How to Best Sell Your Car on EBay From a Former Bring-A-Trailer Deal Spotter

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn

As I’ve mentioned before, I spent about four years as a “deal spotter” for Bring A Trailer. Much of that work consisted of browsing eBay, Craigslist, and various marque-specific forums looking for interesting deals on classics. Of course, I have a day job as well, so I try and minimize the time I actually spend looking at cars while simultaneously looking like I’m actually working. The eBay app for my Android helps in this matter, so I can work on my side job while indisposed.

So, I spend nearly an hour or two every day trying to quickly assess every car by the lead photo before moving on. I can quickly spot deals or find those auctions that won’t sell. It’s like automotive Tinder – swipe left for the rotted F-body, swipe right for the longhood 911.

(I did have to reference Wikipedia on Tinder, by the way. I’m a happily married man.)

Since my friends know I have this ample shopping experience, they all assume I know the best ways to sell a car on eBay.Funny thing, though: I’ve never actually sold any cars there. After all, I’m a writer, and as such, I’m not paid enough to actually afford any car I want. Those who can afford to buy, do. Those who can’t, write about it.

I have a good friend who’s a real estate photographer – and, incidentally, the least-douchey BMW fanboy I’ve ever met. The key to marketing anything online is putting your product in the absolute best light possible. In realtor’s parlance, it’s called “staging.” He ensures each room is properly lit, is clean, with absolutely no clutter. The images he produces are astounding, and they sell houses.

Car sellers on eBay need to consider staging as well. No, you don’t need a trunkload of Nikon glass like my friend, but most people have a decent camera in their pants right now.

Take Good Photos

You get at least twelve photos with a basic for-sale auction. Another $2 doubles it. Make that $2 back by going for a Tall rather than the Venti tomorrow; it will be worth it. Shoot each quarter panel, a profile, front, and rear. Front seats, rear seats, VIN plate, odometer and trunk all need to be shown, too. If you omit something, buyers will think you’re hiding something. This car, for example, is shown well, with two dozen pics from all angles, even the undercarriage:

If there are flaws in your car, take detailed pics of those flaws so the buyer can judge for themselves. Maybe the cracked front valence isn’t a big deal to you, but it could be to someone looking for a clean car.

Post Those Photos

Next, you need to know how to get those photos off of your camera and onto eBay. Last spring, I happened across an auction for a vintage Chevy truck. Not typically something that would catch my eye, but for the lead photo. The seller had taken pics with his iPhone, and then took a photo (not a screenshot, a photo) of his iPhone to show the truck. Memorable, yes. It got me to click. It got me to make fun of him on Facebook. But that’s no way to capture good detail of a vintage car.

Of course, once you get the pics on your computer, they need to be properly oriented:

Though it is theoretically possible in your particular part of the world there could be an unusual sideways pull of gravity that causes bias-ply tires to grip sheer cliffs like a rock climber, most buyers and shipping companies will not be appropriately equipped for these loads.

Look At The Background

Also, consider the fella at the top of the page.

The background is cluttered, distracting from the vehicle for sale. Also, the inclusion of human or canine subjects in the photo inevitably leads to stupid questions from buyers: “Is the dog included?”

Minimize Misogyny

On that note, please: lose the scantily-clad women from our photos. Clearly, those people shopping eBay know how to “get online” as we used to say when our modem tones made it clear to all around that we were doing so. One could make the parallel assumption that most of those who happen to be horny while car shopping would be best served by opening a second tab on their browser of choice and typing words like “The Chive” or “Pornhub” into said browser. An orange-peel coated Eleanor clone draped with a similarly-orange-peeling forty-something in a too-small bikini is just sad, and does nothing to sell the car in question.

Oh, yeah: objectifying women is bad too. Funny thing, though, the bikini-model is almost exclusively posed with American iron. You never see a woman posed atop a Miata. Hmm.

Write Well

Please, use reasonably proper English when writing the description of your car. NO CAPS LOCK. Write complete sentences and include all of the appropriate details about the car in question. Space those sentences out into paragraphs – no one will read a wall of text. And, for God’s sake, the name of your car is typically printed somewhere on the car. Go to your car, write down the spelling of the model name, and type it into your auction listing.

