19 August 2015

How to Sell a Car on Craigslist (or not)

How did we sell cars before the Internet? Newspapers and word of mouth, that’s how. Can you imagine anything more labor intensive? But then science discovered the Internet, and with it Craigslist, and BAM! People had an easy way to clear out their garages.

Last year, a few of us at Hagerty bought some inexpensive modern classics for a video shoot — a 1985 Mazda RX-7, a 1975 Chevy El Camino and a 1972 VW Beetle. Once the shoot was wrapped, we soon discovered that we had to do something with the cars. Instead of selling them, like we should have done, we found a nice warm garage, parked them, and let them appreciate. Now they are worth tens of dollars more than they were a year ago, and the time has come to pass them along to the next stewards.

With three cars to sell and the vast power of science’s Craigslist on which to sell them, we decided to vary our approach with each car, much the way you see varied sales approaches on Craigslist itself. Generally, people try to offload their old cars in one of three ways:

  1. From a “Here’s the analysis, look at the facts, this is an investment" standpoint.
  2. From a “Look how funny I am and look how funny you could be too if you buy my car” standpoint.
  3. From an “I don’t care about this car enough to give it more than seven words of description” standpoint.

Based purely on the amount of effort we felt each car deserved, we assigned them each their own strategy.

El Camino Craigslist adThus, the RX-7 ad is designed to appeal to the collector who just wants the facts, the hard data.

The El Camino, funny car that it is, was assigned the ironic approach. 

And the Beetle, well, it’s a Beetle, everybody knows what it is, and what more is there to say, really?

All three cars were priced roughly the same, which is to say the $3,000–$4,000 entry-level collectible range. And each was photographed appropriately, though in the case of the Beetle, that simply means a couple blurry, partially obscured shots. The only thing left to do, then, is to sit back and see which approach garners the most interest. And whether we can actually sell these things….

Which car do you think will sell first? Tell us in the comments.

To save ourselves from repeating this process, for our next 3 Guys video project, we’ll be selling the cars at Auctions America’s Fall Auburn sale next month. Check out the preview video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYsLVJek9hs

