Car boot sale hacks: Tried and tested ways to make money selling your unwanted stuff

It's like real life eBay or Vinted... car boot sales are a combo of making money and a fun day out. Here are my top tips to make the most of the sales if you’re packing the car this summer…

Finding the right car boot sale for you and your wares

Green and white roadside sign reading 'CAR BOOT SALE THIS SUNDAY'.

Research and keep your eyes peeled. There are lots of ‘general’ car boot sales, but also some niche ones, for example those focusing on vintage.

One of my favourite ways to find a car boot sale to sell at is to keep an eye out for signs on the roadside or on roundabouts. Landowners will often put up a massive board with details at the edge of the field where they’re holding the car boot sale. Websites such as Car Boot Junction can help you find sales nearby, too, as can online community sites such as Nextdoor and localised Facebook groups.

Check their socials. The next step is to keep an eye on the particular sale’s social media accounts if they have them, usually via Facebook or by calling if there is a phone number on the board, to make sure it’s happening on the day you want to go. A general rule is it’ll be happening unless there is monsoon-like rainfall, but it can be worth checking the night before as in the past, I've arrived at the sale at 7am only to fine it wasn't on. Nobody wants to get up at the crack of dawn to go stand in an empty field and not sell anything.

Before you go: Things to do in advance that'll help you make more money

Preparation is your money-making master plan

There are two areas in which I’d suggest you should prepare – firstly, knowing what prices you want for items, what they’re worth and what you’re prepared to settle on as a middle ground. And secondly, in the clever packing of items in your car.

A ‘night before’ audit of what you’re selling is an essential – this is going through what you’ve sorted out to sell, and the prices you expect. You may want to label items, either with stickers or parcel labels. This stops you being caught off-guard by a potential buyer.

Remember, buyers want bargains – this is a game of willpower. As the seller you want to get as much as possible, and preparing in advance what you will price things at is a way to hold more cards. Then you can state your price and the reason for it. People may say: ‘But I can get it on eBay’ and if they do, hold your nerve. They could, maybe, but you have what they want right there and then.

Invest in a bum bag. This feels like a very insignificant thing, but it really is the key to making money. Why? Here’s the thing – it’s practical and psychological. Practical because it’ll have pockets for all types of change (and your phone and key, essential to keep those safe so they don’t get dropped and/or picked up…) and it’s also a mind game with yourself. You’re not a trader/shop at a car boot but having a bum bag on makes you feel like one. You slip into ‘Del Boy’ mode and you are ready to sell, you’re in the zone. Trust me. Plus you can reuse it for festivals, dog walking and/or 80s parties.

Providing bags for purchases can bag you a sale. People WILL ask for bags, it's guaranteed and if you don't have them, they may walk away from the sale. My hack is to take rolls of dog poo bags or nappy bags (unused, of course). They're ideal for small items. I'd also be frugal on handing out larger bags. If the item is small, such as jewellery, then ask if they could manage by putting it in their pocket or own handbag.

Pack snacks and a flask of tea/coffee/hot chocolate. It'll be a long morning/day. I love taking a flask of tea and some sarnies to a car boot – cheese is a winner. That way you don't spend time at the (often overpriced) food van, or risk there not being a food van at all.

Don't forget sun protection. While a sunny weekend is ideal for a car boot sale, it's also a high-risk zone for sunburn and heatstroke, as many are in open fields with no shade. Sunscreen, a hat and water are must-takes for buyers and sellers alike. Read our sunscreen guide well in advance so you're prepared. Those with hay fever would do well to make sure they've read our hay fever guide before going to stand in a field for the morning/day.

Research your prices – and be prepared to take stuff home if you won’t budge. It happens all the time where I’ve thought I want a certain amount for something and then I’ve been offered a tiny amount in comparison. One big thing I’ve learned about car boot sales is that people offer way less than they might online. It’s that vibe of being on the spot, the buyer knowing that you want to get rid of something, and you know that too, deep down. So to prevent potential seller's regret, I do the following... 

I split my prices into a few categories, thinking about what I'm prepared to budge on: 

1. My non negotiables are things I set at a price and say I will take home with me and list online if they don’t sell. This is certain clothing, for example, like a dress from Whistles. Or some jewellery. I’ve also had things I’d rather give to charity than sell for 5p.

2. Then there are the things I know are worth a certain price – eg new stuff. Perhaps an unwanted gift, or a candle you’ve never lit. If it’s worth, say, £20 online, and you’re asking a tenner, then hold your nerve as much as you can. People may come round later at the end of the morning for a bargain, that’s when you can decide if you want to lower the price.

3. Finally, the 'got to go' things. These are items I’m prepared to let go for a small amount because I want rid of it. This is things like used make up and books. I want rid of them, let the buyer pay a small amount and me have the joy of the sale.

A table of items on sale at a car boot sale.

Don't overlook imperfect items. That duvet with a hole in it might be someone's sewing project. Some people want to buy costume jewellery for fancy dress. But categorising what you sell means you have a clear idea of what to charge and how much you might make on the day.

Check online marketplaces for freebies you could sell. As MSE Clare did:

I found free stuff on Facebook Marketplace to sell.

To make things more profitable (I wanted to at least cover my £12 pitch fee), I decided to scour Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree for anything that people were giving away for free in my area. I set search alerts for "freebies" within a 5km radius of where I live, checked sellers' other items in case they were happy for me to take a job lot of freebies at once, and then spent the two weeks prior to the car boot sale messaging sellers and collecting everything from a kids' mini drum kit to a touch-top kitchen bin.

