No matter how much you yearned for a car, and saved for it, and cared for it after you got it, there comes a time when you have to say goodbye. Unless you’re selling it because you won the lottery, you’re going to want to get as much money for your old car as you can. The trick to maximizing the return on a used car is to treat it as if you’d just bought it, and make it look as good as possible for its new owner.
First, give your car curb appeal. Wash and wax it, clean the windows inside and out, and treat the exterior rubber––windshield seal, window trim, and tires––with a protectant. Buff out any scratches in the paint. Clean the brake dust off the wheels. Replace any cracked lenses and burned-out bulbs you find. Lube the hinges on the doors, hood, and trunk, and put a dab of grease on the latches so everything works smoothly and quietly.
Peel off all the bumper stickers and parking passes you’ve accumulated over the years. Your added-on vinyl graphics might appeal to some buyers, but turn off others. Offer to remove them before the sale in case your buyer is a church organist who isn’t wild about showing up for work on Sunday morning driving a car with screaming skulls plastered all over it.
Next clean the interior. Vacuum the carpets front and rear, and be sure to clean under the seats. If the pedal pads are worn, replace them––it’s a cheap fix that leaves a good impression. Clean the seats, the steering wheel, and the dashboard, and take all your junk out of the glove box. And the hula dancer in the rear window? Aloha, baby.
Check all the lights in the interior and on the dashboard to make sure they work, and replace any that don’t. Make sure the seats belts retract as they should, and that they work. Check the audio system, and leave the stereo tuned to a station appropriate to your prospective buyer––don’t subject the gray-haired granny to a blast of thrash metal when she turns on the radio.
No one wants to buy a car that needs to be worked on right away, so take care of any obvious mechanical problems before you sell your car. A tune-up and oil change are relatively small out-of-pocket expenses, but showing the receipt for the work to a prospective buyer can mean more cash in your hand.
Clean up the engine compartment. Use a degreaser on the engine if it’s dirty, and replace any hoses and belts that look worn. Don’t forget to clean the underside of the hood. Check the tire pressure to avoid a mushy or harsh test-drive.
A few final touches and you’re ready to advertise. Get all your papers in order––title, registration, and repair and maintenance receipts––and put them in an envelope. Nothing scares off a buyer faster than the seller not knowing where these important documents are. And right before you show the car, move the seats all the way back and to their lowest position. First impressions are important, and you don’t want your buyers’ first impression of your car to be one left by the steering wheel in their knees.