How to make your used car ad stand out

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one bright car in a sea of gray cars

Your ad is a potential buyer's first impression of your car (and you). Taking a little extra time to add some detail will attract more serious buyers, get test drives scheduled, and get your car sold for a higher price.

This article provides a basic template for the ad description and photo tips that you can use on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Cars.com, OfferUp, etc. Use it to quickly create a good listing that answers most of the common questions that buyers have. Unfortunately, it won't answer the infamous question, “Is this still available?” which will forever be the first question every buyer asks no matter what you put in your ad.

At the end of the article, we'll provide some examples of the worst ads we could find when writing this post. It's surprisingly easy to find bad ones, so yours will stand out if you follow these steps!

How to Write a Good Description

Contrary to other articles, your description doesn't have to be excessively long to be effective. It's more important to present key details and provide transparency so you build trust with buyers. The template below will guide you to highlight both what is good and bad about your used car, so you can earn the trust of buyers and sell faster.

infographic showing key parts of our description template
Highlights and Lowlights
Here are few details to consider including in either of these sections:
  • Are you the original owner?
  • If the mileage is above average for the year, is it mostly highway miles (low wear and tear)?
  • Are there zero mechanical issues (engine, transmission, brakes, suspension all working well)?
  • Is the check engine light or airbag light on? (if so, get the code scanned)
  • Any dents? Big scratches?
  • Any major accidents or repairs?
  • What recent maintenance was performed (within the last 1-2 years)?
  • Are there common problems with this type of car that have already been addressed?
  • Do you have any service records?
  • No pets? No eating allowed in the car?
Modifications

Some cars have lots of modifications and if you're in that camp, you're probably already planning to list them all. Highly modified cars cater to a specific market of automotive enthusiasts and they'll want to see all the details of what's been changed.

Should You Include Your VIN Number?

Yes, please include your VIN. It's about as private as the t-shirt you're wearing right now. Your VIN is printed on the outside of your car and cannot be used to look up any personal information about you. Read how federal regulations make it safe to share your VIN number or license plate number with anyone.

To really drive this point home, here's my current car's VIN: 5YMTS0C0XL9B66586.

Sharing your VIN will help buyers look up information about your car without contacting you. That saves everyone time and energy which leads to more success when selling. If you don't know where to find your VIN, here are a few clever places to find it.

Deter Scammers

We put the scams you attract when selling a car into two categories. The first are phishing scams, where the scammer is trying to get your Google or Facebook login credentials by sending you to a fake website that asks you to "login". These simple scams can catch you off guard, so be cautious when a buyer sends you a link to another website. It's difficult to deter these types of scammers other than limiting the contact information you provide. Since they contact you in the same way real buyers do, it's impossible to avoid them.

The second category consists of payment scams which are much more serious. Examples are counterfeit cash, a fake cashier's check, or a reversed online payment. When you add your vehicle to KeySavvy, we'll give you a link and QR code image to include in your ad. By telling scammers you accept payment with KeySavvy, they'll be less likely to contact you.

Selling a Financed Car? Let Buyers Know.

If you still have a loan, you won't be able to sell your car until it's paid off. Since you can't show buyers that you have a clear title, it's important to disclose this in your ad and explain how you plan to transfer ownership. If you accept payment with KeySavvy, buyers can easily purchase your car and KeySavvy will work with your lender to pay your loan off as part of the transaction. However, there are a few different options for selling a car you still owe money on. Answer a few questions and our tool will help you decide which is best for you.

Tips for Pics

Good pictures get cars sold. Here are our tips for getting a good set of pictures in your listing.
  • Take at least ten pictures. These should include the exterior and interior of your car.
  • Include close-ups of the center console and the middle of the dashboard. This will help buyers confirm what factory options your car has installed. A close-up of the steering wheel can also be helpful for this reason.
  • Are your pictures blurry? Wipe off the lens of your camera. It's like getting a new phone.
  • Include pictures of any problem areas, like a dented fender.

Communicating with Buyers

Once you get your world-class car ad posted, get ready to be contacted. Make sure you'll receive notifications on your phone in a timely manner and check your spam folder occasionally to see if any emails from buyers are getting marked as junk. When a buyer reaches out, try to respond as quickly as you can! Ask if they'd like to come take a look at the car and offer your availability.

Yep, it's still available. Would you like to come take a look? I'm free after 4pm most weekdays.

Not everyone that contacts you will be a legitimate prospect. You can deter some scammers by posting your KeySavvy QR code in your photos. When scammers see you'll only accept payment with KeySavvy, they'll be less likely to contact you in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Follow these steps and your listing will stand out above the rest! If you aren't getting much interest after a week or two, try lowering your advertised price a bit or choosing a different “primary” photo (usually the first photo in your listing). That may help get more eyes on your car.

If you're not sure where to list your car for sale, take a look at our article where we listed the same car on seven different marketplaces.

The Bad Ones

As promised, here are some examples of “bad” used car ads. Enjoy.

screenshot of a bad example of a used car ad

It doesn't help that this is an nondescript white van, but the main problem with this ad is that the pictures are screenshots of pictures. There also isn't much detail given at all. What's the story behind this van? We must know. One positive note is that the seller at least indicates that the A/C doesn't work. Disclosing known major issues in the ad will save the buyer and seller time and earn the buyer's trust.

screenshot of a bad example of a used car ad

Remember the tip about wiping that camera lens? This is what happens when you don't. Every picture is very blurry, making it impossible to really see the condition of the car. Also, the pictures are very small, so it's doubly bad. This looks like a scam (and very well could be -- the urgent sale can be a red flag).

screenshot of a bad example of a used car ad

This is clearly a dealer even though it was posted as a private seller. The main problem with this ad is that everything is overly positive and the description is poorly written. I won't be giving Dlondo a call. Also, it looks like this dealership is at serious risk of a landslide.

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About Andrew Crowell

Andrew is an avid car enthusiast, software engineer, and business leader in the automotive and e-commerce industry. He's owned a couple Mazda Miatas, an E46 M3, a Subaru WRX STI, and a Porsche 911 Turbo.

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