Free Car? How I Sold My Car for the Price I Paid 5 Years Earlier

by Will Lipovsky · 10 comments

That’s right! I bought my car for one price, drove it around for five years and then sold it for the exact same price! The good news for you is that nothing I did took incredible effort. Rather, it was more an application of a few tricks anyone could do themselves. So if you want to drive a free car, keep reading.

Finding the Car

There’s a saying among car traders, “You make the money when you buy the car.” What that means is that if you buy the car for a low enough price, selling it for a profit won’t be hard. Since our goal is just to sell it for the same price, we don’t need to get an absolute screaming deal. We just need a price that’s lower than someone else would pay years from now. That person can be our buyer later on.

To find the car, I prefer using Craigslist and eBay. Other decent options are and

The reason I like Craigslist and eBay is because that’s where the best deals are found. It’s probably because it’s free to list cars on each site. This means sellers who are short on cash tend to list their vehicles there. When sellers are short on cash, you can get a good deal and help them out quickly.

What should you pay? Less than market value, obviously. To determine market value, you can use the Kelly Blue Book at, or NADA at I prefer to do more hard hitting research, though, as I’ve found that you can get an even more accurate price that way.

To do your own research will take weeks at least. Search for cars every few days and get a feel for the asking prices. See how quickly the cars sell. Pretty soon, you’ll begin to understand what a vehicle is worth in your particular market. Once you spot a good deal, it’s time to pounce.

Paying the Right Price

The best tip I can give you is to tell you that the final price is never about what the seller is asking. Instead, it’s about what you’re willing to pay. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. If you naturally hate the idea of bartering, take along a friend who will help. Remember, to get a free car, you must get a good price. Paying in cash usually means you’ll get a better deal as well.

Once You Own the Car

Obviously, the less you drive, the better. That means fewer miles are racked up. I’ve never driven too much so this is good. But also consider that cars depreciate with or without you driving them. They depreciate the most in the first four years and then the fall in price tends to slow. So if you’re wanting a free car to drive, buy an older car. Cars depreciate until they reach about 20 years old, then depreciation plateaus and desirable cars actually go up in value.

The Selling Process Once You Are Ready to Move On

Do your best when it comes to selling the car. This means taking good pictures, posting accurate information and being patient. I know it’s tempting to accept the first offer, but I would have lost money on my car if I had done that. Be patient. It’s okay if it doesn’t sell right away.

One tip — if it’s not getting interest, maybe you’re selling during the wrong time of the year. Convertibles and rear-wheel drive sports cars are most popular in spring/early summer. 4wd vehicles rise in popularity and price during the fall and winter. Depending on your vehicle, there is an optimal time to sell.

Other tips for selling include keeping all repair history on the car, being able to show the car often, and fixing any small faults that really let the car down ie: yellowing headlamps, an obvious scratch, etc.

Things to Remember

Remember that you will be responsible for running costs during your time of ownership. These include fuel, insurance, registration, maintenance and repairs. The car itself may be free but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get everything for free. Possible. Just unlikely.

Also, cars depreciate at different rates. Find a car that depreciates slowly. According to Consumer Reports, Subaru’s depreciate the slowest. Using the tactics in this post would work well for snagging a Scoobie.

See, none of these details are too tricky. It’s mostly a matter of having patience and doing your due diligence.

Which car will you go after?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • DNN says:

    I’m glad the internet is around cause lemme tell you good brother….you can pretty much sell something online without shelling out one dime for advertising, even a Mercedes, and come up big time. Have you ever thought of creating a buying and selling website to charge others whatever you want for listing their cars on your site? Just a thought. 🙂

  • Sam S says:

    I mastered a focused variation of this technique years ago, that – if you are like me and enjoy driving high-end sports cars – works beautifully. Premium American and Japanese sports cars carry strong values even when they’er 10 years old or more because of the tuner market. The same is not true of Mercedes.

    A specialty Mustang that cost $45-50K in 2004 can still run close half that if it has low miles. Same with the WRX Sti and such. But I’ve purchased a string of very low miles Mercedes SL models that are 12-16 years old (’99 SL 500 w 28K miles in 2012 for $13,ooo; ’03 SL500 w 31K in 2015 for $12,500; SL 600 with 55K this year for $18,000) and by keeping them up well managed to make a few bucks re-selling the first two. Considering the limited production of the SL600, I’m hoping this one will do even better.

