Prepping your Car for Sale

In this section, well talk about some of the steps you can take to review, and ultimately improve, the exterior, interior and mechanical components of your vehicle in an effort to get the best price at resale time.

Click on the links below to learn more about each category and the tips contained within to ensure you successfully review and prep your vehicle for resale.

Exterior Preparation and Review
Your car's exterior is the first thing a potential buyer sees and as the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Since a vehicle's condition is directly related to its value, making improvements to a cars overall appearance can ultimately increase its price. What's more, a prospective buyer will see that you care about the car and have kept it in good condition, a psychological element that's extremely important in any successful used car sale.

For starters, a clean, shiny exterior goes a long way in enhancing a potential sale. Be sure to detail your car by washing and waxing the exterior first. There are a variety of products on the market designed to bring your cars paint back to a shiny luster, including paint restorers that remove oxidation and return color.

Additionally, wash the wheels thoroughly and use a dressing on the tires to restore sheen. And don't forget to wash the windows and polish the chrome. A good detailing could increase a cars value by hundreds of dollars. If you have some extra money, a comprehensive professional detailing can enhance your cars exterior appearance significantly, and at the end of the day, you might net a higher sales price as a result.

If you're interested in learning more about the ins-and-outs of vehicle detailing, be sure to check out the Car Care Center, where you can research car care tips and detailing advice and get answers to commonly asked vehicle surface care questions.

Once your car's exterior is clean, take a walk around the vehicle paying close attention to the condition of its exterior elements.

To begin, examine your car's paint. Does it look faded or worn? Are there major chips or scratches in the surface? Be on the lookout for dings, gouges or rust. If you've had the vehicle painted, does the finish match from panel to panel? Is it glossy or dull? Would a prospective buyer need to have the car painted or is the vehicles finish in good condition with no need for improvement?

Next, examine your car's overall body condition. Observe the fenders, doors, hood and roof. If the vehicle had bodywork in the past, was it performed properly (are there noticeable signs of putty or panel or door misalignment)? Are the panels straight and tight? Do the doors hang evenly, do the door fasteners align and do they operate smoothly when opened and closed? Do the doors seal well to prevent noise and the outside elements from entering the vehicle?

Now its time to review the condition of your vehicle's windows and windshield. Do the windows open and close without sticking or grinding? Are they scratched or cracked? Does the windshield have any cracks, pits, holes or scratches? Windshields and windows are costly elements to replace, so if there are noticeable cosmetic or operational problems, you might consider having them fixed to improve the value of your car.

Your vehicle's headlights, taillights and mirrors are also an important part of your cars overall exterior condition. Be sure to examine these features closely. If there are any cracks in the headlight lenses or the housings around the lights, you might consider having the lights replaced prior to selling the car. Do the lights work properly? Have a friend or family member stand at the back of the car while you depress the brake pedal to see if the brake lights are functioning.

Also, check to make sure the turn signals operate correctly in the front and back and be sure the headlights work properly in the high and low beam positions. Are the vehicle's mirrors attached to the car snuggly and if so, are you able to position them automatically (by a lever inside the vehicle) or manually, by physically positioning them with your hand? Even though lights and mirrors aren't a significant expense, the functionality of these components is important to your vehicle's overall exterior appeal.

Next, examine your vehicle's bumper and trim. Do the front and back bumpers have significant dings, dents or scratches? Your car's trim (including body side moldings and door-edge guards) should be in good condition. Is there any molding or trim missing or incomplete? If the trim is rubber or vinyl, is it faded by the sun or discolored in any way? Is the trim loose or securely fastened? Be sure to polish any chrome bumpers or molding to enhance your car's curb appeal.

And finally, it's time to look at the vehicle's tires and wheels, components that are often overlooked during an exterior examination. Is the tire tread worn evenly? Is there adequate tread on the tires? You can purchase a tread depth gauge from a local auto parts store to determine if you need to replace your vehicle's tires or you could do a simple penny test as well. If you use a tread depth gauge, be sure your tires have at least 1/16th of an inch of tread or more this is the minimum amount of tread allowed by law.

If you perform the penny test, simply insert a penny into the tread groove with Lincolns face showing. If you're able to see all of Lincolns head, the tire needs to be replaced. Perform this test on all four tires to be sure the tread is acceptable for each. Excessive wear on both the outer edges or in the center of the tread suggests tire over-inflation. Additionally, any cupping or dipping of certain tread sections could indicate a wheel misalignment or suspension problem. If your tire's exhibit any of these problems, we suggest you take the vehicle to a certified mechanic for inspection prior to selling the car.

