You don’t need to be an avid auto fan to make money flipping cars. This is one of the classic business models based on reselling, and it’s still alive and well today. In fact, in some parts of the country, things have been picking up quite fast over the last few years.
Some understanding of cars, especially on the mechanical side, is going to be necessary to get started in this area. But you can easily pick up most of the knowledge you need for free on the internet, or talking to people with experience under their belts. The more challenging part of flipping cars is managing to consistently find good offers that you know you can flip for a nice chunk of money.
Is Flipping Cars a Good Way to Make Money?
If you approach it the right way, flipping cars is a great way to make money. It’s a business model that has regularly drawn the attention of dreamer auto enthusiasts, but it also tends to attract general business-savvy individuals as well.
You need to exercise some caution when entering this business. The old motto “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” applies very well to this corner of the market. The market is full of less-than-ideal offers – sometimes, because owners don’t really know how to price their cars adequately, and in other cases because they’re outright trying to scam a gullible buyer.
Is the Current State of the Auto Market Suitable for a Flipping Business?
Buying used cars has been gaining steady popularity over the last decade, with many people preferring to invest in a well-preserved model from a few years ago instead of spending the money on a brand new one.
The market has been affected by factors like the ongoing inflation, as well as the rise of electric vehicles. Many people are convinced that with electric cars being right around the corner, it will soon be impossible to get their hands on a classic combustion engine model.
Finding Cars to Flip
Your main challenge, like with many reselling businesses, is going to be finding good cars to flip. You’ll find no shortage of deals on the market in general, but learning to identify offers that are worth reselling is a different story. You must also be ready to get your hands dirty in most cases, as pretty much every car you’ll buy for flipping is going to need some additional work to get a good sale out of it.
Craigslist might have been overtaken by other digital marketplaces for certain types of products, but it remains the king of the second-hand auto market. There are always lots of offers available, no matter which state you live in.
A great thing about Craigslist is that most of the sellers on there are usually open to negotiations and are willing to drop their price significantly if you can point out valid reasons for it. If you have a way with words, you will also benefit from the personal interaction that comes with every Craigslist purchase.
Auctions can be a bit of a hit-and-miss scenario. You will be able to get some great deals from time to time, but you must also be careful, and you should never rely on auctions as your sole source of cars for flipping. The main problem with auctions is that sales are typically final, and you are often working with limited information when placing your bids.
This means that sellers can easily conceal certain types of defects if they’re not required to disclose them according to the auction’s rules. Buying a used car at an auction requires a certain level of confidence about your overall car knowledge. You need to be aware of the common problems associated with some popular models and be able to read between the lines on the spot.
Social media is often less consistent than the above methods in terms of availability, but it can still lead you to some great offers from time to time. One of the good things about social media is that it requires very little effort. You can subscribe to relevant groups and get notifications about offers that might interest you, making this a relatively passive approach.
In today’s digital age, many people ignore classified ads in newspapers and similar places pretty much entirely. Which means that you’ll usually have far less competition to deal with on that front, and you can occasionally snatch up some very attractive offers. You’ll frequently deal with people who are just trying to get rid of a car with as little hassle as possible and don’t care that much about how much money they’ll get out of it.
This is a method that not many people seem to be utilizing right now, even though it can bring in some great leads. Simply make an arrangement with people in your close circle to have them work as “scouts” for you. There are often many good deals for cars to be found on the streets of your town, but it would take far too much time for you to walk around and inspect them yourself.
Offer payment to people who bring you quality leads, and both sides will be happy. Usually, your scouts won’t have to go out of their way to find interesting deals, and you’ll get a passive stream of potential offers at a low price.
Things to Do Before Listing a Car for Sale
Simply buying cars and selling them right back in their current state won’t get you far. If you want to really profit from flipping cars, you must put some effort into improving their condition.
Prioritize Repairs with a Heavy Value Impact
Tackling all necessary repairs is often going to be infeasible, especially with rarer models where procuring replacement parts can be tricky. You don’t need to fix everything anyway – just make sure to be upfront and honest about the real condition of the car once you put it up for sale.
That said, make sure that there are no mechanical faults or anything that would impact the drivability of the car. At the very least, it should pass a mechanical inspection – otherwise you’ll have a hard time finding a buyer. Cosmetic issues are optional – but still nice to address if you have the time and resources.
