Used car flipping is a relatively popular way to earn additional income for people who are already into cars. If you spend lots of your time browsing countless online car listings just for the fun of it, car flipping might be the perfect job for you.
How to start a car flipping business? Before you set aside a couple of hundred dollars and embark on an exciting used car flipping journey, be sure to read this article to find out how to do it smart, fast, and profitable.
Getting started with car flipping
The first thing you ought to do is to investigate how your state regulates selling cars for profit. Sometimes you’ll be forced to acquire a dealer’s license before you start your venture. However, there are a couple ways you can flip cars, even without a dealer’s license.
After getting your dealer’s license, you’ll need to scout for the perfect car. When you find the chosen one, you need to pull the trigger, buy it, and flip it for profit.
It is essential that you know your way around the used car market, as this is quite possibly the most important expertise a good car flipper needs to have. You have to be the person who knows more than the majority of other car buyers, so you can capitalize on it. Having reliable access to many service shops and detailing companies is also necessary if you are not able to do it on your own.
Now is the time to get into the business because the used car market is booming at the moment. The car industry has reached a certain plateau when it comes to combustion engine car development, which means that not all that many people are interested in buying new cars. So, there are loads of potential customers if you do everything right.
Basics of item flipping and why flipping cars is best
In its purest form, flipping an item means buying it for cheap, and selling it for more. However, there are certain steps one has to take in order to do it as best as possible. There are many things people tend to flip these days, such as shoes, high fashion clothes, watches, sports memorabilia, real estate properties, or even boats and jets.
However, most people selling any of these items are enthusiasts, which is what gives them the upper hand compared to everyone else. It’s the same story with car flipping. If you are someone with extensive knowledge about the ins and outs of certain car models, model years, trim levels, and engine choices, then you can definitely earn money with that knowledge.
Although flipping real estate or boats sounds exciting, doing so is almost impossible for someone without a hefty bank account or reliable access to the market. Car flipping is different because it enables everyone to earn money, no matter the price category. Flipping a $400 car or a $400k often ends up with the same profit margin, percentage-wise of course.
Regulatory aspects of used car flipping
One very important thing to keep in mind is to stay within the limits of the law. No matter how well you do as a car flipper, if you don’t trade according to state law, all of your profits are sure to be confiscated. In addition to losing everything you’ve worked hard for, you could also be sued for tax fraud and many other criminal charges. To prevent that from happening, be sure to check the regulatory limits.
Most states in the US have a fixed number of cars you can sell per year, and basically, all of them are different. The worst part of it all is that these numbers tend to change quite frequently. Without a dealer’s license, some states like Mississippi enable you to sell only one car per year for profit, others like Montana or Kentucky don’t even let you sell a single one.
It is worth noting that most states don’t limit your personal car sales, but most of them don’t enable you to sell cars for profit without a dealer’s license. However, states like Indiana and Vermont are very car flipper friendly because they enable you to sell up to 11 vehicles per year without a dealer’s license.
It is rather obvious that the variations between states are huge, and this is further worsened by the fact that these rules often change. One could easily assume that the rules of neighboring states are similar, but they are not. If you don’t abide by these rules, you will be subject to arrest in most states.
Flipping new cars vs. flipping used cars
In this article, we will mostly focus on flipping used cars because there are more options, and it is much cheaper to do so. However, flipping new cars can sometimes be the most profitable method of car flipping. It’s worth saying that only a handful of car flippers are continuously flipping new cars, and they usually do so according to some form of an agreement between them and the dealership/automaker.
The most profitable car flips are often carried at the very top of the automobile industry. Brands like Porsche, Ferrari, and many others are considered desirable no matter how many of them are sold. Nonetheless, if you have the money and the access to limited-edition high-end supercars and sports cars, you are in a position to earn quite a bit of money.
This is because these brands only manufacture a certain number of units per limited-edition model. As such, the initial supply of these cars is unable to meet the demand. Most customers need to wait years before they get the opportunity to buy these cars. If you are someone who has an earlier build spot, you can sell that build spot to someone down the line, and flip the car even years before the car enters production.
Be that as it may, the high-end car flipping business is limited to few privileged people. Besides the access, you also need quite a lot of money to secure a build spot in the first place. All of this indicates that flipping used cars is way easier, cheaper, and more accessible.
