My tips for selling at a car boot sale

Miss Thrifty14 October 20, 2012

car boot sale seller
A few weeks ago we cleared £50 selling at a car boot sale. I thought I’d get that out there at the beginning: if you haven’t sold at a car boot before, that might not sound like a lot.

But we were pleased. Bric-a-brac, which we were selling, tends to command modest prices. More importantly, it’s worth noting that selling at your local car boot sale is a short, sharp way to make money. The one we went to took place on a Sunday afternoon, and was done and dusted within two hours of the gates opening. Even on this, the last sunny day of the year, the buyers were akin to ram raiders. The fee for the stall was £5; we had a couple of hours in the sunshine, offloaded a bunch of clutter – and came home £45 richer. I’m happy with that!

It wasn’t my first car boot, but it was the first time for a while that I had been on the other side of the trestle table. Thrifty Baby shenanigans meant that our prep was more rushed than I would have liked, and we were one of the last stalls onsite – which had its downsides, as you will see. But in my experience, pulling a few moves the night before, and having the right gear on the day can be the difference between a fun, profitable car boot and a frazzled, unhappy one.

Also, I’ve read a couple of posts on other sites professing to offer step-by-step guides to would-be car boot sale sellers – and judging by some of the advice given, such as selling homemade body scrubs and perfumes, I’m not convinced the authors have ever sold at car boots! Either that, or they are confusing them with craft fairs.

So if you are thinking about packing up all of your unwanted household goods and taking them down the car boot to raise a bit of cash, this post is for you. Here are my top tips, most of them learned the hard way, for all would-be car boot sellers:


1. Choose your car boot sale site carefully. In every area, there are car boot sales known for being “good” – and others that are less so. What’s more, seller fees vary from site to site: here in Yorkshire they range from £5 to £15. If you frequent car boots as a buyer, you’ll already know the good from the mediocre. If you don’t, or if you are new to an area, it’s worth checking with a site such as Car Boot Junction, which has a decent forum.

Also, depending on where you are, you may be able to squeeze more than one car boot sale into the day. Here, for example, there are lots of early morning car boot sales, but also plenty of afternoon ones.  My experience is that the morning ones are busier but also more abundant in the eBayers and dealer types who are grimly determined to haggle you down to brass tacks before you have so much as sipped your morning coffee. Horses for courses.


2. Checklist of essential gear:

  • Table. If you don’t have one already, then beg, borrow or steal – you want to keep your seller costs as close to zero as possible. Otherwise, the cheapest place to pick up a trestle table is in the wallpaper section of any DIY store. This one from B&Q, for example, is £9.98. These budget tables are pretty flimsy though, and may need extra support such as cardboard boxes piled beneath the centre section.
  • Clothes rail. If you are going to sell old clothes, you can put them on the ground on a rug, or display them on a rail. The latter is much, much better: clothes on the floor quickly get jumbled into less-than-enticing piles of fabric. Also, people have to bend down to rummage through them. If you have a rail, you can display the clothes neatly and at eye level.

I should have lucked out here, because of my market trader mum. But her heavy, full-size clothes rails aren’t much use to me when I live 250 miles away! Since moving up here, I’ve had to buy my own. The cheapest rails are from Argos, where you can buy one for £8.99 or two for £15. They are lightweight, which makes them easy to transport and assemble. The drawback is that when loaded with clothes and placed in the open air, the smallest gust of wind tips them over. So if you are using cheap, light rails, be sure to take some bricks or similar, to  hold them down.

  • Money belt. Self explanatory. Car boot sales move fast and there isn’t really time to be fiddling around with pockets. Nor is it advisable to keep your money on the table. You don’t have to be a proper market trader’s belt though. A bum bag or a small drawstring attached to your belt loop will do.
  • Cash float. I like to take £10 – £20 in shrapnel, to be on the safe side. There will always be people who want to pay for a 50p item with a £10 note.
  • Carrier bags. 

3. Do a dry run the night before. What I mean by this is: set up your pitch in your living room, just as you are going to set it up on the day. This way, you’ll know sooner rather than later if there are any bags of items missing from the pile you’re about to stuff into the car, if your trestle table can take the weight of all that booty, if there is enough room on the rail for all your clothes, if you have sufficient hangers… you get the idea.

