As Neil Sedaka once crooned (remember him?), breaking up is hard to do, but when it comes to car ownership, nothing lasts forever. Sentimentality aside, you may be dying to get rid of that old beast anyway, and want to get as much money as possible for it. What sort of things should you do before slapping on a "For Sale" sign and running an ad in the Auto Trader?
Spiffing up the appearance is an obvious step. Put yourself in the shoes of the buyer: Who would want to buy an old, ugly car when they could get one that looks fresh and (relatively) new? Impress yourself by giving the vehicle a real shine, inside and out. We'll give you a few specific tips below.
Once it's looking sharp again, don't get attached to your "good as new" car. You've got to stay calm and detached about your decision to sell. "De-personalizing" the vehicle can help. You'll need to remove all bumper stickers, plush toys and bobble-heads, and anything else that might clutter up the look. In most cases the car should look as close to factory-stock as possible (unless it's a sports car or 4x4 for off-road driving, in which case, the performance and appearance parts obviously enhance the value).
Mechanically, the vehicle should be as sound as possible. You may have to fix it to sell it, but don't go overboard trying to make everything perfect. Just good running condition should be sufficient, with a tuneup, new filters and an oil change. Here's a quick checklist to help you remember what to do:
Wash and wax the finish. You may need to use a paint restorer that puts back some color and/or removes oxidation (that chalky look). Clean the wheels thoroughly and use a dressing on the tires.
Spray on lots of degreaser and hose off the engine. Don't forget to clean the underside of the hood as well. Buyers love to see an engine that's free of grit and grime.
In addition to a thorough vacuuming and upholstery cleaning, make sure the window glass is spot-free on both sides. If the vinyl dash is cracked or the upholstery torn, install some snug-fitting cloth covers. Don't spray any really heavy scents inside, unless there are some pet smells or mildew. Don't forget to get the junk out of the trunk, too.
If you have these papers, put them all together in a neat bundle, so the prospective buyer can see that you've been conscientious about repairs and maintenance. Get a smog inspection if required by your state DMV. Consider ordering a Carfax report and show it to the buyer to prove the car's title is clean and the mileage accurate.
Check out prices of comparable cars, factoring in age, mileage, optional equipment and geographic location. The asking price should be no more than 10 to 15 percent above what you reasonably expect to get for the vehicle.
Keep the asking price below a "threshold number." For example, instead of a round number like $20,000, list the price as $19,500 or something in that range, but don't make it sound like you're a car dealer, either.
In addition to weekly "shoppers" and classifieds, post a flier (ideally with a photocopied picture) on bulletin boards at work or at a local supermarket. Online ads and word of mouth among friends and family can also be effective. Park the car in a conspicuous spot with other cars that are for sale by owner and place a neatly lettered sign in the window.
Potential buyers will want to test-drive the car. Make sure they have a driver's license -- and ride along with them so you can answer any questions about the car's history and performance. Also, they may not know the area, so you might have to guide them.
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