Maximizing Your Car's Resale Value


Regardless of how you’re getting rid of your old vehicle, it is imperative to spend a bit of money investing in the car to maximize your return when you sell it. But which are important fixes that raise the value of the car and what can be left as-is?

1. Check Engine Light: Even one check engine light can raise an eyebrow of potential buyers. Ensure that all the obvious mechanical issues are addressed, or that you’ve gotten the car checked out by a mechanic and know that the issue isn’t severe. Act like a dealer would-- any used car manager seeing a check engine light will assume the worst and discount the trade bid accordingly or get the issue resolved.

2. Tires: New tires are always a selling point, as most people buying a used car don’t want to have to invest several hundred dollars into a car right off the bat. If the tires are about to be gone, plan on putting on either cheaper new ones, or call around to one of the big tire store chains and get a set of “take offs” or used tires that have over 50% of their life left. Again, act as a dealer would-- dealerships commonly decrease trade-ins value for balding tires.

3. Brakes: Brakes need to feel okay, but more importantly, brakes need to sound okay. Brakes are another wear and tear item, and it is a much easier sell when the customer knows they won’t have to invest in that part of the car for a good 30,000 miles or so. A good way to know if new brakes are necessary is from the pulsing sensation you feel coming to a stop. Again—a used car manager will assume the worst, and lower the amount you’ll be offered almost certainly more than it will cost you to spruce up your stoppers yourself.

4. Keep Your Receipts: Showing that you’ve taken meticulous care of a vehicle gives buyers much more peace of mind before buying a car. While it is important for most of the components of the car to be in working condition, don’t go overboard in fixing every small detail. If you’re trading the car into the dealership, they’ll know the cost to fix it. It is a used car after all, some wear and tear is anticipated by buyers. If selling the car to a private party, anything that is damaged or not operating correctly will usually be bargained into the price that both parties settle on.

5. Cosmetic Condition: While it seems superficial, often times buyers take the physical appearance of the car into more consideration than the mechanical condition. In a buyer’s mind, if the car looks filthy, many buyers assume that you also did not take car of the underpinnings. Additionally, if the car is and absolute cherry physically speaking, most people will also assume that you took as good of care on the maintenance on the car. Be sure to have paintless dent removal on the car, most shops will do the entire car for $150-300. It may be judicious to have the car fully detailed, even though it seems like a minor step in the car selling process, it will transform the car and make it feel brand new. Finally, touch-up paint, a relatively low cost item, can be applied to any minor scratches, rock chips, or bumper rash to help diminish unsightly appearances.

6. Interior: This is where the buyer will be spending the most time, so it should look, feel, and smell only lightly used. If the car has been smoked in, address this issue immediately. Any surface that the prospective buyer has to touch or look at for long periods of time--steering wheels, dashboard, gauges, buttons--should all be detailed to remove any sticky residues, discoloration, or scratching. While only minor changes, it will make the car feel a lot less used than it probably is.

7. Selling to a Dealership: If, for whatever reason, you’ve decided to sell you car to a dealer or trade it in, be sure to get as many bids on the car from different dealerships, effectively pinning them against one another for bids on your car. They must be in writing and many expire withing 7 days so make sure that they are current, otherwise dealers may not take them seriously. If your car is older and needs significant work to make it sellable, consider obtaining a wholesale bid which will allow you more flexibility when trying to sell the car.

8. Selling the Car to a Private Party: Look into the price of different ways to advertise the car i.e. Craigslist, newspaper ads, parking the car on a busy street, etc. and make sure you price your car competitively. It is often better to price the car $500 or so dollars above what you actually want for the car, as most people are accustomed to bargaining downwards. Try to avoid “or best offer” phrasing or “negotiable” as it only opens the door to low-ball offers and uncomfortable negotiation situations.

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