73 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Happy Lindeen New Orleans LA suburb August 19, 2015 at 15:21
    I think the Mazda will sell first. Nicely written adds. Need some work on the VW add though.
  • 2
    Joey Pueblo, CO August 19, 2015 at 15:27
    As a long time Craigslist reader and knowing the story behind them, all three of them are hilarious! The Beetle really cracked me up. Personally, I think the RX-7 would sell first, and honestly, if I were in Portland, I would buy it. Okay, if I were in Portland and my wife would let me, I'd buy it. OR If I were in Portland and I could stash it somewhere my wife wouldn't find it, I'd buy it.
  • 3
    Fred Bicknell North of PDX August 19, 2015 at 15:35
    The Mazda is the kind of ad I look for. It gives specific clear details of the car. I could tell from this ad if I would consider purchasing. When I looked at it I would not see any "omissions or surprise problems. The other ads are for jokers or illiterate people.
  • 4
    Cindy St Louis Suburb August 19, 2015 at 15:39
    From my luck on craiglist, i have to say the Bug will go first. No one seemed to care about any good description, first question is always "what's your bottom price?".
  • 5
    Charles Smith San Jose, CA August 19, 2015 at 15:40
    The Mazda is my pick. There are lots of details and pictures and a buyer gets a good overview of what he would be buying. The El Camino has lots of schtick, but I want facts, not a comic strip when I shop for cars. Beetle: seller is too lazy too care about doing a little work to sell his car.
  • 6
    Bruce C CO August 19, 2015 at 16:12
    RX-7: Excellent El Camino: Stupid Beetle: Crap
  • 7
    Dr.Delco Sunny Phoenix, 115 in the shade! August 19, 2015 at 16:21
    Really enjoyable article, and it hits the mark. I'm a Craigslist addict, and I wish people would take the time to write an ad like one for the RX-7. The El Camino ad, humorous as it is, does show creativity, although the mullet references might not click with younger potential buyers. It did for me cause I'm an old guy (that fortunately never had a mullet). Unfortunately, there are far to many ads that mirror the Bug ad. And there is always those ads that have spelling errors like "breaks, stearing, ingine". My all time favorite idiotic ads are the ones state "just testing the waters" and do not even list a price. I guess if you call and offer some stupid price, it would be for sale? Who knows!
  • 8
    David Reynolds LaLaLand August 19, 2015 at 16:21
    In 2006 when the economy was taking a nose dive I saw an ad on Craigslist with a couple of blurry pics- For sale. 1968 Pontiac Firebird. $6000.00 The car was in primer and silver paint- I saw the tell-tale signs of an original 400 car- 9/16 stamped holes on the front bumper (arrowhead emblem missing), 400 hood (again, emblems missing), holes in the trunk for the 400 emblem (yes, you guessed it, emblem missing). I called Fri. at 6:00 am, woke him out of bed, and set up an appt. the next day at 8am. He called me on my way down and said I better get here in a hurry because 2 people walked by an offered him cash on the spot- Long story short, 6K and an hour later the bird was mine. It had matching #'s, 60K on the clock, and was a real Nightshade Green 400 car...After a 12K perfect paint job (same guy that paints all of Tim Allen's cars) It's now valued at 40K!! and the attention my bird gets is just unbelievable! Sometimes Craigslist does work out...Long live Pontiacs!!
  • 9
    Euphonium 98632 August 19, 2015 at 16:23
    1st = RX7. Verbiage is factfull, not trying to be clever.
  • 10
    JPR Las Vegas August 19, 2015 at 16:40
    As someone who has had 20+ air cooled VWs over the years, I'd still be skipping over the Bug. The ad almost seems like a fake, as if some nefarious Craigslist shenanigans are awaiting me when I show up to see it. Mazda all the way!
  • 11
    gary Underwood Illinois August 19, 2015 at 16:41
    The one someone is looking for will sell first.The descriptions are irrelevant .Based on my experience, craigslist shoppers have already decide what they are looking for and go mostly by the pictures and emails with the seller.
  • 12
    Ron N. Colorado August 19, 2015 at 16:46
    How many fifteen footers have I bought from 120 feet away!! Somehow the oil leaks on English classics don't look so big from across the parking lot. You could have gone one better, by photographing the Bug through the window of the Unity Foods truck!
  • 13
    RHINO Haddam, CT August 19, 2015 at 17:04
