How Do I Ethically Sell a Crap Car?

I’m going to sell my 89 Volvo on Craigslist if I can’t get any trade-in for it. It needs a complete tune-up and has a slow leak in the break fluid. I’ve had a lot of problems with it. Now, I’m totally willing to disclose any information. I don’t really care- I want it gone and was hoping I could get $500 for it.

So, is it acceptable to sell a car that has a lot of problems if I disclose them? I feel really weird about the brake fluid- basically you have to check it and add every couple of weeks. I discovered this the hard way, by suddenly not having brakes. But the Tires Plus place I took it to said they didn’t find a leak in the line, and I was fine adding fluid rather than launching a full investigation. It runs currently, but I am so sure it will break down that my husband and I are buying a brand new car (either a Hyundai Accent or a Chevy Aveo, if you’re interested).

Also, is $500 a good asking price? That’s what the lady at the auto shop I take it to suggested. Anyone know anything about trade-ins? Is it silly to expect anything for an 89 Volvo?

Thanks in advance!

I’d say if you disclosed everything up front, it’s perfectly ethical. For all you know, the buyer may only be buying for parts anyway. For your own protection, you should write all the known defects in excruciating detail on a bill of sale and make sure the buyer signs it, in case your state has a private sale lemon law

There is no issue ethically, especially if you disclose what you know to be wrong. Some people will approach this by selling “as is”, which means that it is up to the buyer to determine any flaws (that is not what “as is” means when selling a house, which can cause some confusion).

You don’t mention any other problems besides brake fluid. Adding brake fluid frequently is not like adding engine oil, because brake performance is more sensitive to contaminants in the fluid (like air). But if the value of your car is really that low, it might not be worth it to diagnose and repair the leak.

Someone might want to buy it for parts. You might also consider donating to a charity that will actually use the car, in which case you can get a deduction for fair market value (most charities just auction them, in which case you are likely to be able to deduct the scrap value). However, you don’t mention the model or mileage so I can’t help you determine the value.

No matter what you do, you will get more money selling it yourself than you will get from a dealer trade-in. Or if it seems like you’re getting a good deal on a trade-in, it’s because you got shafted on the new car price.

It’s a Volvo 240 and the odometer is broken. The auto shop wanted to replace spark plugs and do a complete tune up.

I think most people are smart enough to realize what kind of car 500 dollars gets them. I bet you can get more. Some people love Volvos and wouldnt mind buying it to fix up, but if you just want to get rid of it quick ask 500 firm.

When my car was on it’s last leg, it kept breaking down every six months. And I had to shoot another $500.00 into it. Well that gets annoying especially since this was the early 90s when $500 was a bit more money.

Some guy I worked with offered me a $100 bucks for it, I said, “it’s garbage, it’ll just break down and in six months cost you more.” I told him it most likely wouldn’t even pass the pollution inspection.

He said, “OK want me to fix it up for you, I’m good with cars.” And he offered to help, I told him no and just sold it to him for a $1.00.

And you know what, he kept it running for another five years, but the thing was he could fix it himself. I couldn’t do that. It DID keep breaking down, but he didn’t care as he knew how to fix cars so it cost him little, as he junkyard parts and did the work himself.

I never felt cheated as I couldn’t fix the car myself and knew I couldn’t afford to keep dumping money in a run down auto.

As long as you’re totally upfront and say “I know XXX is wrong with it, and maybe more.” And allow them to have a mechanic check it out, it’s ethical.

Like I was the systems analyst for a large hotel. When a computer went they’d toss it out. I’d gut it for parts and I’d make my own computer or upgrade my own computer, from old parts.

But I could do that, most people, couldn’t so the company was happy to toss the whole thing out.

Just be honest about its condition. There will be lots of potential buyers who have the skills to repair it or need it for parts and might be delighted to get it for $500 even knowing its condition.

Another vote for selling “as is,” telling all you know about it. You might want to sell it as a “parts” car. There are people out there that might have the technical skill to keep it running, or they might have the same car and need parts from yours.

As someone mentioned upthread, I would know that a car going for $500 would not be in very good shape at all.

Since this is about ethics, it’s more suited to IMHO than GQ.

General Questions Moderator


When there’s no detectable leak from readily visible parts it’s almost certainly leaking from the rear of the master cylinder.