Tires are an important feature of a vehicle and if there are noticeable problems, have them replaced. Most importantly, good-quality tires will improve the cars safety and overall functionality. And don't forget to examine the wheels. If there is significant scuffing or scraping on the outer part of the rims, you might consider replacing the wheels to enhance the vehicle's curb appeal.

Finally, make sure your car is equipped with a jack and a spare tire thats in good condition.

Interior Preparation and Review
Your car's interior condition is just as important as the way it looks on the outside. Start by wiping down all inside surfaces with a quality cleaner. Be sure to vacuum the upholstery, including the carpets and the mats and spot clean any dirt or food particles stuck to the fabric. If the interior smells like your pets, cigarette smoke or mildew, purchase a good-quality air freshener to make the car smell fresh and clean.

In addition to cleaning the windows on the outside, be sure to shine them on the inside too. Use a dressing on the dashboard and any other vinyl components to return luster and don't forget to clean out the trunk, glove box and any other storage compartments.

If you're interested in learning more about the ins-and-outs of vehicle detailing, be sure to check out the Car Care Center, where you can research car care tips and detailing advice and get answers to commonly asked vehicle surface care questions.

Once the inside of your car looks and smells clean, examine it closely to assess its condition.

Check your carpets and mats. Are they worn, stained, ripped or faded? Do they show wear in relation to the age of the vehicle? Does the carpet need to be cleaned? Do the mats need to be replaced? Are the seats clean and in good condition or are they worn and dirty? Have they been burned by a cigarette or stained by food or coffee? The condition of a vehicles upholstery is extremely important.

If there are glaring problems, such as stains, odors, rips or burns consider having the upholstery fixed or, at the very least, cleaned by a professional to enhance the vehicle's appearance and improve its overall value.

Now take a look at the instrument panel and the controls on the dashboard. Is everything in good working order? Be sure to examine the tachometer, the odometer, the radio, air conditioning, windshield wipers and washer system, seat adjustments, gas gauge, warning lights and other components. If there are defects or problems with the vehicle's controls, be sure to consider these imperfections when assessing the cars worth. Broken or malfunctioning controls can ultimately reduce the cars value, especially if a potential buyer would have to assume the costs involved with making the necessary repairs.

Finally, examine your seats and seatbelts. Make sure your car's seats are functional (including the ability to adjust and tilt forward and backward) and be sure the seatbelts are working. We strongly suggest having a mechanic inspect the safety belts prior to selling to be sure everything is in proper working order.

Engine Preparation and Review
As you know, the performance of your car's engine is probably the single most important feature to a prospective buyer. Even though a vehicle's exterior and interior condition directly impacts its value, its mechanical reliability can make or break a potential sale. This section is designed to help you get your cars engine in tip-top shape, including cleaning and topping off important fluids in addition to observing telltale signs of potential mechanical problems.

To begin, pop open the hood of the car and take a look inside. If the engine is dirty, greasy or coated with grime, spray on engine degreaser and hose the motor clean on the topside and the underside if possible. There are a variety of degreasers available on the market for purchase. Battery deposits can be cleaned with a solution of baking soda and water. Put yourself in the buyers shoes an engine that looks clean gives the impression the car has received plenty of TLC under the hood during its lifetime.

Take your car for a spin around the block and put yourself in a prospective buyers shoes. Does the car accelerate smoothly or does it surge or jerk forward when you give it the gas? Does it respond quickly to a turn of the steering wheel or do you have to turn the steering wheel more than a few inches to get the car to respond? Does the car pull to the left or the right while driving? Does the car make any unusual noises? A mechanically sound vehicle should respond quickly, smoothly and easily to virtually every driving condition its exposed to.

Finally, examine your car's braking capabilities. Do the brakes squeak or grind when you come to a stop? Does the vehicle pull to one side when you brake? Is there a lot of play when you apply the brake pedal? A vehicles brakes and rotors are an expensive proposition and, if they need to be replaced or fixed, it could decrease your vehicles overall value.

If you have a question about your car's mechanical soundness or safety, be sure to have the vehicle inspected by a reputable, certified mechanic to pinpoint any existing or potential problems someone who can provide an estimate as to what those repairs would ultimately cost.

While most people appreciate and attach high value to a car that looks great, the mechanical soundness of a vehicle is as important, if not more important, than how a car looks when it comes to assessing value. In this section, well talk about some of the basic characteristics of your car's engine and handling that will directly impact its overall appeal at resale time.