    RX-7 goes first. Nice car, ad shows buyer your educated on the specimen and that you likely loved and cherished her. Beetle ad would have been adequate had you spent maybe 2 more minutes on it, also the blurry pics arent cliché, they are obnoxious (the implication being that you are too) Grow up. My 6 year old takes better pics with a fisher price tablet. El crapino ad failed. Miserably.
  • 14
    H Mola Spokane, WA August 19, 2015 at 17:05
    The Mazda.
  • 15
    Chris Los Angeles August 19, 2015 at 17:15
    Whichever car you're getting a response to, you will inevitably get about 5-10 texts asking if you'll take 40% less than you have listed them for before the first serious buyer shows up. And have something else available to throw in as part of the deal if they buyer tries to 'bundle' - take the spare wheel out and offer to throw it in as part of the deal to minimize the financial impact of this psychology.
  • 16
    Ben Charlotte, NC August 19, 2015 at 17:31
    Bonus points for the crappy, out-of-focus cell phone shots in the bug ad. That is some nice intentional lack of attention to detail that nails the ad genre you were going for.
  • 17
    Danny Pascoe Maple valley Wa August 19, 2015 at 17:35
    I think the RX7 will sell first it is well described & in the selling ball park. I have sold a couple of cars off of craigslist & a good description & clear pictures sure help. My last was a 1936 Mercedes 540 kit car with 302 v8 I didn't ask the moon but priced it slightly above what I would take sold 15.2k Now its on ebay for a lot more.
  • 18
    bOb "Up":=State New York August 19, 2015 at 17:46
    VW Looks good to me, wheels, A fun car ! That's it. Pics tell me it all. bOb
  • 19
    Russell Northern CA August 19, 2015 at 18:12
    The Beatles sells first. Short and to the point ad. I found the others too wordy and really lost interest reading the El Camino ad. CL buyers in my neighborhood only care about the quick facts. You want to get them to your house to see the car in person, so just give them enough so they have to see it. FYI, I do like the RX7!
  • 20
    George Goeppner Orland Pk, IL August 19, 2015 at 18:18
    The El Camino will sell first. Nothing to do with the ad working, its simply the most desirable car of the three.
  • 21
    Tim Nobles Osawatomie KS August 19, 2015 at 18:20
    I would think that if the point of this was to see which type of advertising works best, there would have to be three of the same kind of vehicle. The first sale may not have anything to do with the ad approach. That being said I think the RX will go first.
  • 22
    Joe Central VA August 19, 2015 at 18:21
    I want the El Camino already but 1) I am a freak amend 2) I love me some funky cars.
  • 23
    Mike Gould Chimacum WA August 19, 2015 at 18:27
    Not sure the ad style matters much. In the end, it's about the car. I'm guessing Mazda.
  • 24
    Glen Phoenix, MD August 19, 2015 at 19:01
    I'm not sure which would sell first, but what's up with the Beetle? Neither the taillights nor the bumpers are from a 1972 VW by my reckoning. The bumpers are from somewhere in the 60's, and the taillights appear to be from sometime in the later 1970s closer to the end of this body style production. Someone tell me if I'm wrong. I have an original 1972 Super Beetle convertible in the garage and it doesn't sport these accessories.
  • 25
    Jim Los Angeles August 19, 2015 at 19:04
    If you REALLY want to act like a Craigslist seller dont answer the phone, dont return calls if a message is left, refuse to arrange to show the car ("No not today or tomorrow either and I dont show cars on weekends"). Then run the ad continuously for months on end, raising the price each time, while complaining that nobody has bought it yet. Also I notice you did not justify your asking price from deals on Pawn Stars or other stupid TV show(?) They always seem to be the best appraisal service.
  • 26
    Nita chicago August 19, 2015 at 19:06
    I wish I could find some one with the perfect formula
  • 27
    Phil Denver August 19, 2015 at 19:21
    I will go with the El Camino, because I have always wanted one. Now for selling on craigslist. Its a hassle. If you own a collectable car or motorcycle do not waste your time. I recently listed my old HD, I had 3 out of area code offers. All 3 something was fishy, with 2 of the people insisting on me invoicing a deposit thru pay-pal, even though I was telling them a bank wire payment was how the deal would happen. After talking with my credit union manager and at her advice I cancelled the add and am convinced all 3 were fishing scams. She also told me they had 2 attempts at internet fraud on member accounts on Monday 8-17-2015. She also stated the scams are being attempted at a record rate across the country. Being a collector bike, I thought out of state offers were a real possibility. Overall recommendation do only local sales on craigslist. Sell big ticket items on more reputable site's.
