There are many steps to take when maximizing a car's trade-in value. You should focus on details such as collecting all vehicle maintenance records, repairing minor mechanical issues and performing cosmetic repairs to door dings, scratches and lost radio knobs. A little effort and consideration can increase your car's trade-in value by hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.
Also, you should consider selling your car to another individual as opposed to a dealer, you will usually get a better price for your efforts. Selling a used car is no different from going on a date, you should always present your best side to your prospect in the hopes of generating some sincere interest.
Always remember that the buyer will usually be leery because he does not understand why you are selling the vehicle, he only knows why you say you are selling it. Expect some skepticism and don't give anyone any reason to suspect that you are trying to dump the car on an unsuspecting buyer.
Determine the Fair Market Value
The first thing you should consider when evaluatiing your current vehicle for sale or trade is an approximate evaluation of what the car is realistically worth. Spending a lot of time and effort preparing a $400 car for sale could be somewhat counterproductive.
In most cases you can get an approximate value using the NADA or Kelly Blue Book website used car valuation calculators. Alternately, you can take your vehicle to a few of the dealers in your town and see what they will offer to pay you outright for your vehicle.
We recommend that you do both and average the results to arrive at an approximate fair market value for your vehicle. If your vehicle is paid for then you are ready to sell it, either to a private individual or to a dealer.
If you are still making payments on your vehicle, you must now compare what the car is worth to what you still owe on the vehicle. If you owe more than your vehicle is realistically worth, then you are 'upside down' and selling the vehicle will actually cost you money rather than put money in your pocket.
We highly recommend that you keep any vehicle you are upside down in and wait until you pay the vehicle off before you decide to purchase a new car. There is no benefit to trading in any car you are upside down in, you are simply rolling that unpaid debt over into the new car.
Once you have determined that your car is worth selling, you should gather all maintenance and repair records and organize them to show potential buyers and demonstrate that your vehicle has been well taken care of while in your possession. Being able to demonstrate a favorable maintenance history for your vehicle can add considerably to it's perceived value in the mind of a potential buyer.
Clean out the glove box or center console and place the records where they can be easily found by anyone looking at the vehicle.
Fix Minor Body Damage
Depending upon how much the car is worth, it is often advisable to obtain a paint marker from the manufacturer which exactly matches your factory paint, and walk around the vehicle repairing any nicks and scratches in the paint. If you have dents which are not too large, you may wish to consult an independent body shop to see if it is economically feasible to repair the dents. Sometimes this can add tremendously to the car's valuations, at other times the costs outweigh the potential benefits.
Now would be a good time to replace body trim, replace floor mats, re-chrome the bumpers, etc. if doing so will improve the selling price of the vehicle beyond the cost of the improvements.
Fix Minor Mechanical Issues
Next, you should take care of minor mechanical issues such as cracked belts and hoses, oil and water leaks, exhaust leaks, etc. Also, change the oil and transmission fluid, as potential buyers will likely be inspecting the vehicle carefully for mechanical issues and potential problems.
If the vehicle has serious mechanical issues which are too costly to repair prior to selling the vehicle, we recommend that you be up front with your potential buyer and let them know that your valuation reflects the fact that the car needs some major repair work performed before being considered road worthy.
Honesty should be your policy when selling your car, don't crawl in the gutter with the dealers and try to deceive someone into buying a car that has serious issues.
Detail the Vehicle
The last step in preparing your used car for sale is a complete detail, including a wax job and doing the tires. If the vehicle isn't worth detailing then it probably isn't worth the trouble of trying to sell it.