Well, the lady at the car place said she’d give me $300 for it. Maybe I’ll go that route.

But I feel encouraged about selling it on Craigslist. I could probably get $500 or maybe I’ll try $600. The lady at the shop said she’d turn around and sell it with no qualms whatsoever, and she does know what it’s limitations are. I appreciate that people love Volvos, and that it would make a good parts car for someone who knew what they were doing.

Thank you everyone for your answers, and thanks Colribi for moving the thread. I’m terrible at picking the right forum!

Of course it is ethical. The only way it would be unethical would be if you hid things that were wrong with it. I bought my current car for 500$ and my truck prior to that for 650$. I fixed the problems that existed and both have given me many years and miles of good service.

There are plenty of inexpensive cars on Craigslist with problems, some of them worth fixing, some of them not. I buy them once in a while myself.

I see nothing unethical about selling your used car for a fair price, especially if you’re honest about its problems.

At the $500 price point, it would be pretty unreasonable for a buyer to expect a perfect car.

Some sellers advertise the car as “mechanic’s special” or “handyman’s special.” That should put any potential buyer on alert that the car isn’t fully road ready as it is. This will hopefully prevent people who don’t know how to fix cars, but are just cheap, from bothering you.

You don’t want your ad to be dishonest, but again you don’t want it to be so discouraging that no one wants to come look at the car. Besides the fact that it runs, what other good points does the car have? Heater and AC work? Nice radio? CD player? How’s the interior and body? Do the electrical accessories work?

You might make your ad something like this:

1989 Volvo 240, Mechanic’s Special

True mileage unknown; odometer broken.

Power windows, power door locks, AM/FM/cassette, all working. Working, cold AC. Good tires. Good interior with no rips, fair exterior with some rust spots.

Needs complete tune-up, has slow brake fluid leak.

Car is currently registered, and runs and drives, but is being sold as is, with no warranty.

$600 or best offer, cash only.

Sell to a car dealer.

They are expected to know the risks, & they budget for them.

This would be my ad:

1989 Volvo 240

Mileage unknown, odometer broken.

Runs. Good interior with no rips, light rust on body. Butt warmer on driver’s side works! Working radio with tape deck.

No AC. No Heat. Slow brake fluid leak. Brakes squeak a lot when it’s raining. Needs full tune up and new muffler. Left rear turn signal out and goes out again shortly after being replaced. Glove box falls open unexpectedly. For some reason passengers always bonk their heads when they get out. Plastic rear bumper tied to car with knitting yarn.

A dream car for someone who wants to learn to fix up old Volvos! $500 firm!
I’ll take out the sillier stuff. Though all true, maybe it’s not all relevant. :slight_smile:

Have no qualms at all about selling this car. Play up the car’s good points - Volvo, working butt warmer, and disclose what you know is wrong about it. Put it on Craigslist for $700 and that will give you some room to negotiate. Most people either want ridiculous money for their clunker or they shortchange themselves out of a few hundred Benjamins. If you just want to be rid of it, sell it to the person that offered you $300. She knows she can double her money on it or better. So can you if you want to deal with it.

I just sold a crap car myself on Craigslist. I don’t know what the laws are in your area, but I made sure my potential buyers knew that I had already had my title signed and notarized so we wouldn’t have to deal with finding a notary or going to DMV together. They handed me the cash and I handed them the title.

Don’t lose a moment’s sleep over it.

Ha! I like the bits about the butt warmer and knitting yarn. I’d leave them in, but then again I really enjoy reading clever craigslist ads.

On a 240? You bet. I had it diagnosed before I even got to your post

I doubt you will find much of a market for a 89 240 at a used car lot. In dog years this car is dead. Christ it is old enough to vote and buy beer.

We sold a not-great car (the only thing is, it had a valid Safety), but the thing was on it’s last legs. We were very careful to let the buyer know and priced it accordingly.

They were just happy to have a car, and were realistic about what they could get for that price…

Coming from a home where my dad bought and sold old cars on an almost monthly basis, and having sold a few myself, the only thing I’d worry about disclosing would be the brake fluid leak - you expect a car for $500 to have something wrong with it, but it shouldn’t be something that can kill you as you toddle along down the road. I wouldn’t feel right about not disclosing that.