  • 28
    Barry Los Angeles Area August 19, 2015 at 19:24
    The RX-7 will sell first, unless you find people willing to throw away money without really knowing what it's going to buy.
  • 29
    Barry007 LA August 19, 2015 at 19:53
    RX-7 goes first unless you attract some who are willing to throw money away on a joke and a whim. Anyone with $3-4000 to spend wants facts. Anyone with $3-4000 to spend who doesn't want facts, post your email address so we can sell you something.
  • 30
    RetroRick Fallbrook, CA August 19, 2015 at 20:09
    A true Craigslist ad would have had half the words misspelled, the year and model wrong and featured a picture of a car that wasn't actually the one being advertised. A thumb stuck up in the camera shot to obscure the license plate and words like "ran when parked", "creampuff", "classic", "collector's dream" and instructions about how NOT to contact the seller are all missing. Personally, I like the VW ad.
  • 31
    Gerry California August 19, 2015 at 20:12
    For 3 or 4 Grand, I think the El Camino
  • 32
    Dan Ohio August 19, 2015 at 20:17
    Mazda should sell first. Sorry but wouldn't give a grand for the El Camino. Just don't like em. VW probably a decent buy since your guys checked it out. My pet peeve with craigslist is ads with no price. Oh and no shows. That really ticks me off.
  • 33
    Bill New Jersey August 19, 2015 at 20:18
    While I agree with Gary Underwood that "the one someone is looking for will sell first", if there are two virtually identical cars for sale, I believe the one with the more honest and straightforward ad - with the more complete set of facts - would sell first.
  • 34
    DMcG Boise, ID August 19, 2015 at 20:42
    The RX-7 in a heartbeat! That's a sweet one.
  • 35
    Ken Tennis Hudson, Florida August 19, 2015 at 20:53
    The El Camino just because of the demand for them is quite strong.
  • 36
    CNC Colorado August 19, 2015 at 21:09
    The RX7 will sell first. Ad well done with good pictures and thorough description. : ) PS. It snowed here this morning 8/19/15 at The Eisenhower Tunnel. Ugh!
  • 37
    Doug Sparks, NV August 19, 2015 at 21:09
    I'm not a big fan of any of the 3 ; based only on the style of the ads, the Beetle is the only one I might contact - the other 2 tell me enough to KNOW I would pass !
  • 38
    Matt Chicago, IL August 19, 2015 at 21:16
    I have a 1993 Honda Accord with 250k, runs good. Needs head gasket ($50), transmission doesn't have reverse, needs breaks. $15,000 obo (no lowballers)
  • 39
    Charlie Wilson Huntington Beach, CA August 19, 2015 at 21:16
    Lots of variables to determine which one would sell first. Location being the first big variable. Price and whoever is reading Craig's list that day or week. Not expensive enough that someone is going to go 1000 miles or more to buy these cars. I think you guys are in Portland, Or. If so, I say the V.W. Worst ad, but just might peak the curiosity of both the collector or college student. To me this this car symbolizes Portland. Liberal, low cost, and would fit right in with the Portland crowd. Number 2 would be the RX7. Lot's of car collectors in the northwest. Also fits the area, quirky, rare and priced right. The El Camino would be number 2 if you were in southern Calif. based on the popularity in this region, however in Portland would be number 3. Older El Camino's much more popular but with new paint and little fixin' up could be nice. Other wise could be somebody's cheap work "truck". Looking forward to how they sell.
  • 40
    Me Az August 19, 2015 at 21:35
    Beetle. As per the article has a great following, most ads I have seen for them are pretty similar. If I could I would buy it... It is a low price point. Next the Mazda followed by the el Camino.
  • 41
    J. K. Salser Dallas, TX August 19, 2015 at 22:23
    You underestimate the VW Culture. Potential buyers of Beetles are becoming more educated about these cars. If you look at the open market, you will find what I have--the Beetle has entered the "Big Boy Car Market". Your comments and advertisement have degraded the car that beat out Henry Ford's record and stumped every automotive analyst through the late '60s and continuing through the '70s. Lets prematurely cheer for the Beetle--it will sell first! jk
  • 42
    Dempsey Denver August 19, 2015 at 22:43
    From looking at the ads the VW will be the first to go . The car shines an is positioned right forthe photo taken it will go fast also because these are hot cars and still popular.
  • 43