Best used car brands and models for flipping
Flipping used cars is easy, but knowing which cars to flip is crucial to close a deal fast. You ought to search for cars that are reliable, popular and always in demand. This also means you should avoid brands that are not well represented in your area, especially certain models that are expensive to maintain, insure, and hard to sell.
Toyota is a brand known for reliability, affordability, popularity, and practicality. As such, most Toyota models are often flipped for profit. You ought to concentrate on specific models such as the Corolla, Prius, or the Camry because these are the most popular Toyota models. You should also look for undervalued Honda Accords, Civic, and CR-V models.
Besides Japanese economy cars, you should also look for popular vans, minivans, family SUVs, and pickup trucks because they are always in demand. Cars such as the Honda Odyssey, GMC Yukon, Toyota Sienna, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota RAV4, or the Highlander. Sometimes you can even profit from buying undervalued German premium vehicles, but only if the values of such cars justify it.
No matter the car you opt for, it has to be reliable and preferably with limited miles on the odometer. Sometimes even a relatively unpopular car can bring great value if it is undervalued. This only reiterates the need for a comprehensive used car market understanding. If you are aware that a car is worth more than what it’s being sold for, you can easily flip it if you find the right buyer.
Best used car specifications, engine choices, and trim levels for car flipping
After you’ve successfully established which brand you are going after, you also need to consider the specifics such as the exterior and interior paint, build materials, colors, engine and transmission choices, and specific equipment packages and additional options. Sometimes you can find a great deal on a used car, but if it’s specified with a bright green interior, you will have a hard time flipping it.
The best choices for flipping are cars in either black, grey, or silver paints. White can also do, but the aforementioned three options are the most popular colors for virtually any consumer brand out there. Interior-wise, always look for black on black, but can sometimes make a detour if it’s within the limits of reason and desirability.
Powertrain-wise, look for the most popular, most efficient, and most reliable engine options. In the US, you should always look for an automatic because a vast majority of customers are either unable to drive a manual or they simply don’t want to. These aspects are considered crucial, so don’t compromise on these if the value can’t justify it completely.
It is also a good idea to look for cars with at least the bare minimum of necessary additional equipment. Bare-bone cars without many essentials such as electric windows or digital A/C are only good for people who never even sat inside a car. Make sure that the equipment list is at least mid-level because this will enable you to sell the car faster.
Classic cars – A potential goldmine for flipping used cars
Flipping classic cars can also be a great way of earning a decent income, but this usually requires way more knowledge and expertise in restoration, repair, and the market itself. While some cars can almost always be considered desirable such as the 1965 Mustang, the 1969 Dodge Charger, or the 1950’s Chevy Bel Air, others are a mixed bag.
The hard part about flipping classic cars is knowing if the car is all original or if it has been rebuilt and if it still checks all the necessary value determination points. Sometimes a car might seem original, and there are instances of people thinking they own an original classic car only to find out years later that the car is far from an original example.
Besides authenticity and value, the classic car market, in general, is rather small and sometimes even way too saturated with artificially desirable cars. For example, the air-cooled Porsche 911 craze has finally reached somewhat of a slowdown. For years now, the prices of air-cooled 911s kept on climbing, and now it seems that the bubble might pop, and the values could potentially start to go down.
Furthermore, it’s also important to opt for classics that still offer plenty of spare parts around, especially if you intend to restore one. In order to buy spare parts for certain classics, you need to get in contact with the automaker directly which usually means you may need to wait a long time before you see those parts. Moreover, such parts tend to cost the most.
Where to find the best used cars for flipping
There are many places one can look for used car listings such as ebay.com, craigslist.org, Facebook Marketplace, Edmunds.com, and many others. These sources are mostly for people who want an already working and running car which means that they usually don’t require any comprehensive repair or restoration jobs, which is perfect for those who are not working on cars.
However, if you are a mechanic yourself, or you have reliable access to repair shops, you can also check out damaged and clean cars at many online auction sites such as auctionexport.com, copart.com, or gov-auctions.org. Your local 3rd party dealership could also sometimes offer cars that you might think are undervalued or perfect for flipping.
Places like dealership auctions are also great places for potential gold mines, but be aware that you are bidding against experienced dealers who are likely to be extremely knowledgeable about how much a car is worth, and how the market works in general. Although you can come to a dealer’s auction without any limitations, sometimes you need a dealer’s license to take part.
Whatever you do, don’t ever overbid on a car because you fell in love with it. The whole point of flipping cars is to sell the car with the sole intention of making money, and if you spend money passionately, you are hardly ever going to balance that out. Finally, whatever you do, always use online VIN checking sites before you buy.
