Max Profit: Using eBay Motors to Sell Your Car

By Staff Writer
Aug 10, 2018 | BMW, Chevrolet, Nissan, Porsche | Posted in Features | From the April 2014 issue | Never miss an article

This article is now five years old, so some of the pricing is a tad, well, optimistic for today’s market. But the information is still good, so don’t get too angry at what a nice M3 used to be worth. Note that some of eBay’s features have since changed, too.-Editor

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Story by Alan Cesar • Photos as Credited

We all shop for cars on eBay Motors. You do, too. It’s not always an alcohol-fueled, late-night search fest that ends in rusty Alfa Romeo mistakes. Sometimes we’re motivated by simple curiosity, fantasy, or just the desire to see what our own cars might sell for. That’s likely the reason its share of automotive minutes online is No. 1 at more than 10 percent.

In order for these searches to have such satisfying results, there has to be someone on the other end: a person selling a car that we can drool over. What if that person doing the selling were you? Thirty percent of all the time spent shopping cars on the Internet is spent on eBay. That’s a lot of potential buyers looking at your car.

But selling a car on eBay can be intimidating. It’s certainly a world full of open questions to the uninitiated: Are the fees egregious? Will I get screwed if only three people bid on my car? How do I make the most of my ad?

We decided to find out by putting our money down: Our 1990 BMW M3–yes, the venerable E30 homologation special–needed to leave our hands so we could free up some cash.

EBay would show us what the market could bear, and along the way we’d learn how to properly list a car so that it attracted as many eyeballs as possible. We talked to representatives from eBay Motors, attended one of their seminars, and helped two of our $2013 Challenge entrants list their own rides for sale.

Do you want to replicate these success stories? Follow this guide and you’ll make the most of the machines that are currently cluttering up your carport. There are three basic parts to an ad: the photos, the story and the marketing. If you can focus your efforts on making a good ad that hits hard on all of these points, you’ll do well on eBay.

With a little luck and a little work, you may be a bit richer and your space less a mess in fewer than 10 days.

Myth Busting

Listing is not expensive.
Ebay Motors doesn’t collect a percentage of the vehicle sale price. If they did, they’d have to jump through legal hoops to get listed as a dealer. Their flat fee is all they receive. Also, eBay doesn’t collect the $125 listing fee until–and only if–your car sells for more than $2000. You can relist your car as many times as you want.

Listing your car isn’t hard.
It’s certainly not more difficult than listing it on craigslist or AutoTrader, though there are more options boxes to check. Jessika Lora, who manages the Vehicle Consumer division for eBay, tells us it’s her personal goal to launch an improved listing flow this year.

Shipping cars isn’t a major barrier.
If a potential buyer is unsure of how to get a car across the country, you can refer them to companies like uShip, which provide rates from multiple vehicle shipping companies. Transporting a car from our headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida, to Chicago can cost as little as $450–albeit on an open trailer. More than 75 percent of eBay car sales happen across state lines.

Your search placement is just as good as a dealer’s, and it drives dealers crazy.
You, the private seller, have the exact same likelihood of showing up in search results as a dealer, so long as you list your car effectively.

Photos, Photos, Photos

Take out that camera and get excessive. Pictures sell cars.

The basics are still the basics. Brush off the snow. Remove the trash from the footwells. Wipe the mud from the rockers. Watch reflections and shadows: Keep yourself out of the photo. Oh, and make sure they’re right-side up when you upload them.

Pay attention to light. Avoid the harsh midday sun. It creates unattractive hot spots and deep shadows. Shoot during an overcast day or on the shady side of a building. Don’t shoot at night. Parking lot or driveway lights are unflattering, and nighttime shots are often blurry or shaky.

Expose the photo correctly. If you’re shooting a bright or dark-colored car, use your camera’s bracketing or metering feature to make sure the black is black and the white is white. Cameras generally will make whites dingy and blacks flat if you don’t adjust the brightness yourself. See the photos on page 107. Take extra care with a white car on black wheels.

