Selling an Inexpensive Vehicle

While the guidelines for selling a used car are generally the same no matter how much your vehicle is worth, you can expect subtle differences for some vehicles—especially those priced inexpensively.

To get the most profit possible, use these tips to prepare for the challenges that may come your way.

Tips for Selling Inexpensive Vehicles

Whether your vehicle is high in mileage or built in the previous decade, you'll have to make a few unique decisions before you place your advertisement.

Here's what you should consider.

Setting the Price

Like any other car, you'll need to determine exactly how much your vehicle is worth. This can be done by using a pricing guide and by researching comparable vehicles for sale in your area.

This amount, however, isn't what you should use as a starting price. Most cheap vehicles with high mileage or years of wear will attract buyers looking for a good deal, so expect to negotiate. For example: If you're vehicle is worth $1,000, try pricing it at $1,400 to give yourself a little wiggle room with potential buyers.


If you've determined that your vehicle is worth a low resale value—say, less than $3,000— you'll have to decide whether or not repairs will increase the selling price enough to make it worth the additional investment.

It is likely that a car needing major repairs will take longer to sell. Fixing these first could speed along the process. However, if the cost to make these repairs is more than half the vehicle's worth, you may be better off selling the vehicle for parts instead.

On the other hand, if repairs are less than half the value, making these repairs and providing maintenance receipts to buyers could provide reassurance that the vehicle is working properly and increase the vehicle's overall worth.

Advertising Costs

There are plenty of good websites to advertise your vehicle online. While options such as Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book will attract thousands of potential buyers, these websites aren't free.

If, for example, you're selling a vehicle and only expect to get $500, spending $50 or more on advertising costs will significantly cut into your profits. In addition, most major sites also charge for each picture you post—which can increase costs even further.

For really inexpensive vehicles, Craigslist is one good alternative. Since it's a “for sale by owner" site, you don't have to pay for advertisements. Another option—especially if you choose a paid classified website that charges per photo—is to use a website like Flickr or YouTube. This will allow you to link to additional pictures or even a video in your advertisement without incurring additional charges.

Be Honest

Most buyers are going to expect wear and tear for vehicles priced low. When you create your advertisement or speak to potential customers over the phone, it's best to be as up front as possible about the condition of your vehicle.

If the vehicle was previously salvaged or involved in a major accident, make sure the buyer is aware. Being honest will let the buyer know exactly what he or she is getting and make a purchase more likely.

What to Expect from Buyers

Once your ad is listed—whether online or through other effective methods—and you begin to take calls from buyers, there are few things you should expect to differ from what you'd experience if selling a higher-priced vehicle.

These include:

  • Higher volume of inquiries.
    • Inexpensive vehicles will receive plenty of responses, so be prepared to receive a higher number of calls and e-mails than usual.
  • Fraud attempts.
    • Inexpensive vehicles listed on “for sale by owner" websites such as Craigslist might attract more buyers attempting to scam you out of your money than websites that take a listing fee.
    • Be aware of buyers offering to wire you money from out of state or offers that simply seem too good to be true (they very well may be!).
    • Meeting in person and accepting cash-only offers are good ways to avoid fraud attempts, but handling a large amount of cash can also be potentially dangerous. Visit our guide to safety tips when selling a vehicle to keep yourself out of danger.
  • Sight-unseen negotiations.
    • Because of the low price, many buyers may attempt to negotiate with you before seeing the car.
    • As a rule, it's best to tell buyers that you'd like to wait to negotiate until they have seen the care in person.
      • This can keep you from having to negotiate twice—once over the phone, and again once the buyer shows up for a test drive.
      • Editor's Note: I never negotiate over the phone. Never!
  • Low offers.
    • When vehicles are priced really low, you'll get even lower offers that you likely wouldn't get otherwise.
    • Trade offers are the most common, so if that isn't part of your selling plan, it may be wise to state in your advertisement that trades are not accepted.
  • Car flippers.
    • Professional car buyers aren't necessarily a bad thing, but you should be aware that their goal is to get the lowest price possible in order to flip your vehicle for max profit.
      • Having a set price that you aren't willing to go below can help you to avoid accepting an offer that's too low.
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