Sell Out

By Linda Pescatore

August 15, 2008 5 min read


Five easy steps to getting the most for your car

Linda Pescatore

Creators News Service

When it's time to bid fond farewell to your four-wheeled friend, selling it yourself can bring in more money than trading it in. In either case, you'll want to present your car in the best possible light. Follow these five steps and you'll be counting cash in no time.

Step One: Take care. A vehicle that's seen regular maintenance should sell easily. Do some minor upkeep yourself or bring Bessie in for a tune-up, oil change and tire rotation. Change filters, replace burnt-out lights and check hoses and belts.

But don't make buyers take your word for it. "Provide a maintenance log with all of your receipts and oil changes -- you'll be surprised just how powerful a selling tool this can be for your automobile," automotive expert Lauren Fix said. And while you may not want to pay for big repairs, do disclose them to the buyer and price your car accordingly. You may opt to show buyers a vehicle history report purchased from a company such as Carfax.

Step Two: Put lipstick on that rig. Making your car cosmetically appealing goes a long way in attracting buyers. Nobody wants to buy a car that looks neglected.

Remove all personal items and get rid of the junk from your trunk. Vacuum thoroughly, wash the windows and mirrors, wipe the dash and doors and scrub dirty upholstery or, if ripped, invest in seat covers. Then gloss the tires, polish the wheels and wash and wax the exterior with high-quality products to keep your ride sparkling, especially if it'll be parked outside. And don't forget to spiff up what's under the hood: steam-clean your engine to make it showroom-new.

Sounds like a lot of work? Fix recommends hiring a professional auto detailer. It just may pay for itself by drawing a higher price.

Step Three: Speaking of price, you've got to come up with one. "Don't get emotional about the car or what you think it's worth," spokesman Mark Scott said. "Your car is only worth what someone else will pay for it."

To determine how much that is, know thy market. Check local ads for vehicles of a similar make, year and model to yours. Also consult auto-pricing Web sites such as or, the online arm of Kelly Blue Book. You'll be asked to enter your car's features, so be prepared to give specifics. Do you have dual front air bags or front and side air bags? Is that a sunroof or a moonroof? (Hint: A moonroof doesn't open.) And be realistic about your car's condition. says less than five percent of cars are actually in "excellent" condition. Most are simply "good."

Step Four: Shout from the rooftops -- it's time to advertise. Display a for-sale sign with your phone number printed in large letters and park in a conspicuous location. Place a descriptive classified ad that emphasizes your car's positives, but don't necessarily omit negatives such as high mileage or a high price. Remember that you're competing with other ads, and buyers call detailed ones first, so if you leave vital information out they may never get to yours.

Instead, explain that the miles were logged on the highway or that the price is negotiable. Try to reach the widest audience possible. Many advertising packages include both print and online components for little or no extra cost and you can significantly expand your advertising reach by including both.

The great thing about the Web is you can post pictures. Photograph your vehicle using a high-resolution digital camera. Take pictures from every angle, outdoors in good lighting and against an attractive backdrop. Include the interior and any attractive features - as well as any significant, deal-breaking damage. "It's kind of like online dating," Scott said. "If you [represented] your car as one thing and then the person sees it and it's another, they're not gonna just be like, 'Oh I'm here, I'll take it.'"

Step Five: Change hands deftly. Having a buyer on your doorstep is not the time to begin rooting through files looking for your automobile's title documents. Have all paperwork ready for a smooth transfer. If they offer a cash deposit, be ready to write a receipt that fully details the transaction. And have some currency on hand to make change -- especially if your price ended in $95 or even $50. They may have only brought $100 bills, bless their hearts.

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