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How to Write a Good Used Car Ad

When you’re ready to sell your car, a good ad can make the difference between selling it quickly and running the same ad week after week with little interest from prospective buyers.  Whether you’re selling your vehicle online or through the local newspaper classifieds, there are a few things you should know to get your car moving out of your driveway and down the road with a new owner behind the wheel.

Classified Ads

These are probably the easiest to write but yet seem to cause the most confusion if not done correctly.

1. Follow the Format

First things first- follow the standard format.  Read the classified automobile section of your local newspaper and you’ll notice a written pattern.  The ads probably include year, make, model and whether it’s an automatic or a manual transmission, all of which you should include in your ad at the onset.  Next, you should include the condition of the vehicle (excellent, good, fair, needs work) any accessories and options, color and your contact information.  If you’re the original owner, you may want to include that information in the ad.  If it’s an older vehicle, it’s a good idea to state that you have a clear title.  Use discretion when  mentioning mileage and price of the vehicle in your ad.  While some say mentioning price and/or mileage saves times and results in calls only from serious buyers, others agree that mentioning price and/or mileage in the ad may potentially steer prospective buyers away right from the start, believing they can get a better deal elsewhere.

2. Use Standard Abbreviations

If you write the ad yourself, you can save time by using standard abbreviations. If you are having the sales representative write your ad via the phone, they may ask you if you prefer abbreviated form or they may automatically abbreviate for you. Some common abbreviations are:

  • PS/PB/ABS: Power Steering/Power Brakes/Anti-Lock Brake System
    A/C: Air Conditioning
    PW/PDL: Power Windows/Power Door-Locks
    AUTO/MAN (sometimes AT): Automatic Transmission/Manual Transmission
    CC (sometimes CRUISE): Cruise Control
    OBO: Or Best Offer/Will Negotiate
    FIRM: Firm Price/No Negotiation

3. Run Your Ad on a Weekend

When placing the ad, it’s a good idea to run it for at least one weekend, two if you can afford it. Most people have more time to make phone calls, look through the newspaper and make an appointment to see the vehicle when they have more time to do so – which is usually on a weekend.  When potential buyers call to schedule a time and day to see the vehicle, make sure you will be available to meet them and answer any and all questions they may have. 

Online Ads

A picture says a thousand words – especially when it comes to online ads and online auctions. 

1. Take Many Good Photos

Since online ads are much more visual and most prospective buyers can’t see your vehicle in person as they browse, it’s imperative that you use as many clear photos as possible.  Your photos hold the key to a good sale. Take photos of the front, rear and both sides of the vehicle as well as tires, engine, front cabin and rear seating areas, odometer reading and any options or special features.

2. Don’t Skip the Details

Describe your vehicle as best you can and don’t skip out on the details. Remember to include significant information, such as mileage, year, make, model, price and automatic or manual transmission, features and options. Another thing to keep in mind is to mention selling points; if the vehicle gets great gas mileage, this is something you’ll want to mention, especially when fuel costs are high. 

3. Be Honest

It’s important to be honest.  If there are imperfections, a broken CD player, the rear window doesn’t roll down or it leaks like an oil well, it doesn’t do you any good to keep this information from potential buyers; in fact, hiding problems can prove detrimental to the sale. Be realistic about the vehicle and make any price adjustments for faulty mechanicals, worn tires, stained upholstery, broken wipers, etc.

4. Set a Fair Price

When pricing the vehicle, it’s a good idea to check NADA Guides (National Automotive Dealers Association) or Kelley Blue Book as a starting point to get an idea of the value of the vehicle.  While some of the information doesn’t provide for private party sales or value, it’s still possible to estimate a selling price.


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