How To Prepare Your Car For Sale

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What to do when trading in a car and some important safety tips for selling your car privately.

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How to Get a Car Ready to Trade in or Sell

The best way to sell a car is to comprehensively prepare the car for the sale long in advance. This is the key to getting it sold as quick as possible and to getting the best possible price. Preparing your car for sale on the market will cost you some time and money, but the attention will significantly benefit the selling process. These preparation tips should be followed regardless of whether you'll be selling to a private party or a dealership. If you've looked after your car throughout owning it, the process shouldn't be too much of a hassle. Whatever the case, here's everything you'll need to ensure is done to answer the question 'what do I need to do when selling my car?'.

  • Valuator or mechanic's review: When you're trying to decide what to do first before selling your car, step one is to make sure you are aware of the condition of your car mechanically. Generally, dealerships will inspect cars before hammering out a deal with you. But, if you're adamant about selling to a private buyer, a good consideration would be to take the car to a valuator or mechanic to evaluate its condition, which will impact what it is worth. This may cost you a bit, but will give you a clearer idea of the value of your car and how much, if any, you will need to spend to repair it prior to selling. Having a full inspection done will also improve the trust and confidence of potential buyers as you'll receive an inspection form. This will help guide you on deciding on a price; you could also go online to compare your car to others in the USA with the same or similar details such as model year, mileage, etc. to determine the value.
  • Maintenance and repairs: Once you know the condition of your vehicle, you'll be able to decide what you can fix or replace yourself, and what will need to be taken care of professionally. While this will cost you, you'll likely increase the value of the car enough to make up for the costs and some when selling it. You will want to make sure that all the lights on and in the car are working, top up all the fluids, ensure that the tires are in decent condition, and make sure any warning lights are dealt with (we discuss dashboard warning lights in detail here). While you are allowed to sell a car with issues that require attention, it is morally your responsibility to disclose any known issues to potential buyers if you are choosing not to have it repaired before trying to sell it. It may be in your interest to spend some money to ensure a sale rather than being unable to sell a car because of unsolved mechanical problems, however.
  • Detail the car before the trade in: If you're asking 'should I detail my car before selling it or looking to trade it in?', the answer is yes, that's the right thing to do. A dirty windscreen, dirty windows, and scratched and scuffed paint won't do much good in the way of first impressions, so a full detailing should most certainly be prioritized. Standard detailing includes a comprehensive exterior wash of the windows, bodywork, and wheels, and the touching up of the paint, perhaps also a wax. You will also want to thoroughly clean and vacuum the interior of the car, including the trunk, professionally or yourself, and repair any damaged cabin items, such as the upholstery. This will also prep the car for picture-perfect photos.
  • Plan to sell at the height of its resale value: Some of the most beneficial advice would be to put your car on the market at the height of its resale value. This is usually when the car isn't too old or with just a moderate amount of mileage on it, something that promises buyers that the car still has a decent amount of life to give - if you're wondering when the best time to sell your car is, read up on this here. Cars will typically hold more value if kept in their original condition as personalizations and upgrades mostly devalue them and make them less appealing. So if possible, reset the car to its default condition - read our discussion on the value of your car and depreciation here. This may not be the case with a pickup truck or work van which, with the right enhancements that for instance improve utility, may appreciate in value.
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Important Things to do Before Selling Your Car

The above steps on how to prepare a car for sale are not the only things to do before selling your car. While the car itself is certainly important, the admin side of things is just as crucial:

Paperwork

Whether you bought your car brand new from a dealership or second-hand from a private seller, your car should have come with a service booklet that, hopefully, was up-to-date. Hopefully, you also kept it up-to-date by keeping up with the recommended service intervals. You can check up on whether these intervals were correctly adhered to by reading more about a car maintenance and service schedule here. But, if you've lost your service booklet, try contacting the service centers you used and request that they send you the maintenance slips.

You will also need to gather important documents prior to selling your car. This includes the vehicle's title and registration, to begin with. If you're trading your car in through a dealership, the paperwork will usually be compiled for you. But, if you are selling your car privately, you need to check with the DMV in your state to find out precisely which documents are required and obtain a Bill of Sale form, which may even be available online. Remember to confirm that the form includes the statement declaring the car is being "sold as-is" since you aren't providing a warranty. Take note of what else your state laws require, as some may require a disclosure about mileage, liability release forms, and title transfers.

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How to sell my used car

Once you've done all the legwork regarding maintenance, care, cleaning, and readying paperwork, the advertising of your vehicle comes next. Whether you want to sell your car as quick as possible, or are willing to take some time finding the right new owner, a good advert is imperative. Tips for when you want to sell your car online include:

  • Take good photos: Clear pictures from various angles, both inside and out, will attract attention and weed out time-wasters who may be looking for something different. Focus on draw cards - if your Volvo V60 has unique Plaid upholstery, make sure to take a picture of it, or if you are looking to sell your sedan, show off a spacious back seat or trunk.
  • Include details: Give specifics about the model, mileage, current condition, location, expected price range, and any work done or modifications made
  • Platform: Make sure you promote your sale on the right platform - social media, local online agencies, and the like are the best ways to find serious buyers
  • Be honest: Never make empty promises, lie about the vehicle's age, hide serious damage, or cover up issues you have with the vehicle - promoting an older model Toyota Prius as new, for example, can land you in serious trouble.

Safety Tips for Selling Your Car Privately

Unfortunately, there are a seemingly infinite number of scammers out there trying all sorts of nefarious strategies to part unsuspecting innocents from their hard-earned money. And, unfortunately, the automotive market is full of them. Because of this, it's important to remain vigilant and a little skeptical of every potential buyer that enquires about your vehicle. Here are some important tips for selling your car privately:

  • Demand a deposit and secure a verified copy of the buyer's identity
  • A genuinely interested buyer will want to inspect the car in person
  • Always have someone with you during potential buyer visits
  • Be wary of buyers offering to pay more than your asking price
  • Never provide your personal details to anybody over the internet
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FAQs

What should I do if I want to sell my car as quick as possible?

Trading in your car is perhaps the quickest way to get rid of it, but you will be getting far less money from a dealership than what you could from a private sale. Be upfront about it's condition and offer it at a reasonable price.

Should I fix my car or just sell it?

Instead of asking 'should I fix the car before selling it', ask whether or not fixing the car will guarantee a sale. The question is also a moral one; if you're going to sell a car with serious or minor issues, you should be honest and share those details with potential buyers.

How do I determine whether or not I should detail my car before I sell it?

A detailing should always be considered unless you've taken such good care of your car that there are absolutely no scuffs or scratches to be seen. A car that looks well taken care of will be much more desirable to potential buyers, so if you're wondering how to get your car ready to sell, don't skimp over this step.

What do I need to do when trading in a car?

In the US, dealerships usually handle most of the work; you'll likely only need all the required paperwork for the car you're looking to trade-in, while the dealership itself will source its own detailing, cleaning, and repair services.

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