Take lots of photos. These are the basic photos you should get: a three-quarter view from each corner; straight-on front, rear and sides; close-ups on each set of lights and each tire; into the car from every door, with the door open; every seat; the temperature controls, instrument cluster, mileage, cruise control buttons, shifter, stereo, steering wheel, sunroof and headliner; straight-on into the trunk and hood; the VIN plate; a close-up on the make and model emblems; and the owner’s manual and keys. Bonus points for the undercarriage.

Be sure to photograph anything that’s particularly special about your car. It’s worth showing off the SR20DET engine you’ve swapped into your Sentra. Take close-ups where appropriate, both of pluses and minuses. Being honest ensures that you’ll be able to sell on eBay again.

EBay’s photo gallery is currently limited to 24 pictures, but you can always embed photos in the description using basic HTML code if you have more–you just have to host them externally, like on a Flickr page. The most successful dealers make their listings this way. According to eBay Motors, listings with 40 or more photos are 70-percent more likely to sell than those with fewer photos.

In the gallery, move all the car’s exterior shots to the front and group the rest of the photos together. Choose a nice three-quarter front shot for the lead photo; most cars look very similar in profile.

Don’t post photos of previous damage if the car has been repaired. This will confuse buyers as to the current condition of the car. Just state the nature of the previous damage and offer to send the photos by email.

Sell Better With a Story

Options and modification lists alone won’t sell a car. It’s hard for potential buyers to picture themselves behind the wheel when all you tell them is that it has a TD05 16G turbo. It’s good information to include in the description, but if you want someone to remember you, you’ve got to help the bidder envision living with and enjoying the car.

Is it stonkin’ fast? Does it have a great stereo for cruising? Will its airbags and crash structures protect the family? Maybe its handling prowess, power output or exhaust note will earn the new owner endless attention from the opposite sex.

Speaking of crazy scenarios: Get creative. You’ve probably seen the silly, over-the-top ads that get passed around the Internet. Throw in a free pair of MC Hammer parachute pants; espouse your vehicle’s ability to defeat one-eyed aliens from outer space; mention the incredible futuristic vision offered by your Audi Coupe GT’s (likely problematic) digital instrument cluster.

The ultimate goal here is to build value in the car and confidence in you. Throw in your phone number or email address at multiple places in the listing. Encourage shoppers to call you to find out the reserve (if you’ve set one), to answer questions, and to ask for more photos.

Try to pre-empt any questions a shopper may have. This includes questions about shipping and inspections, and if you’re willing to pick up the high bidder at a nearby airport. Offer a link to and if you don’t have a preferred shop or shipping company you’d like to work with.

Story Structure

This basic outline will help you keep your story coherent.

1. Paint a picture of your ownership experience: when you bought it, what you’ve used it for, and what repairs and modifications you’ve made in that time (but leave the full mods list for the end).

2. Explain why you’re selling the car and what makes it a good buy. Potential superfast project? Hammer pants? High scrap value?

3. Justify the pricing. A wind-through-your-hair driving experience is worth something, but so are heated leather seats and the right combination of sport options. If it’s a no-reserve auction, you can tell bidders that you’re confident it’s a good car that will fetch an honest price on its own.

4. Establish your credibility. Why should the shopper buy from you? Maybe you’re a meticulous owner who waxes his Pinto weekly. Maybe you’re an ASE-certified mechanic, or you make sure your shops are. A high eBay rating is worth mentioning here.

5. If it’s a salvage-title car, detail the circumstances. Why was it salvaged? Who did the repairs? How much did it cost to repair (if you know), and where’s the documentation?

6. Move the shopper to action. Encourage them to bid, Buy It Now, Make a Best Offer, or call or email you, especially if you set a reserve. Mention any trades you’re interested in, along with any disclaimers about ending the auction early if you’re also listing it elsewhere.

