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Preparing Your Car for Resale

Preparing your car for resale
Photo: iStockphoto

With the auto show season gearing up, your new-car buying urge may be accelerating. If you're thinking about buying a new ride, now's the time to figure out how to get your current automotive investment up to speed.

Although a car depreciates over time, regular maintenance and a few cosmetic efforts can ensure that you get top dollar for your vehicle when you decide to replace it.

Here are some tips to help you and your buyer drive away happy:

Perform routine maintenance. The number one way to get the best value for your vehicle is to keep up-to-date with vehicle maintenance. Regular maintenance keeps your car running safely and prolongs the life of your car. When you decide to sell, have a trained technician give your vehicle a thorough going over before you put it on the market.

Prepare your documentation. Gather all the documentation for your vehicle, including proof of ownership, owner’s manual, warranty information and any records you've kept of repairs and maintenance. If emissions tests are required in your area, have the results of your latest test available as well. Include any spare car keys in your documentation package.

Check basic operations. Test your vehicle’s seat belts, window controls, rearview and side mirrors, locks, trunk and/or hood release, defrosters, air conditioning, heating and seat adjusters. Take note of any warning lights blinking on the dashboard. Have a trained technician repair anything that does not work properly.

See and be seen. Make sure your headlights, turn signals, tail and brake lights are functioning. Replace any missing or inoperative lights. Also, test your windshield wipers and replace any worn blades.

Nice wheels. Assess the state of your tires and consider replacing them if they are worn. Don’t forget to check the air pressure and top up your tires if they are low.

Top it up. Be sure to top up your engine oil, power steering, transmission and brake fluid, washer fluid and coolant/anti-freeze.

Take your own test drive. Try test driving your car the way a buyer might. Does the car start easily? Does the gear shift work properly? Are the brakes soft? After your drive, check under the hood for any drastic reductions of fluid which could indicate fluid leaks. Address any performance issues.

Take all belongings with you. Potential buyers may not find “My other car is a Porsche” as funny as you did. Make sure all stickers and decals, dashboard or rearview mirror adornments and any items in the trunk or glove compartment have been removed.

Hit the car wash. Washing and detailing your car can go a long way towards improving a potential buyer’s opinion. Vacuum the interior of your vehicle as well, paying close attention to mats and underneath the seats. If pet or tobacco odours linger, consider taking your car for a full professional shampoo.

Say cheese. You may have luck putting a "For Sale" sign in your car window, but most private car sales these days take place online. Make sure you take a good - and accurate - set of photos of your vehicle. Again, think about photos YOU would like to see before agreeing to take a car out for a test drive.

"Car! For sale. Email for more info." No. Write an ad for your vehicle that's detailed, accurate and easy for prospective buyers to scan. It doesn't have to be literary gold - but take the time to write an ad that's truly representative of the state of your vehicle.

Know your value. You may have paid top dollar for that Dodge Aspen back in 1977 but what's it worth now? Check out an online resource like the Kelley Blue Book to get an idea of your car's value - and check out the local listings on eBay Motors or Craigslist to get an idea of what similar vehicles are going for.

Following these resale prep tips can help your private sale go more smoothly, so that when you sell your car, everybody wins!

Have you sold a car recently? Do you have any tips to add? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

- Rose R.


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Just as important as exterior cleaning, you'll need to clean the interior of your used car to prepare it for sale.

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