Also, once you work out what is going where, it is much quicker and easier to set up on the day. A lot of sellers tend to display their choicest items on the table and lower-value items in boxes in front of the table; others (like me) have a table-load of trinkets, a blanket-load of bric-a-brac, boxes of books and a rail of clothes to choreograph.


4. Pack your car the night before, in a strict order. Trust me: it’s worth doing the night before, so you don’t have to get up even earlier on Sunday morning.

Pack in reverse. The table should be the absolute last thing you pack – so that it can be the first item out of the car, on the day. Any tablecloth / blanket / clothesrail should be second-to-last. You get the idea.

Extra sleep aside, there are two good reasons for doing this. Firstly, it means you will be able to set up as quickly and as easily as possible. Secondly, unless you are the first on site, it is likely that the second you begin unpacking, you will be swooped upon. By buyers (car boot sale gates often open earlier than the advertised times, for some reason) or by dealers / other sellers. It’s difficult to manage: even with two of you, it can be trying to set up while keeping an eye on the bargain hunters who are rummaging through your wares even before you have unpacked your boxes and bags. So you really want to keep that set-up time to a minimum.


5. Choose your pitch carefully. I like to be close to the entrance and close to a couple of big stalls, for maximum eyeballs.

Of course, for the best choice of spot you have to get to the site as early as possible. This is where we fell down at our recent car boot sale, because we were the last sellers on site and our choices were limited. Thrifty Baby had had a difficult morning and we were running late – it happens – but these pictures show one example of what can go wrong.

It looks like an ok pitch, doesn’t it? On the end of a row, but a row in the middle of the site – and next to a van’s worth of heavy-duty gardening equipment, which drew people in. The sellers next to us were clearly car boot regulars…

car boot sale

…The downside being that after an hour or so, once the initial rush of car boot buyers was beginning to subside, these seasoned pros were done for the day. Up they packed and off they went….

selling at a car boot sale

The car boot sale was really spread out, across a giant field. So the result was that our stall was left looking somewhat stranded, like a little bric-a-brac island in the middle of it all. It wasn’t great for footfall. I’m smiling through gritted teeth in that picture.


6. Be flexible with your pricing. Do you remember when I wrote about the giant pasta pan we found at a car boot sale, and how we haggled the seller down from £13 to £7, and how she didn’t seem best pleased about it? You can’t really be like that when you’re selling at a car boot sale. Either you have to set a minimum price in your head that you’ll be happy with, and stick with it come what may, or (what I do) go the other way.

Face the facts: you are only going to get a fraction of what you paid for an individual item, so if you are going to sell it, cancel any attachment – financial, emotional or otherwise – that you still have to it. It’s gotta go! Just get what you can. Haggle with the hagglers. Drop your prices if they aren’t in line with what other sellers are offering on the day. Drop your prices towards the end and be prepared to sell for a song, unless you would rather take the contents of your table home with you again…


7. In the same vein, expect the unexpected. I have found that buyers’ tastes are impossible to predict, from sale to sale and from week to week. The weekend before my car boot, a friend of mine had been selling at another one, and he reported that although there had been limited interest in homewares, the clothes had been more or less walking themselves off the stalls. Here? Pffffft: the buyers were having none of it. We sold hardly any clothes. The bric-a-brac, on the other hand…

We sold fewer books and DVDs than I had expected, but the CDs all went in the first five minutes. We had a couple of old novelty wigs and I didn’t know if they would sell; they were snapped up. You can never tell!


8. Don’t blow your takings! Last but not least: if you are selling at a car boot sale to raise some cash, don’t be tempted to blow it on the other bargains on offer there! (Can you tell I’m writing from experience?)

My way around this is to take along a set amount of cash for car boot bargain hunting, and to keep it separate from the cash float. Begin dipping into the float or your takings, and you’ll soon lose track.

This time, I carried a crisp ten pound note in my pocket. I bought little for myself. But when I carried Thrifty Baby around, looking at the other toys, we came across a rather wonderful toy stall. I think the stall-holders were very generous grandparents of children who had outgrown their toy boxes. Thrifty Baby thought he was in paradise:

car boot sale toys

I’m afraid to say that despite trying to coax him towards the gentle, gender-neutral stuff, he made a beeline for the out-and-out boys’ toys: a car dashboard that makes lots of noises when you steer the wheel and press the buttons, and a plastic car transporter. I picked up these, along with a four-piece Dora the Explorer music set, for £5. Actually, Thrifty Baby had outgrown a lot of his toys, so the timing was perfect.

