staying firm at the price, but open to offers if the buyer has cash in hand and is ready to move. Don’t give away all of your wiggle room on the first round, there will likely be more negotiation to be had.
Once you’re confident the buyer is really interested and qualified to buy, it’s up to you to close the deal. I won’t advocate any high pressure tactics here as that isn’t my style, but anyone who has bought a car has probably experienced these and can use at your own risk. These may include things like creating a sense of urgency to buy (someone else is looking at it so act now and don’t miss out), sweetening the pot (throwing something in for free, as everyone loves free stuff), or best yet getting them to see the car and test drive in person and getting a verbal commitment from them (then try to hold them accountable, generally people hate being inconsistent with their word once it’s been said aloud).
Once you’ve agreed upon price, get a Bill of Sale signed by both parties to make it official. I signed up for a free trial of LegalContract.com and used their template which made things really easy, but there are tons of templates out there that don’t require a sign up if you don’t feel comfortable doing that.
Collecting Payment & Shipping
If you’re selling to someone sight unseen or otherwise not in person, I recommend Escrow.com – it’s kind of a neat service where they collect the funds from the buyer, then hold the funds until the car is delivered. It creates a little more trust & confidence for the buyer that you won’t “ghost” them, and also helps the seller by making sure the buyer deposits the funds before you ship the car so you don’t ship the car to someone who says “the check is in the mail” and it never comes, or tries to reverse the charge through a different financial instrument. You can split the Escrow fees but they only run about $200 total which isn’t much for the peace of mind on both sides.
If you’re buying in person, a cashiers check or money order is the only way to go, unless the buyer is financing then you go to the bank and do it the old fashioned way. Never accept personal checks, Western Union, etc. Personally I wouldn’t take PayPal or Venmo either since they can dispute those charges (you should win that dispute if you can prove the car was delivered, but still a lot of hassle).
If you have to ship the car, shop around for the best deal using a broker. If you’re in SoCal I can put you in touch with my guy that can get pretty good deals. I paid about $1200 to ship a car across country for what it’s worth, so shipping isn’t nearly as bad as you might think if that’s the high end of the scale.
Finalizing Sale & Title Release
Okay so you’ve received the funds in full, and the buyer has the car. Almost done! Last but not least you need to deliver them the official Title (pink slip). The top of the Title has a form to mail in to notify the DMV you no longer own the car and aren’t responsible for it if anything were to happen – be sure to fill that out and mail it in ASAP, or fill out the online form instead if available. Also be sure to remove it from your car insurance so you’re not unnecessarily paying insurance (depending on your provider, you may get a pro-rated refund for insurance for any prepaid amount of your term which is a nice bonus). You’ve now officially sold the car, congrats! Now to cope with that lingering sense or regret, which I definitely experienced….don’t worry, you’ll feel better once you buy a new car to be excited about (after an appropriate mourning period over your last car, of course).