    Brian Whitehouse Ohio August 19, 2015 at 23:24
    The bug, the other ads are too long for CL. If you can't read it in 10 seconds you can't remember all that stuff anyway
  • 44
    Brian B St. Albert, Ab August 19, 2015 at 23:28
    RX-7 will sell first, nice description nice photos, next beetle and last El Camino. I'm not into funny ads, I'm either boring or have no sense of humor, just the facts mam!
  • 45
    dale voss Federal Way Wa. August 19, 2015 at 23:31
    RX7 will go first...More serious information is included. Too much lightheartedness in the Camino and Bug. Liked all the cars though
  • 46
    Benthere Donethat SE Colorado August 20, 2015 at 01:06
    I want to know how many offers you get from out of country scammers who "really want that car" via some fraudulent transaction. Or better yet, how many "professional" women contact you stating your add makes you sound hot and would like to meet with you.
  • 47
    Jeff Bennett Binghamton, NY August 20, 2015 at 13:07
    The Mazda, provided the most detailed description of the vehicle and should sell first.
  • 48
    Ben Las vegas August 20, 2015 at 01:20
    Rx7 sold first
  • 49
    Norm Catlin Sayre,Pa 18840 August 20, 2015 at 14:52
    When searching for a particular ride,you will scann the availables & then make contact, Pic`s and a real phone#, will get my attention first. I can justify going a step farther w/the seller by a old fashioned conversation to explore the pros & cons of the potential purchase. For me ,i beleive the Bow-Tie will go first as the # of interested potentials in the pie lies w/ a proven selling ride.
  • 50
    rod North of San Francisco August 20, 2015 at 15:13
    The bug add looks *so* sketchy. C'mon, even an iPhone will take a photo that's in focus. Looks and reads like a scam.
  • 51
    Howard Flint MI August 20, 2015 at 03:40
    I think the El Camino is going first. It's about as entry level as you can get for an elky and some horsepower mad fool is gonna buy it, tear it to pieces and then wait til he has the money to buy the 454 to put in it along with the S 10 4wd frame. 25 years later when it's rusted up and so filthy no one can ever clean it again it will be back on CL
  • 52
    Steve Ca. August 20, 2015 at 03:47
    The Bug would sell first. The ad was short to the point and gave the basics. The other ads were Oh my God too long!!!!! Even an enthusiastic collector would pass on the Mazda. TMI!!!
  • 53
    Chad AZ August 20, 2015 at 19:07
    I can't see any comments:)
  • 54
    Kruzzer Ohio August 20, 2015 at 19:28
    I'd go 3200. on the El Camino and keep it with my 66".
  • 55
    Chan 27205 August 20, 2015 at 07:49
    Guessing the first car with interested buyers was the Beetle. They probably asked for better pictures then may have haggled on price. Overall this car sold first.
  • 56
    Sally Dodge Louisville, KY August 20, 2015 at 08:29
    RX-7 Sexy car, hard data collectors looking for, good, solid background doesn't distract from car
  • 57
    Sean St. John's NL August 20, 2015 at 08:54
    I think the RX7 will sell first. It's underpriced and the GSL SE was the best performer. 85 was also the last year for that body style.
  • 58
    Barb Va August 20, 2015 at 09:06
    While the Mazda had the most imformative ad, I think the Bug would sell first. Having bought and sold on cragslist before. All you need do is contact the seller for more info and possibly more pics. The Mazda probably won't go right away as parts for Wankel motors are hard to get, unless. the buyer wants to pull the motor and make a drag car out of it.
  • 59
    Bob atlanta suburb August 20, 2015 at 09:21
    you just solved my problem - will give you 10k for all 3. rx7 convert to track car el camino tow vehicle vw to drive to work call me Stefan
  • 60
    Mark Cenral Colorado August 20, 2015 at 10:02
    I don't think I'd sell a car on Craigs list - too risky. I did sell two 1930s era Oldsmobiles on eBay several years ago. Worked pretty well, replies from all over. Advice: never stop the auction for someone! A $@&^%$ jerk said his father had owned the same model and offered me top dollar. I pulled the auction - then he said he couldn't get the loan. I learned a good lesson! It might be interesting to compare your sales on CL to selling on eBay.
  • 61
    Matt CO August 20, 2015 at 10:09
    Mazda will get fewest responses, but best reasonable offers from knowledgeable buyers El Camino.. well, if that's what somebody wants, and a lot of folks do, it'll go. DIYers will love it Bug will get plenty of low-ball offers. And, if accepted, it'd likely be first to go.
  • 62
    Roy Powell Austin Texas August 20, 2015 at 10:18