Search Mastery

Getting to the top of search results will help your car get more bids. There are three main elements that influence your search placement: activity, keywords and content. You’ll have to optimize your listing to get high in the results, which means thinking about how people search for cars.

Nobody searches for words like “super clean.” Plenty of people do search based on major equipment, like transmission type (“automatic” or “manual”), and other details, like “no reserve” and “salvage title.” While setting no reserve helps your search placement, you should still set one any time you expect a minimum price from the car.

Put those major options or features in the title and subtitle. If there are multiple ways to name your features, take a quick trip to Google Trends and compare the activity on each term. Your SUV will show up in more searches if you mention in the title that it’s a 4x4 rather than AWD or 4WD. Also, list the year in both abbreviated and standard fashion. If it’s 1995 in the title, call it a 95 in the subtitle. Character count is limited, so don’t use commas or apostrophes in titles and subtitles. There is an optional secondary subtitle available for an extra $3.

Activity is simply whether people are looking at and bidding on your car. When a car is first listed, it’ll get a bump in the ranking because it’s a new listing. High activity will keep its search ranking up as the auction ages; this is where a low initial bid helps.

Start bidding at one measly dollar and shoppers will flock to pick up your car for just a few hundred bucks. These bargain hunters–some eBay users call them squirrels–will keep coming back to see where they stand, giving your rank another boost.

If you are listing using Fixed Price, use the Accepts Best Offer feature–it’s free–and it allows you and your potential buyer to negotiate on the price until you both agree. Plus, you and your buyer will get pinged every time one of you responds to the Best Offer, which can increase the excitement and likelihood of selling to that buyer. If you and your buyer have the mobile app, you’ll see these Best Offer requests come in like text messages that you can receive on your phone.

Remember to post a link to your ad on Internet message boards and any other social media you use. Bring a Trailer has a huge following, so submit your ad there and to similar sites. If they promote your auction, you could see a price bump.

EBay is more active on weekends. (Just picture people cruising the listings with a beer in one hand and a tablet in the other.) To take advantage of this, list your car just before the weekend and choose the 10-day auction option. That way your listing will span two weekends. The 21-day format is best for six-figure cars that have a narrower buying market, so it won’t help you sell your Civic.

And content? Those are your high-quality photos and compelling story we mentioned before. Choosing a good lead photo will compel people to click through from the search page. An interesting story will get shoppers sharing your ad, which is the root of going viral. Your listing won’t be as big as “Gangnam Style,” but you could make a few more bucks on your car if you do it right.

Hot Tips for Successful Sales

• Always be honest.

• Engage shoppers with a story that puts them in the driver’s seat.

• Add lots of photos.

• Clean the car inside and out before taking pictures.

• Photograph your car in soft light during the day, not at night or in bright sunlight.

• For the lead photo (gallery view), use a front three-quarter shot.

• Use Google Trends to choose the best keywords for your title.

• Start bidding low to generate activity.

• If you set a reserve, leave your phone number in the description.

• Use a 10-day listing so your car is visible for two weekends.

• Make inspections and shipping easy for potential buyers.

• Block buyers with zero feedback.

• If the winning bidder flakes out, make second-chance offers to other bidders.

Community Service

Representatives from eBay Motors helped two entrants to the $2013 Grassroots Motorsports Challenge list their cars for sale, and the GRM staff lent a hand with photography. These cars were built by magazine readers with a budget cap of $2013, and the event had them compete in concours, autocross and drag racing competitions.

We also listed our E30-chassis M3 on that same day; we’ve been wondering what a car like this would be worth on a rebuilt title. Our Chevy Corvair project car joined the party, too.

All these auctions started at $1–except the Porsche, which started at $9.44. Did the $2013 Challenge entrants fetch more than $2013? How did our M3 sale go? Was our Corvair a hit? Here are the results:

1987 Porsche 944

1993 Nissan Sentra

1990 BMW M3, rebuilt title

1963 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder


eBay Motors

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