I made around £25 purely from the free stuff I'd collected locally – the best being the kids' mini drum kit, which went for £4, and a kitchen bin for £3.

I did however end up with a fair few "freebies" still in my possession at the end of the day, including magnetic L plates and an old wooden tennis racket (I did check if it was worth anything as an 'antique' beforehand but sadly, it wasn't). So I promptly donated these to my local charity shop that afternoon, along with the rest of my own items that didn't sell.

Once you're there:  Set up and crowd control

As soon as you arrive it's a race to set up. Get your items displayed as soon as you can, so you are ready for when the buyers begin to flock. 

Three things to remember: 

1: Have that bum bag on, change ready. 

2: Lock your car if you have valuables in it. 

3: Pour a cup of tea or coffee from that flask to get your energy levels up.

Layout is key. You stand a better chance of selling your items if they’re easy for the buyer to see and reach. A trestle table - like a wallpaper pasting table – is a key item in my experience. If possible, put clothes on hangers too. Rails are cheap or you could try and borrow one from a friend. It's up to you if you let people try things on over their clothes but can help seal a deal. Hang jewellery on display - a trick here is to pin necklaces onto a pin board or to an apron so people can see them (you don't have to wear the apron!).

Brace yourself for the crowds! Crowd control when you arrive is a THING. Be prepared for people to descend on your car, start rooting in the boot and making wild offers. I’ve had this every time I‘ve gone to a car boot sale! This is why it pays to be early and have an organised car. Oh and that bum bag.

Remember - you have what they want. I’m the kind of person who likes to try and hold off rather than selling to the first person who comes along. But if someone does offer you a good price in that initial bun fight, you might want to bag an early sale. Either way, being early and set up means you’re in a position to do so. People are after a bargain but you are after making a lot of money, so keep that priority in mind. 

Car boot sales are about small amounts adding up. When I first started going to car boot sales, I was all about trying to make LOADS. As time has gone on, I’ve realised that the small sales often add up, and that there is also the goal of getting rid of things I no longer want. Having a clear out, getting up at the crack of dawn (not my favourite time of day) and heading to stand in a field that isn’t on Glastonbury land is pointless if I’m going to just refuse every offer of a price I’ve got in my head and go home with all the stuff again via the local refuse recycling centre.

Group similar items together. Another lesson learned from my friend Jo when she sold baby and kids clothes, all in a basket, for a price per ‘three’. For example, three for a quid. After an hour there weren’t many baby clothes and she had a good amount of cash. With this in mind I’d say to group things together. Can you sell five or ten DVDs at a certain price, or say three pairs of shoes for a fiver?

Haggling: Holding your nerve but knowing when to sell

As a seller, your bargaining is about getting the most money you can – within reason. I’ve been at car boot sales where someone offers 10p for an item labelled £1, and £1 for something I’ve labelled a tenner. The push and pull of buyer vs seller is very much a thing, and of course, we’re all keen to haggle. As a seller, you want as much as possible, but you also want rid of things. That’s why you’ve got up at the crack of dawn, right?

Get haggle savvy. Before you begin, read up on our haggling tips whether you're trying to sell your preloved cushions, DVDs or old gold. Remember that haggling is very personal, so try and keep an element of respect. Your haggle game hinges on whether you want to just offload stuff or sell loads for profit.

Be prepared to lower your prices, with a minimum in mind. Think about whether you really want rid of the item, and therefore if accepting a lower price 'frees' you of it. There is a certain relief when something that’s been cluttering up your home is suddenly sold – and if that means accepting a few quid less for it that you expected, so be it.

My exception to the bartering rule - new things. If something is still wrapped up and clearly unused, in my experience, you can stand your ground more firmly. The usual barter line from a buyer when I've been at a car boot is “I could get it online, or on eBay”. What you’ll want to say back straight away is “Go on then!”. But remember, you want the sale. So it’s about leaning into the fact that, yes, while they could, the item is there, in front of them. You have what they want. Go more softly, for example you could say: “Yes, that’s true, but it’s here and you could have it today, no postage (you’re showing them a saving) either!”.

Find out the price using a scanner. Thanks to MSE Jenny K for this tip, which is often one that buyers might use – scanning a barcode to see what something is worth. As a seller, you can do this in advance to see what it sells for on ebay.  Then you can stand firm in your bartering ground.

Selling electricals? Find guarantees and get proof they work – then you can ramp up the price. An extreme way of doing this would be to have a portable battery pack to plug things in. Not everyone has one of those, of course, so a back up is to film or photograph the item plugged in and working so you can show the potential buyer.

Honesty is a good policy if something’s used. While you might feel like a wheeler-dealer, this isn't about hoodwinking your 'customers'. Be clear if something is used or new. For example, with cosmetics, even if you've used an eyeshadow a couple of times and it's hard to tell to the naked eye, the buyer will want to know. It's only fair. It's also best for health and safety. If it's a game, or lego, say what's not in there. A jigsaw's missing piece might not bother someone if you can say where in the puzzle it's missing from.

Beware of spending your newly earned cash on more stuff. I've grabbed some bargains at car boots where I've also been a seller, and part of the lure there is you have cash in your bum bag to spend. It's very tempting to go and get things for yourself. This is when the money mantras come in handy. Spotted something on another stall? Ask yourself if you need it, want it and whether it's worth it.

Above all, when the sun is shining, it's also about having fun. Car boot sales are about buying and selling unwanted stuff, so keep that in mind when you're haggling, or trying to make a sale. The biggest win is the fun of the day out.