Sunday, March 09, 2008

Selling a Car in New Jersey

In our recent search for cars, Tina and I discovered something quite amazing about the New Jersey Used Car market. It's absolutely bonkers.

We trawled from Craigslist ad to Autotrader posting and were astonished by what we saw. Old clunkers, sitting on the driveway, leaking oil, with greedy owners expecting ridiculous amounts for their barely drivable rustbuckets.

And when we went for a test drive? You'd think a hopeful seller might have cleaned out the empty MacDonald's cartons, or emptied the overflowing ashtrays. But, not. You get the car 'as is,' which in this case, 'is' a pigsty.

Nobody expects a warranty when they buy a used car from a classified ad, but you might expect such simple things as a valid Inspection sticker, or some clue as to the original mileage or when the car last enjoyed an oil change. Especially since, when the car's littered with empty candy bar wrappers and the seats are splattered with mud, it's easy to assume the owner took as little care over the mechanics as he did the interior.

But worst of all the sins New Jersey car sellers are guilty of is greed. They simply demand too much for their cars. I've seen 1990 Toyota Camrys with 300,000 miles on the clock being advertised for $3,000. Since when does an owner get to double the car's value simply by messing up the upholstery and adding 20,000 miles to the odometer?

Owners might justify their inflated prices if the cars would sell - but they don't. Visiting Craigslist is a depressing experience, as you see the same old clunkers advertised week after week, a hundred dollars being knocked off the price each time the ad's reposted. Eventually, the car reaches a reasonable price and then, finally, it disappears from the listings.

You'd think people would learn.

But apparently not - so for the benefit of the people of New Jersey, I am going to list some important guidelines for selling your used car (and getting as much money for it as you can.)

Selling Your Used Car

Work out what the car's real value is. Start by visiting Kelley Blue Book online and finding out just how much similar cars are going for.

You can get an accurate price guide based on your car's make, model, mileage, features and condition. This is what your car is actually worth - and believe me, canny buyers aren't going to pay above this figure without a reason.

Invest a little time and effort. The state your car is in will be a pretty good indication of the amount of pride you've taken in it (and how often you've changed the oil.)

There's simply no excuse for not going out there with a trash-bag and a vacuum cleaner and giving your vehicle a brutal deep clean.

Get rid of all the rubbish (including under and down the back of the seats.) Clean out the ashtrays. Empty the boot (trunk) of everything except the spare tire and jack. Vacuum the upholstery and carpets. Spray down the dashboard and trim with polish. Windex the windows. Then, don't forget to take the car to a car-wash and give the outside a good clean and polish.

Ideally, you want the exterior and the interior looking as lovely as possible. Sure, you're never going to get the car 'showroom fresh,' but you'll be amazed at the difference. You know you've done a good enough job when you look at your sparkling car and think: 'Wow! Why am I selling this beauty again?'

Invest a little money. It takes money to make money - and this is very true when you're selling a used car. Just how much money you're willing to invest depends on how much you expect to get for the car - but a few well-spent dollars can really make the difference.

At the very least, think of getting an air freshener to recreate that intoxicating 'new car' smell. Also think of fixing those 'minor details' that could put a potential buyer off. A cracked rear-view mirror, for example, costs just $13.95 from AutoZone and can be fitted in seconds with nothing more sophisticated than a screwdriver. You'll wonder why you didn't do it months ago!

The state of a car's upholstery can be a big decider for a potential buyer. If your car's a few years old, some stains or tears are to be expected. However, investing in a set of seat covers can make all the difference.

I found a set of faux-leather bucket-type seats for just $9.99 each from local discount store A.J. Wright and they make my car's seats look like expensive aftermarket additions (rather than the faded, ripped and sad looking chairs under the seat-covers.)

Finally, if you're expecting primo-bucks for your car, you can't stint on the basics. How long has your inspection sticker got to go? If you're selling a used car, this can make a lot of difference. A brand new Inspection Sticker indicates that the car is in good running order - and the new owner won't need to invest in an potentially expensive inspection for another two years.

If you're trying to sell a car with a nearly-expired sticker, you're advertising to the owner that the car needs work and you're too cheap to get it done. With a car that's 8-10 years old (or older) an inspection normally involves hundreds of dollars of work. The price of your car should reflect that.

Justify the Cost. You want to get the most money you can for your car - but a potential buyer wants to pay the least possible. If you expect him to pay the asking price - or above Kelley Blue Book value - you have to give him a reason why.

With used cars, value is often a deciding factor. Make sure you're familiar with the car's recent maintenance history (the repairs you've done recently are repairs the new owner won't have to pay for.)

If the car gets good gas mileage, make sure the new buyer knows about it (with gas at three bucks a gallon, a new buyer might be willing to pay more in the short term to reduce his long term costs.)

It's worth mentioning insurance (an old American-built 'boat' can be insured very cheaply) and parts (old Mercedes and BMWs are fiendishly expensive to maintain.)

At the end of the day, if you're offering a fair price (compared to the Kelley Blue Book value) and can justify the reasons why your car is a corker, you can hold steady on the price and you'll most likely sell for what you ask surprisingly quickly.

If you think you can stick $1,000 to the asking price for no good reason, expect that old clunker to be sitting on your driveway for a long time to come.

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