Buying salvaged and damaged cars for car flipping
Buying salvaged, heavily, or lightly damaged cars for car flipping can also be a great way to earn some money while doing the stuff you usually do, and that’s working on cars. Even though this method is mostly for people who are in the car repair business, if you have zero experience working on cars, you can still buy, repair and sell cars if you have reliable access to a repair shop.
Some people tend to partner up with their local repair shops to acquire a dealer’s license which makes it way easier to sell and repair cars. However, this usually means that you will not be the only one profiting from selling cars, and you also probably will not have the same level of freedom as you normally would if working by yourself.
In any case, damaged cars can be either salvageable or not. Don’t be fooled thinking that it will make sense to repair an extremely damaged car if the facts point otherwise. These repair jobs take quite a bit of time, which also means you need a safe place to work on the cars and to park and keep them before you eventually pass them on to a new owner.
However, opting for lightly damaged cars can sometimes be a great idea because these types of damages lower the initial value of the car, but they are still relatively fixable if you know what you are doing. Certain damages such as flooded or burned cars are almost always a bad purchase, even if they are valued extremely low.
Cosmetic damages, unloved cars, and car detailing – A necessity for a car flipper
If you buy a car from a private seller, you might end up with a clean car inside and out. Be that as it may, most auction sites or even mass dealerships will sell you a filthy car. So much so that it seems like the car is beyond saving. Many people park their cars for years before they sell them, and often those cars are both dirty and in an all-around bad cosmetic condition.
In order to make these cars shine, you need to have extensive car detailing or car deep cleaning experience. Many people believe that they know how to clean a car, but the reality is that that’s far from the truth. There are many companies out there that specialize in “reviving” unused cars, but they can often cost more than what you can afford.
Because of this, it’s sometimes best to invest in at least the bare minimum of car detailing equipment and try to do the job yourself. Of course, this might take a while, but with every car in the future, you are likely going to improve in both cleaning skills and time. Do what you can do yourself, and leave the nasty bits to professionals.
Besides this, you could also try to partner up with a detailing shop to always have fast and reliable access which should in theory make the entire car flipping process easier and quicker. Remember, the pictures only tell half of the story and just maybe the car behind all that dirt is the best deal you will ever do in your life.
Be smart when buying a car to flip
While in the process of buying the car, you need to be persistent, sometimes a bit pushy, and fairly skilled with negotiations. If you are not ready to hassle for price face-to-face, then you should stick to car auctions, but if you are, you should most definitely do so to get the right price for your next purchase.
It’s always best to pinpoint the reason why someone is selling a car in the first place. Maybe it’s just an old lady who can’t drive any longer, or if it’s a graduating student ready to move on something better, always keep a sentient eye on how the seller behaves while talking about the car. This way you can tell if the person cares about the car and how well the car was maintained on a daily basis.
Besides knowing how the car was maintained, any negatives you hear from the seller can be used as arguments for a lower price, but don’t be too pushy in order not to push the seller away. Don’t get emotionally involved, and never buy the car on the spot. It’s always best to wait for a few days, but be sure to ask the seller if a 2–3-day interest reservation is possible.
It’s also not a good idea to mention to the seller that you are a car flipper because many people who have owned their cars for years don’t like selling cars to car flippers. Also, if the car is in great condition, be sure to compliment the seller to increase your chances of successful price negotiations.
Don’t skip the pre-purchase inspection, no matter how good the car looks. If the seller does not want to do to a pre-inspection, skip the car altogether. This is a likely indication that something else is wrong with the car, and you don’t want that, no matter how good the price is.
Sell it quickly for maximum profits
After you’ve successfully bought the car, now is the time to sell it quickly and easily, and to do so, the car needs to look great, feel great, and drive great. Be sure to book all the necessary repairs the moment you decide to buy the car to finish them as fast as possible. If the car needs a deep clean treatment, also book an appointment before the car arrives.
While listing the car online, make sure that there are loads of high-quality pictures. Many modern smartphones these days are capable of shooting DSLR quality pictures in bright sunlight, so try to find an environment that is full of light. Take as many pictures as you can to show the true colors of the car, and accompany those pictures with a lengthy description and all the relevant info.
