Sales Talk : Cheap adverts bring cheap punters!

Mike Humble gives it both barrels about the perils of advertising your car privately

Want an easy sale? Want a decent buyer to buy it? Then DONT skimp on the advert!
Want an easy sale? Want a decent buyer to buy it? Then don’t skimp on the advert!

A great deal can be said about private car adverts. My own experience tends to suggest that the cheaper the advert, the cheaper the vendor and, in most cases, the poorer quality of customer. Sounds snobby? Well,you’d be surprised. When selling a motor there are some places I simply won’t advertise it. My all-time pet hates include the free advert paper you find in the local chippy or corner shop – you know the one, I think it comes out the day after Thursday – and the other one is bloody Gumtree. If you want to get messed around then the aforementioned will get you mad to point of your feet itching.

In another one of those work conversations, a colleague starts bickering on about the number of idiots ringing him up night and day with stupid offers or asking, in Eastern European dialects, ‘er, what’s the, er, lowest price you take for, er, your car?’ and the myriad of text messages asking if he will take a Raleigh Grifter and a PS2 in part exchange. Now the motor in question, although not everyone’s cup of tea is a 2008 Zafira 150 CDTi in Silver Lightning with a good mileage (circa 49,000), two owners and in a decent SRi trim level – I’ve seen the car and it’s prime used material which would do Family Guy proudly.

It transpires he’s advertised the Zafira on as many free sites and outlets as possible and he’s stunned by the twonks and dunderheads who have been round to look at it. One even came round sporting a tag on his leg with a wife in tow who allegedly looked like a very overweight Kat Von D – his words, not mine. It’s priced on the button and they only reason they want shot is because someone in the family has recently kicked the bucket and left them an almost brand-new car. I posed the thorny question of why they hadn’t advertised it on a specialist car website such as AutoTrader and he retorted: ‘Oh no, I’m not paying for an advert.’

And it’s here, boys and girls, that a fatal mistake has been made – if you bombard the free press with your car, the chances are you will just end up with low-life punters. You see, if you are looking to bail out of a wrecked Almera for a few hundred notes or a three-pot Corsa that idles like a tumble drier full of pebbles then these freebies are fine – crap cars attract crap buyers. Decent cars deserve a decent advert and this should lower the risk of your runabout sale turning into the kind of runaround that even the late Mike Reid would be envious of.

For the sake of a few quid, place your car on a reputable site along with some nice snaps taken down by the river or local park. Then sprinkle a few choice words about the car itself without going all War and Peace – remember to put all the important details like MoT, service history and your location within the first two or three lines (people tend to skim read or get bored after the eighteenth paragraph) and you’ve cracked it. The trick is to bring people to an actual dialogue so don’t put an email address and use the free number shielding service – this protects you from the lowest of the low… TEXT MESSERS.

An honest, serious and well-informed punter will spot a cheapskate advert from 100 paces so think about how you would like to see a car advert if you were shopping around yourself. Speculate to accumulate and, by playing smart and sensible, you can turn your car sale into an enjoyable experience. Do it on the cheap and it’ll be only you who pays.

Mike Humble


  1. Couldn’t agree more! Although sometimes such adverts can be s source of the odd bargain because the vendor is either desparate to sell or simply clueless with its value. We live on a route between a housing estate and local schools so I have sold successfully by simply putting a simple clear printed notice in the car window and parking the car outside the house.

  2. I used Gumtree to sell a 125cc motorbike, I was asking next to nothing for it but still hat to put up with loads of fake texts asking for me to e-mail them with details of my vehicle. If you can’t even mention the type of vehicle then I’m gonna assume you are a scam artist and will rightly ignore you. It was an important well learnt lesson. Had the same with a Mk2 Golf I was selling 10 years ago. Put it in the local rag for a small fee and had one joker, a few weeks later put it in Autotrader and sold it within days for what I wanted. Would also steer clear of selling through eBay as I can’t do with the hassle, but buying their is a different matter!

  3. Playing devils advocate, what service does Autotrader provide that ebay and doesn’t? There’s no print edition any more, and I don’t see them promoting themselves as strongly as they used to. It’s just another online database of cars for sale.

    At £37 for a basic (2 week) advert for any car > £1000, I struggle to see what I’m getting for my money.

