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How to Boost Your Car’s Sale Value

Brian Dooley

Selling your car can be such a hassle. And, let’s be honest, you’re probably worried that you’ll lose money on the sale. But the process doesn’t have to be stressful. There are a lot of options for selling a vehicle these days, from traditional dealerships to Craigslist and eBay. And by taking care of the basics, you can add thousands of dollars to your car’s resale value.

Luckily, most of what you can do is fairly easy and inexpensive. But, that doesn’t mean you should neglect this step. Remember, in the eyes of a buyer, a well-presented vehicle is a well-maintained vehicle, and a well-maintained vehicle is worth their money. A clean interior and a shiny exterior build confidence not only in the car, but in you as the seller. And it helps the car stand out among its competition. All of this often translates to a quicker sale and a better deal for you.

A lot of the pre-sale car care depends on the type of vehicle you have, its age and condition, as well as how you intend to sell it. But the key elements that you need to be aware of are paperwork, presentation, mechanics and salesmanship.


Before you try to sell a car, you will need to have its title and registration. A bill of sale, odometer statement and release of liability (should damage occur between the sale and the change of registration) can also be useful during the title transfer process. Other legal requirements differ from state to state, so you will want to reach out to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to clarify their current requirements.

Additional documents of importance include maintenance records, warranty records, accident or damage reports and a list of modifications made to the car. Obtaining a recent mechanical inspection report is also a good idea—a responsible buyer will likely ask for one, and it’s not expensive. Note that in some states, periodic safety inspections are a must. And even if you don’t live in one of those states, your state may require an inspection prior to a sale or transfer of ownership.

Buyers may also ask for a vehicle history report from Carfax or AutoCheck. Although buyers can pull such a report themselves, it will make you appear more trustworthy if you do it for them. Other descriptive information should include the vehicle identification number and the phone numbers of previous owners.


How rigorously you undertake this step depends greatly on how you intend to sell your car. For a simple trade-in, you can keep your pre-sale care to a minimum. Dealerships have their own processes for polishing used vehicles, so it really isn’t worth your time and money because you won’t be able to move the needle very far.

If, however, you are prepping for a private sale, extra effort can certainly convert to extra profit. Therefore, consider repairing any dents, dings or scratches to the body surface. At the very least, the car should be washed and vacuumed, and bumper stickers and non-essential decals should be removed. It’s a good idea to have the car detailed to ensure that it’s spotless, particularly if you’re selling a more expensive brand.

As you clean your car, be critical of wear and odors. Remember that although you might not notice familiar odors from food, pets or smoking, prospective buyers probably will. Clean everything in the car—including the trunk. This means wiping down hard surfaces, deodorizing upholstery and replacing the rugs, if necessary.

After you’ve thoroughly cleaned the car, spray a neutral scent in areas where stale or sour smells might persist, such as in door pockets and under seats. Don’t overdo it, though; not only can a strong scent be a turn-off, but the buyer might think that you’re trying to hide something.

When you’re done, take a lot of good photographs—a dozen or more. Buyers want to see as many details as they can, from as many angles as possible. And regardless of how you sell your car, good photos will be a key component of the process.


Buyers don’t just want a good-looking car—they want a car that actually runs. Making sure that everything functions correctly is extremely important, especially if you’re prepping for a private sale.

These buyers are likely to be put off by small things that don’t function properly, such as windshield wipers, headlights and blinkers. Worn brakes, belts, hoses and tires and chipped windshields may also make the buyer wary as to what else might be broken.

If your car needs significant repairs, you might have to pay for them yourself; although damage due to an accident can be covered by your car insurance, you’re responsible for damage due to wear-and-tear. Significant damage could make it more difficult to sell the vehicle and eat away at potential profit from the sale. If you find yourself in this situation, skipping the repair job and selling the car as is or for parts might make more sense.


Selling a car demands a good story. You need to describe it in such a way that people will want to buy it. What kind of a car is it? Has it been cared for? Is it easy to drive, good for a family or well-suited for long trips? Does it look sporty have lots of space, or command respect?

You don’t need to be overly elaborate, but you do want to provide enough of a description to make your potential buyers say, “That’s my car!” Here’s where good photos really come in handy; they let you showcase your car in the very best light.

In addition to telling the right story, you need to set the right price. This can be tricky, but there are many resources that you can use to determine your car’s value. TrueCar and Kelley Blue Book are good places to begin. You can input the details of your car to find a starting price.

Summing Up

A bit of Internet legwork and a few finishing touches can go a long way. After all, an attractive car with all of its paperwork will be a lot easier to sell than a dusty jalopy with no paper trail. And most of the things you can do to improve the appearance of your vehicle won’t cost you much in terms of effort or money. They’ll help potential buyers focus on how great your car looks, instead of scrutinizing every last detail of the deal.

For you, getting the pre-sale details right will boost confidence and provide peace of mind. What a great way to start selling!

Once you’ve sold your car, be sure to remove it from your car insurance policy. If you’re a Hartford policyholder, you can go online to remove coverage on the vehicle.

Keep Reading: Electrics, Hybrids and Gas-Sippers: Understanding Your Green Driving Options

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