    I’ve looked at doing the same with the BMW M series, and it looks like the opportunity may be there as well, but the margins are a bit tighter.

    Downside, obviously, is service cost and insurance, but being able to drive near-supercars that retailed between $90-150,000 for significantly less than the cost of owning a new Toyota Camry makes it worthwhile.

    A few other tips for this:

    1. The best markets for these types of cars are warm-weather states with large snowbird / wealthy-traveler populations (CA, AZ, NV, FL). Remember that these folks follow the weather, so the best deals on buying will be in the Fall when they arrive back at their winter abode and decide to stick something new in the garage. Best time to sell is in the Spring.

    2. Beware of rust in Florida, cracking plastic & rubber in AZ and NV, and both rust and rotten plastics in CA. Rust is a bigger problem even though the belts, hoses, seals and the like can run a couple grand to fix. This is kinda just part of the deal, you need to keep a few grand cash on hand extra to get them back to being daily drivers after a decade and a half in a garage.

    3. Electronic gadgets are not your friend in this market. If you want a lot of blinking lights and computer alerts, buy a new car. The tech in these is either non-existent (Jackpot!) or first generation (Jackpot for your mechanic!).

  • Reid says:

    Thanks to this article, last month I decided to be incredibly frugal with my car purchase and buy a refurbished one. Some of you are thinking “oh my goodnesss, that’s risky”. The article doesn’t mention refurbs and the value they can offer. In this particular purchase I found the vehicle on CraigsList for $12,500. Took the day off, rented a car, drove 2 hours to Sarasota to see the exact car I wanted with just 5,000 miles on it. That car retails for nearly $25k. With proper repairs and research, a refurb can be a great deal. In this case I bought a CarFax report which corroborated the dealer’s story and received 180 degree photos of the damage before the dealer had it repaired by a certified refurb shop. This was a unique situation where the vehicle was rear-ended, leaving everything but the bumper and collision system perfectly intact. Items to note: the vehicle warranty is void when written off like this, so I carry the risk of something going wrong. It will be more challenging to sell the vehicle when I’m ready, but with $13k saved, when the warranty period is up, it won’t matter much. Extended warranties are still available for the vehicle.
    Thanks for the idea, Will!

    • Will Lipovsky says:

      Great to hear, Reid! If you keep the car long enough, a salvaged/rebuilt title shouldn’t be too great an issue when going to resell. The main reason cars without clean titles is a liability is because people can’t get loans for them. But if you keep the car until it’s only worth, say, $4,000, you’ll be able to find a buyer who pays cash and who won’t be bothered by its title. Sounds like you’ve done everything right when buying the car. Good buy, Reid!

  • Latoya @ Life and a Budget says:

    This is a rather intriguing concept and one that I wouldn’t mind trying out. Considering we just brought a 99′ Jeep Cherokee on Craigslist last month, I’ll be interested in seeing if we could pull this off. It’s basically just a car for my husband to drive to and from work and it is in excellent condition.

    • David @ says:

      That’s a good goal Latoya. Basically having a $0 car cost in your life would be so awesome wouldn’t it?

      I on the other hand also need to spend more effort when I need to sell cars. I am good with getting a good deal when I buy a car, but I just have much patience to get the best deal when I have the car because I just want to get rid of it and be done with the process.

      • Will Lipovsky says:

        Jeeps hold their value really well so you should do fine, Latoya!

        David – I alllllmost let the car go at a $3,000 loss. I’m really glad I waited. Maybe write something in your ad to deter tire kickers (if they caused you headaches)?

        • David @ says:

          Thanks for the suggestion. I think I need to practice my “patience”. I keep thinking about how that the car is dead money and that if I just sold it, I can plow it into the market to have the money work for me.

          Gotta try harder next time I have a chance to sell my car again!

      • Matt T. @thesmartmoneymaker says:

        I just sold my car last weekend as well. Unfortunately, I drive about 22,000 miles a year, making depreciation inevitable. I had my car listed for about 3 weeks before it sold and despite many “low-ball” offers, I too held firm and achieved a price very close to my asking. I agree with Will that if you have the patience and can hold firm, it will literally pay off.

        • David @ says:

          Good for you Matt.

          These stories are a real confidence booster. Like I said, I’ll do better next time I sell my car again!

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