    I don’t change my cars often, but when I do I use owners club forums, eBay and Pistonheads, in that order. I put the same level of effort into my advert wording and my photos, regardless of where it is advertised. If all of those avenues failed to find a buyer, then I might consider Autotrader.

    I can imagine Autotrader works better for the trade, and has online tools for managing a large number of cars for sale at any one time, but these don’t matter so much to the private seller.

  4. I guess it all boils down to how much you value your time, if you have the time and want save a couple of quid then by all means the ‘freebies’ are a viable option, it will take much longer and you will have to deal with people wanting a 15 year old car to look and drive like new but will only be prepared to pay peanuts BUT you will eventually sell it. However I for one agree the professional sites are the way to go even for the lowest point in the foodchain, to put into context a mate had a 22 year old Cavalier SRi Mk3 which had 180k on the clock, a bit scruffy round the edges but mechanically sound, he paid for a Bargain Ad on AutoTrader and car was gone off his drive in less than 24 hours – I kid you not.
    Ebay seems to be the worst of both worlds you get all the post-pub drunken bidders to deal with and you pay handsomely for the privilege of sifting through the messers/no-shows.
    Car and Classic are a good free site – HOWEVER it is only free for the seller the buyer then gets stung with a premium rate number when they call!!

  5. Gumtree is full of messers and council estate wheeler-dealer types, alright for scrap runabouts. If buying do an HPI before you part with any cash!!!

    I would only really use Autotrader and a local site usedcarsni now, and even at that I’ve foregone the old Quentin Willson advice and bought off proper car dealers so that at least there is some comeback.

    Easy enough to find a local grassy area for pictures, bit of a clean and vacuum, even new numberplates if the old ones are a bit beaten, and any car will come up looking like new. Surprising the amount of pictures taken in a narrow driveway at night.

  6. Ebay can be useful to sell a car. I believe it is free to sell one under £1000. Also the auction facility can be useful if you’re not sure what your car is worth. Another point is that the person who puts in the winning bid is contractually obliged to buy your car.

  7. “a colleague starts bickering on about the amount of idiots ringing him up night and day with stupid offers or asking in Eastern European dialects “err whats the err lowist price you take for car” and the myriad of text messages asking if he will take a Raleigh Grifter and a PS2 in part exchange.”

    I think I can see who the idiot is here !!

    !Aam not payin’ that, Aa want valew fer mooney!

    Anybody heard this before ?

  8. I found a while back on youtube the horror side of cars/anything for sale or rent in craigslist!. with funny and dark outcomes hard to belive but last year two men were stabbed in Edinburgh travelled from the Aberdeen area on the understanding that they were going to purchase a vehicle.

  9. Interesting. Recently put my ZR on Gumtree. Had no response at all to date, but having read the above I’ll be prepared for some cr*p calls.

  10. Some other things too: write a concise, properly edited, properly spelled ad in good English language. Don’t post it after a visit to the pub or in anger. Don’t be too clever, don’t use abbreviations usually only those in the trade understand. Note serious flaws or work it needs. Cheap ads are also likely to get you 3rd rate used dealers who will then barley clean the car and charge double and put up with their own ‘kneecap’ financing scheme or on another cheap site.

    • Have had that before, sold a car then 2 hours later it is on gumtree for £££s more, has had a timing belt change and mysteriously gained a full service history……

  11. Sold my campervan on Car and Classic for what I wanted. They fund the site through the use of 070 numbers which look like mobile numbers but cost a little bit to ring (until Ofcom ban them). I think it’s a respectable site for selling classics.

    Found Gumtree useless for the reasons above, and was going to resort to an Ebay classified ad if I had to as they reach a lot of people for £14.99 and they stay up for a month.

    I wouldn’t do an Ebay auction again. Everyone expects a bargain (without viewing) and when selling my MGB I had 3 people buy it only to cancel when they sobered up, leaving me having to get Ebay to cancel the sale fees 3 times… which wasn’t easy.

    Selling a non-classic I’d probably go Auto Trader if it was a nice car and ‘wherever’ if it wasn’t.

  12. So many adverts are just full of pointless rubbish these days and fail to stick to the detail required. There is no need to list every piece of equipment the car has: it is easier now than ever to find out what someting came with when new.

    Also, in this day and age there is absolutely no excuse for poor/missing photos of exterior and interior. And why photo all the wheels? Whoopee it’s got wheels!

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