Preparing Your Used Car For Selling

It’s often the case that used car sales are strong yet competitive. You can successfully sell your used car by following this do-it-yourself guide.

Used Car Salesman
Used car sales is a competitive business. Most people dread characters like this… you can be the better alternative.

When it’s time to sell your used car, don’t assume that anyone will be able to see the beauty that lies beneath the filth, clutter or deferred maintenance. Most used car buyers are turned off by a used car that’s dirty or messy, or one that needs maintenance and repairs.

In other words, most people don’t want a “project car”. They don’t expect to spend a day cleaning and shining something they just paid good money for. That work is the seller’s job. It’s your job!

Used car shoppers expect the vehicle you are offering for sale to be neat and 100% in order. If it isn’t, they won’t even consider getting out their checkbook.

So when it comes to making a decision about buying your car or a comparable, tidy, used car down the street for the same money, buyers almost always choose the cleaner car with documented maintenance.

In short, to have a successful sale, you need to make your car the cleanest example available.

Getting a Used Car Ready to Sell… The Basics

The best time to start preparing your car for sale is the day you get the keys. I know, it’s a little late to be telling you that now, so follow these tips with your next new car:

  • Keep all maintenance records and inspection reports with your owner’s manual so your car has a paper trail when it comes time to sell;
  • Do all of the maintenance required by the manufacturer (on time) so you can sell your vehicle in “excellent condition”. If you slack on the maintenance, you will pay for it in the end;
  • Drive the car as if you are ready to sell it now. This doesn’t mean you have to completely baby it (unless you want to). It simply means you should keep it clean, polished, waxed and stay on top of routine maintenance.

When it comes time to sell your used car, preparation is nothing more than putting everything in order for inspection. If you fail a used car shopper’s inspection, you don’t get the sale. On the other hand, if your used car is properly prepared, it will be easier to advertise and it may sell faster.

It will also command a higher resale value. If you don’t care about the value of your used car at resale, slacking on maintenance and care is okay. After all, it’s only money.

When Reconditioning is Recommended

If you are among the majority of people who don’t meticulously maintain their car, don’t fret. It’s not that difficult to recondition (as dealers would say) your vehicle. The benefits of doing the reconditioning work are many, and the drawbacks are few (a few hours of time and a few dollars).

Whatever you do, make sure your car is in top mechanical condition before putting it up for sale.

Think Like a Used Car Buyer

Getting your used car ready to sell is simple; just think like a used car buyer. Used car buyers want to find a car that is cared for, properly maintained and serviced per the manufacturer’s recommendations. In other words, they want a car that’s in good order. Not perfect, just in good order.

The easiest way to impress on a buyer that your car is perfectly in order is to present a clean, well maintained vehicle with the original keys, the factory owner’s manual, and all maintenance and service documentation. It’s really that easy. Time to get to work!

Rate Your Own Used Car’s Value

KBB Car ValueIt’s important to understand how the used car buying and selling industry valuates used cars. Many buyers and sellers use information published by Kelly Blue Book (KBB). The “Blue Book” value of any automobile is based on a condition grade of poor, fair, good or excellent.

The value difference between a car (less than five years old) in fair condition, and the same automobile in good condition is typically $1,000 or more. So, a good rule of thumb is to spend $100 so you can make $1,000, plus you’ll make it sell faster.

Right now we are in a buyers market, not a sellers market, so you need to make your used car as perfect as possible without spending more money than you can get back.

Kelly Blue Book Used Car Conditions

Excellent (less than 5% of used cars fall into this category)

  • Looks new, is in excellent mechanical condition and needs no reconditioning.
  • Never had any paint or body work and is free of rust.
  • Clean title history and will pass a smog and safety inspection.
  • Engine compartment is clean, with no fluid leaks and is free of any wear or visible defects.
  • Complete and verifiable service records.

Good (most consumer owned vehicles fall into this category)

  • Free of any major defects.
  • Clean title history, the paints, body, and interior have only minor (if any) blemishes, and there are no major mechanical problems.
  • Little or no rust on this vehicle.
  • Tires match and have substantial tread wear left.
  • A “good” vehicle will need some reconditioning to be sold at retail.

Fair (difficult to command your price)

  • Some mechanical or cosmetic defects and needs servicing but is still in reasonable running condition.
  • Clean title history, the paint, body and/or interior need work performed by a professional.
  • The tires may need to be replaced.
  • There may be some repairable rust damage.

Poor (often difficult to sell)

  • Severe mechanical and/or cosmetic defects and is in poor running condition.
  • May have problems that cannot be readily fixed such as a damaged frame or a rusted-through body.
  • Branded title (salvage, flood, etc.) or unsubstantiated mileage.

A Used Car Seller’s Checklist

Even if you have not planned ahead to the day when you will selling your used car, it’s not a lost cause. The following used car preparation check lists will help you get your car ready to sell for the most money possible:

