How to Get Your Car Ready to Sell

There are plenty of reasons why people buy a used car instead of a new vehicle. The most obvious one is because used vehicles have lower prices. But buyers also benefit from the lower cost of used car insurance as well. And for families who want a second car or a vehicle for a teen driver, acquiring a used car makes a lot of financial sense.

Which is great news for Americans who want to sell their cars on the open market instead of trading them in at a dealership. After all, lots of buyers hate dealing with used car salesmen, so they look for private sellers instead.

Here is a guide to getting your used car ready to sell to that perfect owner.

  1. Gather and organize documents. Dig through your files and pull out all of the service records, insurance papers, and invoices in addition to the title and whatever paperwork you got from the dealer when you bought it. Helpful hint: organize all of those documents neatly in a three-ring binder so a prospective buyer can leaf through them easily.
  1. Make necessary repairs. Here’s the rule of thumb: if it’s a safety hazard, get it fixed. If it isn’t functional, get it repaired. This includes “little” things like fuses, light bulbs, and torn upholstery. If you leave anything in disrepair, you should resign yourself to lowering your asking price.
  1. Top off fluids. That includes motor oil, antifreeze or coolant, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and windshield wiper fluid. The worst thing that can happen is for a warning light to come on during a customer test drive.
  1. Check underneath the car. Smart buyers will get down on the ground and look at the undercarriage of your car. If there’s damage from rocks or other debris, be prepared to explain it. That goes for rust and corrosion as well.
  1. Get an inspection. It’s not a bad idea to have a third party inspect the vehicle (there are companies that will do this for you). Otherwise, obtain a copy of your car’s vehicle history report and put it with your other documents. Either way, don’t be offended if a customer wants his/her own mechanic to give your car the once-over.
  1. Wash and detail it. And don’t hold back. In addition to washing and waxing the exterior, be sure to vacuum out the interior seats, floor mats, and carpeting. Clean the windows both inside and out, and wipe down the dashboard. Unless your car is in poor condition, get it detailed.
  1. Clean the exterior on the engine. You know potential buyers are going to pop the hood, so make sure they like what they see. So clean all parts of the engine, make sure all tubes and belts are clean and attached properly, and wipe away any accumulated grime and dirt on the frame that’s hidden by the hood.
  1. Empty out the car. That means removing magazines, maps, and brochures in addition to cleaning out any trash which may have accumulated in the interior and the trunk. Ideally, there should be nothing left in the car except the owner’s manual, a first-aid kit, a tire jack, and a spare tire.
  1. Take lots of photos. Don’t stop at front, side, and rear exterior shots. Get inside the car and photograph the dashboard, front seat, back seat, and trunk. Then snap some photos of the tires and the engine block.
  1. Do pricing research. Obviously, this means checking sites like Kelley’s Blue Book, Auto Trader,, and But you should also look at Craigslist, eBay, and other general sales sites to get another point of view on what cars like yours are going for on the open market.

After you list your car, maintain your vehicle in tiptop condition, let potential buyers test drive it, be patient, and don’t be afraid to hold firm on your price. Then relish the feeling of satisfaction you’ll get when you complete the sale.

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