What can you do to get the most for your car?
Trading in your car is the fastest way to get rid of it, but most people know the ease of a dealership comes with less money in your wallet. The alternative to trading in is selling your car yourself, and to do it right you need to dedicate significant time and effort.
If you are motivated to embark on the sales process yourself, here are a few tips that will help you get the most for your car:
- Fix Mechanical Issues – A car buyer’s top priority is getting a mechanically sound car that has been well-serviced and maintained. Any mechanical issues that aren’t fixed in advance of a sale may scare away buyers and will invite lowball offers that overestimate the cost of fixing the issue. If there are things you choose not to fix, at least get estimates for the repairs so you can educate the buyer on the issues.
- Get an Inspection and Tune Up – Take your car for a state safety inspection to ensure that the basics (tires, lights, brakes) are in good condition. Ask your inspector to top up all the fluids, ensure that all maintenance lights are off and that the tires are inflated properly. This should cost you around $30 and provides additional assurance to the buyer that will more than compensate you for this expense.
- Get a Vehicle History Report – Buyers usually get the CarFax or similar vehicle history reports, so don’t let an issue on the report surprise you. Even if you feel like you know your car well, you never know whether there are errors on the report that are scaring buyers away before they even respond to your ad. Get the report, read it over, call the reporting companies to fix any errors that may exist, and be prepared to answer any questions.
- Detail Your Car – Get a full detail of your car including the engine bay, cup holders, carpet steam clean, stain removal, tire shine, and air freshening. Have your detailer remove all bumper and window stickers and all sticker residue. If you smoked in your car, transported pets, or have unusual stains or wear on the seats of your car, invest in fixing these issues before listing. An ozone machine can take most of the smoke smell and pet odors out of a car, and most detailers will provide this as an additional charge. While detailing can be relatively expensive (up to $225), your car will stand out from others on the market and will further assure buyers that your vehicle was well taken care of.
- Keep It Clean – If your car is parked outside, rinse it off once a week while it’s on the market and before each scheduled showing. If you are using the car while you’re trying to sell it, and even if you garage your car, remember to keep both the interior and exterior clean.
- Photograph Extensively – Take 40-60 pictures of your car from all angles. Make sure to get 8 exterior shots of all corners and sides, pictures of each wheel and tire, close-ups of any special features (like a navigation screen, sunroof, DVD players, satellite radio buttons, power seat buttons, etc.), and all the interior seats in their various configurations. The best time to take these pics? Late afternoon.
- Write a Good Story – Write 4 or 5 sentences that describe the year, make, model, mileage, condition, features, and any unique history that buyers will either want to know or will find out anyway. If your vehicle has been in an accident, disclose the details along with the repairs that were made and whether there are any lasting effects. Accidents, faulty mechanics, and cosmetic issues will not necessarily kill a deal – dishonest or misleading characterizations will.
- Price Competitively – Check out the Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds figures for your car as a guide but then go through Craigslist, AutoTrader, and Cars.com listings to see how similar cars in your area are priced. As a private seller, buyers will expect a discount (10-15%) relative to dealer listings. A very well kept, clean, well-marketed private-sale car can typically command a premium to quoted private market values but will always be at a discount to retail. Keep in mind that sellers have lots of options – if you price too aggressively, don’t expect your phone to ring off the hook.
- List Extensively – Put your pictures and story up on AutoTrader, Cars.com, Craigslist, eBay local, Facebook, enthusiast fan forums, and any other local web sites that people go to for their car buying. The extra few dollars to list your vehicle everywhere will ensure maximum exposure. Buyers can’t buy your car if they can’t find it.
- Respond Promptly – When buyers call or email, return their inquiries as quickly as possible. Most buyers are looking at dozens of cars at the same time and in many cases the first seller to return the call gets the sale.