Start your car and listen to its engine. Do you hear any unusual noises, such as whistling or ticking sounds? Are there popping or rumbling noises when the car is idling? Does it ping, knock or backfire? Be sure to listen closely to any signs of unusual noises. If you have any question about your car's performance or safety, we suggest you have a certified, reputable mechanic inspect the vehicle to pinpoint any existing or impending problems and to provide you with an estimate of what it would cost to make the necessary repairs.

With the car in park, turn on the engine and walk to the back of the vehicle to inspect the exhaust pipe. Consider having a friend or family member sit in the drivers seat and rev the engine. If you barely notice any smoke or if the exhaust is emitting a small amount of white smoke, don't worry. This is normal. If you see dark gray or black smoke, you might want to take the vehicle in for an engine tune-up. If you notice blue or blue-white smoke, this may be a sign the car is burning oil, which is a concern. Again, if you have any question about your car's performance or safety, solicit the help of a professional mechanic to inspect the engine.

Be sure to look under the front and back of the car to see if there are any fresh fluid drips on the garage floor or the driveway and don't forget to check under the hood for signs of leaks around the engine seams and hose connectors. Usually, engine leaks aren't a significant problem, but would-be buyers may consider a leak a sign that somethings wrong with the engine. If you notice any fluid drips, have a mechanic inspect and repair the leaks prior to sale or trade-in. A well-maintained engine can increase a vehicles value by hundreds of dollars.

What Should I Fix and How Much Should I Spend?
When it comes to repairing your pre-owned car, you need to determine whether or not the fixes will actually increase the value of the vehicle at the point of resale. Most importantly, you need to determine if you'll be able to increase the selling price of the car enough to recoup the money you spent in making those repairs.

When it comes to safety or emissions requirements, we suggest you have a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle to make sure it meets or exceeds state requirements for "roadworthiness".

However, if your car needs extensive bodywork or if certain features of the vehicle aren't working, such as the radiator CD-player, air conditioning, heater or other similar components, be sure to research what those repairs would cost, determine whether or not you can increase the price of the vehicle enough to cover those repairs and make your decision accordingly.

Let's face it fixing a car, no matter what the repair, can be extremely costly. Sometimes it's better for you to get an estimate of the repairs, share those estimates with a potential buyer, and use the repair costs as a potential negotiating tool. Either way, the repair costs will ultimately decrease the value of your vehicle when selling or trading it in. In some cases it may deter a potential buyer from even considering buying the car in the first place.

Maintenance Records Preparation and Review
If your used car has received routine maintenance and service during the time you owned the vehicle, its important for you to demonstrate this fact to a prospective buyer when it comes time to sell your car.

This section is designed to give you an overview of the maintenance documentation you should provide to the vehicle's potential new owner, including obtaining a vehicle history report to give the prospective buyer peace-of mind during the sales transaction.

Following is a checklist of used vehicle maintenance documentation you should provide to a potential buyer at the time of resale, when applicable.

  1. Fluid change documentation
  2. Tire rotation records
  3. Paint or body shop receipts
  4. Engine repair paperwork
  5. Engine service documentation
  6. Car detailing receipts
  7. Inspection reports
  8. Smog check verification

If your vehicle has been routinely serviced at a dealership and you don't have the corresponding receipts or documentation, you can call the dealer and ask for a copy of the vehicle's service history. If a local mechanic serviced the vehicle, you might be able to contact the facility to obtain the necessary inspection reports and service paperwork if you don't have the documentation in your possession. Maintenance records are important because they demonstrate to a potential buyer the care the vehicle received during the time you owned it.

In addition to routine maintenance documentation, a vehicle's history is equally important in any sales transaction. A used car is, by its very name, used. As a result, potential buyers want to know all they can about the vehicle they're about to purchase, including the validity of the cars title and mileage and whether or not the car has ever been totaled or flood damaged. offers a complete Vehicle History Report service powered by our partner, Experian, a leading provider of vehicle history information to help consumers make the most informed car purchasing decisions. Vehicle History Reports expose possible undisclosed or unknown problems, such as salvage and flood damage history that could affect a car's safety and resale value. With this service, you can purchase either a single report for a specific vehicle or an unlimited number of reports for 60 days.

Additionally, potential buyers can purchase a TitleGuard vehicle title insurance policy, which insures the conveyance of a title for up to $50,000 of a vehicles retail value.