I’d have to say there are nearly as many Cameros for sale on eBay at any given time as there are Camaros. However, the Camero is not listed in Hagerty’s Classic Car Valuation Tool, and won’t be rolling across any stages in Arizona next January.

Avoid Clichés Like The Plague

Please stop using the term “unmolested” when referring to a clean, stock vehicle. What you do in the privacy of your own garage is your business and Sergeant Olivia Benson won’t be inspecting for enlarged tailpipes. Just stop using that word.

I often see dealers using eBay to shill their stock. That’s fine, I suppose, though some of the stock language they use isn’t appropriate for every car. Don’t make the mistake of copy/pasting their ad copy. A couple years ago, I was looking at a 1947 MG TC on eBay. The dealer’s boilerplate read:

“The factory warranty has expired, and we can’t get it extended.”

No kidding. In fact, the MG factory in Abingdon has expired. I’d imagine the new Chinese owners of the MG marque would chuckle a bit at a warranty claim for a car designed before Mao was in power.

Stop calling your car “one of a kind.” Technically, I know it’s true, as there shouldn’t be any other car out there with the exact VIN as yours. That doesn’t make it a special snowflake.

Unless your car is a truly limited edition, like one of 750 Shelby CSXes made in 1987, let’s end the trend of “one of only 17 Q94 packages in white-over-black built the week of July 9th on the second shift, so it wasn’t driven off the Hamtramck line by the magnificently flatulent Steve G.” Again, it’s not special. Stop it.

Target the Right Market

If you are selling a car with any sort of enthusiast value, consider cross-posting (with permission) to the appropriate forums. Don’t spam every forum out there, though. Get involved with the forum well prior to posting your car for sale, else you come off as a untrustworthy, opportunistic troll. If the forum has rules against posting eBay links, follow the rules.

Remember, there are enthusiasts and forums out there for just about everything. I’ve been a lurking member of boards dedicated to Honda Odysseys, Chrysler minivans, and Nissan SUVs. Mostly, I joined in an attempt to glean cheap repair tips, as these places can be quite useful. But don’t upset the fanatics. They will turn on you.

eBay can be a minefield. There are fraudulent buyers and sellers everywhere, so it pays to do your homework. But there are few outlets with the national and international reach that eBay has. Follow these guidelines, and you should get the most for your ride.

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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2 of 68 comments
  • CecilSaxon CecilSaxon on Jul 01, 2015

    I suck at selling cars on Craigslist- I always price lower than they are worth just to make them go away as fast as possible. Makes it more fun for me and I rarely have to entertain more than one person. Boom, done and I move on with my life.

  • Duffman13 Duffman13 on Jul 01, 2015

    I've sold more than my fair share of cars on Craigslist over the last 5 years. One thing that is definitely worth noting it that for pictures, they do take HTML as well. If you host your pictures somewhere like imgur or photobucket, the site will often give you the HTML so you can easily past it into the ad and have nice fullish resolution versions of the pics rather than using the miniature Craigslist image viewer. Alternatively, you could use the mini-viewer for some basic ones and enclose a link to the full library of high resolution ones as well. And as others have said, a good detail job before the photos or when a buyer comes to see the car goes a long way to making the car sell.

  • ToolGuy "Selling as I got a new car and don't need an extra." ...Well that depends on what new car you chose, doesn't it? 😉
  • El scotto The days of "Be American, buy America" are long gone. Then there's the mental gymnastics of "is a Subaru made in Lafayette, IN more American than something from gm or Ford made in Mexico?" Lastly, it gets down to people's wallets; something cheap on Amazon or Temu will outsell its costlier American-made item. Price not Patriotism sells most items. One caveat: any US candidate should have all of his/her goods made in the USA.
  • FreedMike Well, here's my roster of car purchases since 1981: Three VWsTwo Mazdas (one being a Mercury Tracer, full disclosure)One AudiOne FordOne BuickOne HondaOne Volvo I think I hear Lee Greenwood in the background... In all seriousness, I'd have bought more American cars had they made more of the kinds of cars I like (smaller, performance-oriented).
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X I'll gladly support the least "woke" and the most Japanese auto company out there.
  • Jmo2 I just got an email from the dealership where I bought my car and it looks like everything has $5k on the hood.