• Selling online is different from selling in the newspaper classifieds
  • Establishing the right price requires research
  • Not responding to every inquiry can prolong the sales process

How to sell a car online quickly while maximizing the transaction price is the question every seller wants answered. It's really not a mystery. It simply requires some elbow grease, a little computer savvy and a bit of time.

Following a few basics will get your phone ringing and your e-mail box filling with inquiries and offers.

Selling a car online is a different beast than selling it through the newspaper classifieds. Most classified sales are local, allowing the buyer to personally eyeball the vehicle, test drive it and even take it to a mechanic for an inspection.

Many by-owner, online used-car sales are long-distance transactions that are finalized without the buyer seeing or test driving the car. We've had one popular online seller tell us that 75 percent of its auto transactions are across state lines. This means the seller must do a little extra work and be more creative to make his vehicle stand out.

Here are 7 tips to get your vehicle noticed and a successful deal done:

Commitment. Approach selling your car the same way you would a project at work. For a quick, successful sale, you must fully engage in every step of the process. Here's the dirty little secret about selling a car online: The less effort you make, the less successful you will be.

Successful selling is a process and every part of that process must receive your best effort. Don't cut corners!

Research. The "right" price isn't the amount you want out of the sale of the car, but the amount the average buyer thinks is fair and is willing to pay.

Sure, if you have some rare collector car, you may not need worry as much about the market price. Chances are, though, your car will be listed against tens or hundreds of similar vehicles on multiple online sites. That means your vehicle must be priced competitively.

You have to do the research to determine not only how much others are asking for similar cars, but the average transaction price of those recently sold.

Be honest with yourself and objective about the vehicle's condition when setting a price. An unrealistically high price will scare potential buyers, sending them on to the next ad.

Sites like AutoTrader.com and Kelly Blue Book (KBB.com) are reliable sources in determining a vehicle's market value.

Write a Compelling Description. If you spend less than an hour writing your car's description, you probably haven't done it justice. Be creative; be thorough!

Look at the online ads today; nearly every vehicle has power windows, power door locks and air conditioning. Such routine features should never be the lead in your description. Instead, think about the features you love that attracted you to the car. Get excited.

If it's a convertible, describe how effortlessly the top operates and the joy of driving with the top down on a sunny Saturday afternoon. If it's a minivan, enthuse over the convenience and room. Write about being able to bring a ping-pong table home from a yard sale. Itemize the cup holders and storage cubbies. Describe keeping the kids entertained on a long trip.

Personalize the vehicle through your own experiences. What has it meant to you? On some level most vehicle purchases are emotional; play to that.

Load the Headline with Key Words. When advertising on a site that allows you to write your own ad headline or title, the primary goal is to get noticed among the thousands of ads out there. Key words are, well, the key.

When you can, use words in the headline, such as "great fuel economy," "super-low mileage," "kicking audio system," and so forth.

Use Lots of Photos. Because so many vehicles purchased online are bought sight unseen, good photos, and plenty of them, offer potential buyers their only look at the vehicle. Photos are really an online seller's primary marketing tool. There is no such thing as too many photos.

Don't be lazy when shooting photos. The vehicle should be clean inside and out. Don't take the photos in your apartment parking lot or your home's driveway. On a clear day, drive the vehicle to a well-lighted spot with an attractive background. Position it so the sun is behind you, and take the time to reposition the vehicle as you photograph its various sides.

Be honest with your photos. Don't try to hide the blemishes or damage, and don't Photo Shop them. A car doesn't need to be perfect to sell, but being honest about its warts will save you some grief later on.

In other words, the photos need to tell the truth about the car.

Be Responsive. Whether you have potential buyers respond by phone, e-mail or some other device, take the call and answer the e-mail. Potential buyers have thousands of ads to which they can respond. Allowing a caller to go to voicemail or letting an e-mail sit, unopened for a day, can be all it takes for that interested buyer to move on.

It's almost always less time consuming to work with the buyer in front of you than to find the next one.

Until your vehicle is sold, selling it is your job. Do your job.

Communicate with the Buyer. This step won't help you sell, but may well help you avoid buyer issues after the sale.

Vehicles are big-ticket items and buying one online can be stressful. Establishing communication with a buyer can ease his anxiety and reduce the chances he will be unhappy once the vehicle is in his hands.

Call the buyer, thanking him for the sale. Provide a timetable and other details of the delivery. If you are shipping the vehicle, take photos of it once it's on the truck. This gives you a record of the vehicle's condition when shipped, as well as photos to e-mail to the buyer to reassure him his purchase is on its way.

Make the extra effort to ensure the transaction is a great experience for the buyer.

What it means to you: Staying focused and making the effort will get the sale done sooner rather than later.

author photo

Russ Heaps began covering the automotive industry in 1986, first overseeing the automotive pages of the Boca Raton News and then the Palm Beach Post in Florida. In 2001 he became managing editor of AMI Auto Week and NOPI Street Performance Compact magazines. Since leaving AMI he has freelanced his auto reviews and industry analysis to the Washington Times, Hispanic magazine, Journal-Register Newspapers, Bankrate.com, MyCarData.com, Interest.com, and others. He resides in Greenville, SC.

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