Clean It Up
Once repairs are done, give the car a thorough cleaning – both inside and out. This costs almost nothing, except a bit of your time, but it can significantly improve the perceived value of any car. A clean car will also be easier to inspect at the point of sale, simplifying both your life and that of the buyer.
Freshen Up the Car’s Looks
If you still have time and money you’re willing to invest in this sale, you can think about ways to freshen up the car’s looks a bit. A fresh coat of paint or new seat covers can work wonders in this regard. Don’t go overboard though – you don’t know what the buyer will value in the end, and it’s possible that some people will completely overlook the work you’ve put into the car in this regard.
Where Can You Sell the Cars You Buy?
Now that you’ve bought and refreshed a car, the final step is to sell it. You can use some of the same channels you use for buying, although there’s an additional option that’s worth considering.
As we mentioned above, Craigslist is one of the best places for used car deals – and that goes both ways. You can not only easily find cars to buy here, but you can also list the ones you want to sell. Once you’ve got the hang of how Craigslist works, it can be one of the most useful options for selling your cars. Just make sure to watch out for the common scams associated with the platform.
Post an ad in some local groups for car deals and just wait for people to contact you. That’s pretty much all there is to it when you want to sell on social media, and it can put you in touch with lots of interested buyers without too much hassle. And just like when you’re looking to buy, listing cars for sale on social media is a pretty low-effort ordeal that just requires you to make an initial post and then wait for interested parties to contact you.
Your Own Site
One option that many car flippers still ignore for some reason is setting up your own website. This is not as complicated as it seems and comes with a wide range of benefits. You’re in full control of the design and presentation, and you can list your cars exactly like you want to.
It doesn’t take too much in the way of technical skills either. A platform like WordPress with a few suitable plugins is practically all you need to get started. You can even turn this into a full-fledged storefront at some point if things pick up, removing a large portion of interaction from the process.
How Much Profit Can You Make Flipping Cars?
On average, you can expect to spend around $1,000 – $2,000 on repairs and improvements for each car you want to flip. If you’re smart about picking your purchases and adjust your investment into each one accordingly, you can often see about between $500 to $2,000 in profit in the end.
This will vary a lot though. Be prepared to actually lose money on some sales if you get unlucky with the initial purchase. And when that happens, it’s important to build the habit of pushing those cars out of your possession as quickly as possible. Don’t hold on to them with hopes that the market is suddenly going to turn around and make it a more attractive tomorrow. The more you sit on them, the more money you’re going to lose in the end.
Depending on how much time you’re willing to put into this, making around $30,000 – $40,000 in pure profit at the end of the year is not unreasonable. It will take some dedication and discipline to get there though.
You will also go through some slow periods when you’re not seeing any action on the cars you’ve got listed for sale, and at the same time you can’t find any good offers. Take those opportunities to learn more about the business – places like reddit offer a wealth of information.
Try to keep your inventory as low as possible. Having 1-2 cars for sale at a time is feasible for most people. You’re quickly going to run into storage problems if you try to increase that number. Of course, your situation may be different. If you’ve got plenty of free space for those cars, you might want to increase the number accordingly.
At What Point Do You Need a Dealer License?
One point you should pay close attention to is the need to obtain a dealer license. You’re only allowed to sell a few cars per year without one. After you’ve crossed that threshold, your state will require you to get licensed or you’ll face heavy penalties.
It’s a good idea to be one step ahead of this situation and obtain your license in advance if you’re serious about taking this business further. Once you’ve tested the waters and you’ve seen some profit potential, it’s a good idea to prioritize getting your license to avoid any delays.
Here are some examples of how many cars you’re allowed to sell without a dealer license in each state:
- Arizona: 6
- California: 5
- Florida: 3
- Nevada: 3
- Texas: 4
- Vermont: 12
- Washington: 4
As you can see, most states allow an average of five sales. More than 10 is a rare exception.
The Importance of Starting Out Slow
Your success in this line of work will depend not only on your personal affinity for trading, but also on the conditions of your local market. It’s possible that you will not see enough sales to warrant going full-time, even if you do everything right on your end.
With that in mind, try to start as slow as possible. Only flip one car at a time, and give yourself enough time between sales to research the market and pick your next target.