When you’re wanting to get rid of an old vehicle, you may not think it's worth the time and money to fix it up before putting it on the market. But giving your old car a little tender loving care can go a long way toward getting more money when you sell.
To find out how to bring home the bacon when you sell your old ride, NAPA AUTO PARTS talked to Matt Degen, editor at Kelley Blue Book (KBB), for his expert advice.
1. Get current on basic maintenance
No one wants to buy a car that needs a lot of work, so before you put your old auto on the market, take it in for a routine oil change and inspection, said Degen.
“It's going to give the buyer a little more peace of mind that he or she doesn’t have to immediately go and get the vehicle serviced,” he said. “That's also going to help when it comes time to writing your ad. You’ll be able to say, ‘Hey, this has just been done. You can get in and drive it, and you'll be good to go.’”
If your vehicle needs additional repairs that you don’t want to deal with, having a detailed inspection report from a reputable mechanic will help you accurately price the car and provide more transparency for the buyer.
2. Check for any recalls
While you’re at it, make sure there aren’t any outstanding recalls on the vehicle. On the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration website, nhtsa.gov, you can put in your car’s VIN to see if there are any outstanding recalls on that model. If that’s the case, Degen said the manufacturer is required to make the repairs at no charge to you, so you reap 100 percent of the financial benefits by getting it fixed before you sell.
“Plus,” he said, “you don't want to sell somebody a car that could potentially injure them or have significant problems.”
3. Make easy fixes
Over time, the crisp, clean components on a vehicle will fade, so see if there are any affordable improvements you can make before you sell, such as replacing worn-out floor mats, dingy headlights or missing hubcaps. Just make sure they meet original equipment manufacturer (OEM) specifications and are installed correctly, he said.
“Along those lines, if there's something a little bit bigger — a more glaring defect, like a dent or scratched paint — it's a good idea to address that as your budget allows,” he continued. “That could go a long way in getting a higher value.”
4. Give it a good wash and detailing
Next, either pay a professional to detail your car or spend time giving it a deep cleaning yourself using quality washes and waxes. It may seem like common sense, said Degen, but it’s surprising how many people don’t do a basic cleaning when getting their car ready to sell.
“You really want to get the car looking its best, and make sure it smells nice. That's another aspect people may not be aware of. Use a good product to get it a smelling nice and fresh — maybe not quite a new-car but definitely not a used-car smell,” he said.
5. Get the engine cleaned
One way to go the extra mile when prepping your car to sell is getting the engine bay detailed. For safety reasons, it’s best to hire a professional engine-cleaning service for this job, but totally worth it, said Degen. Just imagine the look on a potential buyer’s face when they lift the hood to find a sparkling engine that looks practically brand new.
If you don’t want to spend money to get the engine detailed, at minimum be sure to clean out any leaves or spiderwebs that may have collected under the hood.
6. Take lots of pictures in a scenic area
Now that your old car is in ship shape, it’s time to snap some pics! Take lots of photos of different aspects of the car — inside and out, and from different angles — to give potential buyers a full vision of what you’re trying to sell.
“Photos are vital. They tell the story of the car, and in our visual culture, they really do speak a thousand words,” said Degen. “Take the car to a place where there's not a lot of interference, such as telephone poles in the background and things like that. You want a nice, clean shot, pick a scenic spot and get as many photos as possible.”
7. Get your paperwork in order
Before you’re ready to sell, it’s also important to get all your documents ready so you don’t waste time tracking them down once you have an interested buyer. In addition to your title (also called a “pink slip”), you’ll want to provide any maintenance records or vehicle history reports, if you have them, said Degen.
For the sale itself, each state has different requirements for paperwork, so check the Department of Motor Vehicles website (dmv.org) to know what’s needed in your state. At minimum you’ll want a bill of sale that states the exact odometer reading at the time of sale and a release of liability form. This will ensure you’re not held responsible for anything that happens to the vehicle after the sale.
8. Research the car’s value
“If you're not sure of the value of your car, sites like KBB can give you an authoritative, trusted value based on what people are actually paying for the same vehicle,” Degen continued. “This will be your benchmark for how much you should ask for your car, and you can work from there to negotiate a final price with the buyer.”
In addition to KBB, great sites for pricing estimates include AutoTrader, Edmunds, NADAguides and CarGurus. Unless you’re selling a super exotic vehicle, almost any car you can think of will be listed on these sites, and the value estimates will be “pretty darn accurate,” he said.
9. Write up your ad
When writing your ad, include as much information as possible, advised Degen. In addition to the number of miles, the type of transmission and other details, tell your car’s story as well as you can.
“If you've been the only owner of the car, that's really worth mentioning,” he said. “People want to know that the car’s been taken care of. If this car has been your absolute baby, let people know that. Write an ad that tells them that you’ve really cared for this car. It can make the difference between simply selling your car and entrusting it to a new owner.”
10. Decide on where you want to post your ad
Everything is ready, but now where should you advertise that your car is for sale? According to Degen, you can always park it on a corner that offers great visibility, but in today’s digital environment, online is where it’s at. Again, sites like KBB and AutoTrader.com are great options.
“There is no shortage of places to advertise your car to get it sold, and posting it online works nationwide,” he said. “If you have a very special vehicle, there are also sites where you can post rare and niche cars, but I definitely think online is where you're going to get the best results.”
11. Follow the golden rule
Finally, Degen advised sellers to follow the golden rule.
“Treat others as you’d like to be treated, and put yourself in the buyer's shoes,” he said. “Nobody wants to feel like they got ripped off or ended up with somebody else’s problem. So, just take care of the buyer that way, and the transaction is going to make everyone happy.”
Now that you’ve got your car-selling checklist ready, stop by your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store to pick up everything you need to get your vehicle in tip-top shape. From new headlights and air filters to top-of-the-line cleaning products and a “For Sale” sign, NAPA’s got you covered.