At the end of the afternoon, when everyone was packing up (my favourite time for car boot bargain-hunting), I also picked up an outdoor rocker for him, haggled down from £5 to £2. It’s safe to say that this one has been a winner:

car boot baby

If you have sold at car boot sales and you have any thoughts, views or tips, please do share them in the comments. I am sure there must be loads more…

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14 Responses to “My tips for selling at a car boot sale

Great tips! My boys love a good car boot now,although I was a little disorganised the first one we did- Ive learnt my lesson now and have it prepared better! It’s a good incentive for the kids to clear out their old toys sell them on to make money to buy some more! When I sell clothes I put a large sign with a list of all the labels – e.g Topshop, Boden etc …that seems to get people looking! X

October 20, 2012 at 7:46 am

Katie says:

Brilliant – thanks for this. I’m doing my first one (as a seller) tomorrow! Getting rid of all our 0-9 months baby clothes and toys etc.. So these tips are perfectly timed! Fingers crossed…

October 20, 2012 at 8:03 am

FoodieClaire says:

Great piece thrifty!, I like to have a helium balloon above my stall, eye catching and handy for my companions to find me again if they disappear to get a coffee. The harassment you speak of has been experienced only too many times before (GOLD, LAPTOPS, MOBILE PHONES – buzz off!) it’s also sometimes hard to keep an eye during busy times. I put one shoe on my table rather than two to avoid theft. Have done a few in the past but now not enough stuff to warrant one so I’m currently selling my wares on eBay 🙂

October 20, 2012 at 10:04 am

Mevsim says:

Great advice. Last car boot we did I raised £40 and spent £50 on a must have oak table. Trouble is table was too big for our room so has been stuffed in the garage. Learned the hard way to resist impulse buying!!

October 20, 2012 at 10:16 am

Catherine says:

Supadupa tips, thank you for the informative post. Love how happy baby looks on his rocker too. One day, I WILL car boot it up.

October 20, 2012 at 10:50 am

Miss Thrifty says:

@Claire Appleby – Ah, that sounds like a good idea with the labels. I’ll try it next time and see if it gets any of the clothes moving. Ironically, the only garment that shifted was one I’d been unsure about putting out, because I didn’t think anyone would pay for it in a million years: an awful cotton nightie printed with giant owls, which has been sitting in the loft in a bin bag since goodness knows when.

@Katie Good luck! I know I said above that you can never tell what will be popular on the day, but actually, baby clothes are as sure a bet as they come. I’m always on the hunt for them when I go to car boots – and at this sale, people were actually coming up to the stall and asking us if we had any.

@FoodieClaire A helium balloon would work very well in Yorkshire – the sites tend to be so big! But do you know, I have NEVER had any trouble with thieves up here. Very lucky!

@Mevsim Dang! That is quite unlucky, because it sounds like a bargain. I love oak. Just think: if it had fitted, you would have been totally vindicated!

@Catherine Thanks Catherine! He loves that rocker – I think it was my find of the day. Even now the weather is chilly as all heckers, we are still making regular trips out into the back garden so he can have a go. 🙂

October 20, 2012 at 10:52 am

FoodieClaire says:

You are lucky! Whole different ball game down in London 🙂

October 20, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Mike Maynard says:

My sister recently did a car boor sale. She put lots of things on an old duvet on the ground. The first customer came up, “How much for the duvet?” Typical!

October 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Carina says:

where have you been when I needed help to get rid of loads of things, clearing out a big house? Oh nevermind, I just packed everything into boxes, called the local “Hospice” Shop, they came and collected and so, everybody was happy.
I only wish I could do this here now, where I live, but no……this is not possible.

October 20, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Mark says:

Sound advice here – only did a car boot sale once and they even bought the chair I used to sit on!

October 23, 2012 at 10:36 am

liveseygirl says:

Hi just started following your fabuloso blog. As a mommy of 2 I need all the hints and tips I can get our boys are both under 3 (yes yes we are insane) so we haven’t done a car boot sincemy eldest wasborn. We used to do an annual one on the August bank hol. Loadsa stuff plus loadsa people made us £100-200 every time. A loooong day but worth it.

November 7, 2012 at 6:59 am

Great post! I’m planning on selling a tonne of my uni stuff before I move home for the summer and this will help me 🙂 xxx

November 17, 2012 at 11:06 pm

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