It’s always best to list the car on as many sites as you can. To sell the car fast, you can also boost the listing for greater listing traffic or if the site allows it, you can also post multiple listings. If you know a place that usually gets a lot of traffic, you can also park the car there with a “For sale” sign on it, however, this usually means that your car will be exposed to the elements.
Finally, when a potential-customer contacts you, try to do everything you can to lure them into buying the car. Don’t use deceiving tactics because the person must think they are getting a great deal. A happy customer is the best marketing tool you can hope for, and maybe that person might even recommend you to many other potential customers.
Flipping used cars – FAQ
Is it worth being a used car flipper in 2023?
In recent years, the world has suffered from lockdowns, economic downfalls, shortages of goods, and travel restrictions. All of this affects the used car market quite a bit, especially when you consider lockdowns. In many countries around the world, people have been spending a lot of their time at home, which means that they have not been using their cars all that often.
Travel restrictions significantly decrease the need for long-distance driving, but because the recommendations are to avoid being in crowded spaces, many people also have been opting to drive personal cars rather than to use public transportation.
There has also been a shortage of goods and parts, meaning it may be hard to get your hands on certain car parts to fix a car up. However, this shortage has led to some car manufacturers producing way fewer new cars, so the used car market has never been better.
Being a car flipper in 2021 is riskier than usual, but still very profitable for the most successful flippers. Hopefully, the pandemic will continue to dial down, and travel restrictions and lockdowns will cease to exist, and in that environment, being a car flipper is a really good idea.
What are the risks usually associated with car flipping?
No business is perfect, and car flipping is not an exception. Besides sometimes being bogged down with unrealistic and illogical regulations, the car market is a relatively stable market, which means that it can sometimes be challenging to earn a sizeable profit margin. Furthermore, used cars are complex machines; they can seem perfect in one moment, but the next one they can start showing various defects.
While working as a car flipper, you need to orchestrate a deal that is profitable for you, and still fairly beneficial for your customer, and that is tricky if something does not go according to plan. For example, your car might need new parts that are unavailable at the moment or they are more expensive now than they were when you were thinking about buying the car.
Another thing to keep in mind is that not everyone will be as excited as you are while trying to close in on a profitable deal. The workshop you hired to work on your car might reschedule your repairs without even notifying you adequately, and all of this can increase the costs and demotivate you to keep pushing forward.
What are the benefits associated with used car flipping?
If you are a car enthusiast, chances are that you enjoy searching for cars because it’s an exciting and fun thing to do. Sometimes it’s more pleasurable to scroll through various listings and compare one to another than it is to buy a car. However, if you are so enthusiastic about it, you are bound find a car to buy a car that should bring you lots of profit.
On the way, you are likely going to meet lots of equally minded people who can motivate you to try harder. Besides that, you might form many useful connections for future endeavors, and who knows, you might even one day start a large-scale business with people you meet while you were just trading cheap used cars as a side hustle.
The best part of it all is that, once you get the hang of it, car flipping becomes easy and not time-consuming. This usually means that sometimes you will only invest a few hours per week into your craft, but the profits will keep on trickling.
What cars should I avoid as a car flipper?
In essence, no car should be avoided if the price can justify even the most niche of cars no matter how unpopular or high mileage they are. For example, a man I know once bought a 10-year-old Audi A3 Sportback with more than 170k miles on the clock. Even though the car was extremely high mileage, the price was so good that he decided to buy it.
After that, he proceeded to switch out all the worn-out powertrain parts by sourcing them out from many different OEM used parts stores. He also replaced all the worn-out interior trim parts such as the steering wheel, the armrest, and a plethora of interior buttons. He cleaned the car up and touched up the paint in a few areas and managed to sell the car with a profit margin as much as 1/3 of the original price he paid.
This means that the key aspect is always how functional the car is, and how well priced it is, but if you are only starting, it’s best to avoid these cars. Besides high-mileage cars, you ought to be careful with relatively unknown brands and high-maintenance cars with large engines and crappy electronics.
Is it true that car flipping can be done with only a few hours per week?
While scrolling through many sources about car flipping, one often comes across statements such as “sell a car quickly in just a few hours,” “flipping a car in less than 24 hours,” “work a few hours per week to earn big money,” but these are almost always entirely out of context.
People tend to remember such statements as they concentrate on how easy car flipping is when, in reality, this is only true for only the most experienced well-connected car flippers. There are just too many aspects that need to work in tandem for you to just work a few hours per week, and that’s rare in every type of business, especially the car flipping business.