    Due to the scarcity of Elks I would have to buy it and get started restoring to one day sell on B J auction
  • 63
    Jeff Ray Monterey, Ca. August 20, 2015 at 10:45
    Interesting comparison on the 3 listings. We've seen them all but chances are best for a first sale with the Mazda. This listing will come with the highest number of reply's including the highest number of scammers. You can add a free hit meter in your postings too
  • 64
    Barry Plato Bel Air, Md August 20, 2015 at 11:08
    I'd personally buy either the RX7 or the Beetle if I didn't just buy a Beetle. Literally, just last Saturday, a '69 baby blue Beetle. For my taste the ad for the Beetle needed more words and someone who can take a decent picture. Or maybe the camera is just crap, but those were terrible pics. The RX7 told me allot and backed it up with lots of good pics... I liked that. And the Mullet of cars isn't going to get me excited no matter what you say or what you show in pics. Maybe a you should give away a case of that beer you talked about as an incentive?
  • 65
    Car Collector Chronicles SE Wisconsin August 20, 2015 at 11:11
    The VW bug will go first ... .
  • 66
    Nick Mississippi August 20, 2015 at 12:00
    Ads like the Beetle's often draw my attention, because it makes me think that I can get a deal. The owner seems not to care as much as the guy who writes a dissertation on his car (like the Mazda). I appreciate ads like the Mazada's, but always assume the guy knows what he's doing and is going to drive a harder bargain.
  • 67
    al8apex 92118 August 21, 2015 at 15:01
    the VW ad sucks, poor pics, no info on mechanical condition The RX-7 is my preference on the ad style, pics, info, etc The El Camino already has a following so you really don't have to "mulletize" it Given the prices I feel it is a toss-up between the Chevy and the Mazda
  • 68
    David Northern burbs of Atlanta August 22, 2015 at 13:20
    I agree that the shorter the better with a CL ad. Too much info or meaningless comments and you're trying to baffle me with BS to hide obvious defects in the car. For instance that is not a '72 VW - not with those large taillights that did not come about until '73. Still, I think it would be the first to find a new home. Whichever goes first, be safe. There are a couple of high-profile murders related to classic car CL ads in this area.
  • 69
    200mph NC August 22, 2015 at 14:57
    VW ad is a total fail. No info, poor photos. Mazda ad has too much verbiage about Rx7s in general. Great photos though. I'd buy the ElCamino. Funny ad, great pics, plenty of detail. I enjoyed it.
  • 70
    Donald Bryson City, NC August 22, 2015 at 15:56
    Depends on location, beetle should be gone first,
  • 71
    Edward Bowie, MD August 22, 2015 at 18:09
    I would think that the Mazda would sell first. I prefer a straight up/descriptive advertisement that includes the good and the bad. I prefer and try to do the same if I am listing a vehicle also. The El Camino is a nice ride. I do not care for the humorous approach since I consider purchasing vehicles to be a serious thing. The humor was overdone also and got to be annoying quickly. The pics are good and show the good and the bad. I think the El Camino would go 2nd. The non-descriptive VW advertisement is a turn-off for me. And the photos are not desirable either. The first one has a truck included if I am not mistaken. And the next two have other things include that detract. Good pictures that are sharp, crisp, and clear of distracting items is a plus in my book. When craigslist sellers have basically a description not worth speaking of that consists of a couple of works, that makes me wonder are they hiding things or are they serious about wanting to sell the vehicle. Although I learned how to drive using a VW; and I do like them, I would not respond to such an advertisement. My guess is that this one would be the 3rd seller. Edward
  • 72
    Mato Cleveland, OH August 24, 2015 at 15:45
    Just throwing my 2 cents in about a Craigslist experience. We listed a late 80's era Volvo 240 wagon for sale. I swear, before I had even closed the lid on the laptop, the phone was ringing! One guy wanted to come by to look at it at 6:30 in the morning. We realized right away that we weren't asking enough money for it, and that there are some real Volvo fanatics out there.
  • 73
    SUNDAR Portland, OR August 24, 2015 at 00:26
    I have had a pristine 1991 Corvette with 38K miles on CL from time to time for nearly 3 years with no response. I believe that price and the ability to finance the sale has much to do in selling cars priced above $5K. My best guess is that the Mazda or the VW will sell before the El Camino.

Join the Discussion