  • Have the oil and other mechanical fluids serviced. They should all look clean (smart buyers will check these service points).
  • Clean the battery. If the battery is more than a few years old, replace it (selling point).
  • If the car was not regularly serviced, have the belts replaced and the hoses inspected.
  • Service the tires and replace if worn (selling point).
  • Replace the windshield wiper blades if they are more than 6 months old.
  • Replace burned out lights (interior and exterior).
  • Replace cracked and damaged headlight and tail lights lenses.
  • Get all of the trash out, including the greasy French Fries between the seats.
  • Remove everything from the glove box except the owner’s manual, insurance papers and the registration (buy a replacement owner’s manual if it’s missing).
  • Remove all devices that did not come with the car such as radar detectors, GPS, MP3 players and cell phones. They make the car look cluttered and they may walk away while a “buyer” is inspecting the car.
  • Fix all switches, knobs, handles, etc. that do not work properly (a clear sign the car was not maintained).
  • If the parking brake does not set firmly, have it adjusted.
  • Make sure the A/C blows cold. If not, have it serviced. Also, if the A/C smells bad, have it treated.
  • Lubricate door hinges and trunk hinges as a way to avoid undesirable squeaky noises.
  • Clean and treat door, hood and trunk seals and treat with a vinyl & rubber protectant.
  • Clean the engine compartment and treat all plastic and rubber surfaces.
  • Clean out the trunk. There should be nothing in the trunk that did not originally come with the car. Make sure the spare tire and jack are clean and stowed where they belong. A rusty jack should be cleaned and repainted or replaced. Remove any moisture from the trunk.
  • Vacuum the interior until every last crumb is gone.
  • Shampoo cloth seats, carpets and floor mats.
  • Clean and condition all vinyl surfaces and leather seats.
  • Make sure the dashboard, console, arm rests, cup holders, ash trays and steering wheel are spotless.
  • Clean the interior glass until there are no streaks or smudges.
  • Scrub the exterior, paying extra attention to the bumpers, area around the gas cap, door jambs and other soiled areas.
  • Make the tires and wheels look like new.
  • If your alloy wheels are damaged, have them repaired.
  • Remove all bumper stickers and personalized license plate frames.
  • Repair all minor nicks, chips, scratches and dings.
  • Make your paint perfectly smooth and clean by using a detailing clay bar.
  • Polish the paint until it is free of swirl marks, water spots and fine scratches.
  • After polishing, wax the paint to protect the shine and dress all of the trim.

Now that your car is back in pristine condition, take lots of digital photos for your advertisement. Be sure to take pictures of the engine, interior, and trunk, as well as multiple angles of the exterior.

Does all of the cleaning, polishing and waxing sound like a lot of work? It can be if you’re not familiar with car detailing. Don’t worry, everything you need to know is right here on this web site.

Selling Your Used Car Online

If you followed the recommendations above, you’re now ready to sell your car. The first thing you have got to realize is that the typical strategy of slapping a sign in the car’s window, running a classified ad in the local paper and crossing your fingers isn’t going to work. Those days are over.

According to J.D. Power & Associates, more than 2/3 of people who buy used cars surf the net during the shopping process. To sell your car quickly and for a good price, you’ll need to list it on some of the more popular selling sites.

Choosing a Used Car Website

Most websites that list used cars charge the seller a small fee, but not all. Pick the classified ad site you use carefully to avoid wasting time and money.

eBay Motors is the largest of all the online automotive market places. As with other sales on eBay, you sell you car auction style (buyers make bids), but don’t worry, you have control over pricing. An an eBay seller, you can reserve levels, or minimum sales prices. and offer a more traditional sales processes. On these sites, you advertise your vehicle with a full-page ad and multiple photographs. charges for a simple classified with a single picture, and more for a more elaborate listing with many photos and upgrades.

I like a lot because the syndicate their ads out to other large sites, including, AOL, and Yahoo! Autos. charges for a listing with one photo for 30 days and more for a listing with several pics that stays up until the car sells.

Free Websites for Selling Cars

As I mentioned above, not all classified site charge a fee., one of the largest Internet marketplaces, is one site that doesn’t charge a fee. But Craigslist ads aren’t as well structured, so you’re left to create your own format. If you’re an HTML whiz, you can create an okay looking ad.

Also, a Craigslist ad only lasts a few days, so you will need to post it again and again until your used car sells. However, the biggest problem is that Craigslist is home to a growing number of spammers, scammers and extremely cheap-minded buyers.

Buyer beware and sell beware on Craigslist. There are also lots of time wasters on CL but many people have a lot of sucess using the service so it is definitely hit or miss.

How to Price Your Used Car

Once you’ve found the right place to list your used car, you’ll need to establish the right selling price. For this, pay a visit to the Kelley Blue Book site and use their used car valuation tool. It spells out what a used car’s value should be by zip code. also offers a used vehicle appraisal tool, which I’ve used to get a second opinion.

Taking Good Photos is a Must

As I said before, take plenty of pictures. Pics help establish a value in the buyer’s mind before they ever see the car in person. A used car listing without photos will be completely overlooked.

Your car will attract more potential buyers and sell faster if you have lots of clear photos. I highly recommend showing both interior and exterior pictures. Take pictures that show your used car’s true condition.

It’s even a good idea to take a picture of the odometer to confirm the miles. It shows buyers that you are honestly disclosing everything. If you have a car with special options, take pictures and highlight them.

The more detailed your car listing is, the better your ad will perform.

Flexible & Friendly Gets the Sale

Selling a used car is still mostly a face-to-face deal. You must be willing to meet with prospects and engage in negotiation. Potential buyers will want to take a test drive and get the car inspected. When you speak with your prospect by telephone or email, ask that they arrive with their driver’s license and proof of insurance.

Selling your used car yourself on the Internet offers you and the buyer a win-win opportunity. Chances are you will make a little more and the buyer will save a little (and save the stress of dealing with a used car lot!). Be willing to negotiate on price a little; just don’t be a pushover.

People want to feel like they got a deal so being firm on your price can sometimes be a poor selling strategy. Set your price low enough to attract some buyers but high enough to allow for some reasonable negotiation. Good luck, and happy selling!

Check out how to make your car or your next car last longer for you!