How to Get Your Used Car Ready for Sale

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Getting the most value for your used car when you sell it yourself

So you've decided to sell your used car on your own, versus trading it into the dealer — good idea, since you'll probably make more money from the deal.  However, there's some legwork involved with a private party sale.  If you — or your car — aren't prepared, you could be leaving money on the table.  In this section, we offer tips to help you get the most value for your used car when you sell it yourself.

When it comes to used cars, looks matter

If your car is dirty, it can cost you — that's why it's important to prep your car for resale by detailing it thoroughly.  Clean the exterior with products that restore paint to its original sheen and apply a coat of wax.  Use a color safe cleaner on the upholstery and carpets.  Polish the windows and chrome and apply a dressing to the tires, trims and moldings. If you don't have the time or the knowhow to detail the car yourself, solicit the help of a professional detailing company.  The extra money you invest in a professional detailing could very well net you extra money at resale time. 

Know the private party value

Leading used car price guides publish different values for a private party sale.  Some publish a retail value, defined as the price you can expect to receive if you sell the car yourself.  Others publish a private party value designed specifically for private party transactions.  And still others publish a true market value, or the price used cars are selling for in your area, at any given time.  Be sure to use the value designated for private party transactions (or an average of multiple private party values from multiple publishers) to determine a fair market asking price.

Make repairs...if they make 'cents'

As a general rule, it makes sense to repair your used car if the cost of those repairs can be regained at the time of resale.  Small repairs, such as fixing blown fuses or burned out headlights, are a simple and inexpensive way to improve its condition. If the vehicle requires significant repairs, get a quote for the estimated repair costs from a certified mechanic or auto body shop.  Consider selling the car 'as is' and then deduct the cost of the repairs from your asking price.

Get used car reports, as a sales incentive

If your car's title is clean, if its odometer reading is accurate, if it's never been damaged by fire or flood, or if it's never been involved in a major accident, obtain a vehicle history report as supportive documentation to present to the buyer.  It also pays to have a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to resale and to issue a report about its condition.  A buyer might want his own mechanic to inspect the car, but having used car reports to present to prospective buyers ahead of time can be an added sales incentive at resale time.

Get your paperwork in order.  If your car has been routinely maintained and serviced during the time you owned it, aggregate and organize those records and be prepared to present them to the buyer.  Same goes for the owner's manual.  A car backed by detailed service information and an original owner's manual could bring a higher value than one without.

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