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A person is shown speaking to person about how to 'sell my car.'

Selling Your Car: A Fundamental Checklist

It’s time. You’ve come to that point where you’ve decided to search for the best way to “sell my car.” There’s probably a lot going through your mind; how much do you sell it for? Should you sell to a dealership or privately? Are you going to take the proceeds and purchase a new method of transportation? There’s a lot to think about when the time comes to sell.

However, before you write out that perfect ad and get ready to meet with prospective buyers, a few things need to be done. There’s a whole checklist of things to consider and do before you sell your car. Putting in a little bit of effort before you sell can make all the difference in price and speed of sale.

Step One: Take a Good Look at the Exterior

You see the exterior of your vehicle every day and have grown accustomed to whatever appearance it might have. You think that everything is fine; however, the first-time view from a potential customer might be drastically different. Take a good solid look at the exterior. Look for dings, scratches, and discoloration. You can even ask a friend or family member to check it over, as it can be all too easy to look past little issues here and there that never bothered you but might annoy someone trying to buy.

If there’s substantial damage that needs to be taken care of, consider taking it to an auto body shop. They’ll smooth over any rough patches to make it look more presentable. However, be discerning over whether this is actually necessary. You don’t want to sink a ton of money into cosmetic repairs and not be able to make it back in the sale. If you’re selling privately, this step can really help, but if you are selling to a dealership, don’t stress too much.

If you do end up having to have a professional do some work, be sure to keep any documentation. Presenting it to a potential buyer will illustrate transparency on your end and help show that you are a responsible owner.

A mechanic is shown inspecting the bottom of a vehicle.

Step Two: Inspection Protection

This step coincides with the previous one in that you want to have a clear idea of what damage there might be to your vehicle, except this pertains to more than just the exterior looks. Think about the last time you purchased a used car. If you bought it from a dealership, you probably didn’t worry too much about having an inspection done, even though you usually can if you want to. However, if you bought it privately, you probably wanted to have your mechanic check it over or see the maintenance records to have some peace of mind that you weren’t about to get a lemon. It’s the same story for someone wanting to purchase your vehicle.

The last thing you want to do is sell someone your vehicle, only for them to demand their money back due to a mechanical error. Once you’ve thoroughly checked the exterior and bodywork to make sure it’s in a presentable shape, it’s time to take your car in for a pre-sale inspection. Have the mechanic inspect all of the mechanical and electrical systems in your vehicle; he might notice a few pending issues that need immediate attention before you sell or give you the green light.

Again, the amount of time and money you invest in your vehicle pre-sale can be up for debate depending on if you are selling privately or to a dealership. If you’re planning on selling your vehicle privately, it’s a good idea to get any worn belts and hoses replaced and maybe even the battery if the car is older. Also, any major mechanical flaws that affect the driving and safety of the vehicle will need to be addressed. Remember to keep records of any repairs you make in order to show a buyer why you are charging the price you are. If you are selling to a dealership, you can skip a lot of this stuff because dealers can usually repair issues for far cheaper than you can.

Step Three: Get a Vehicle History Report

If you purchased your vehicle used, you might want to take the time to have a vehicle history report generated. Even if you bought it new, getting a detailed history of your vehicle is one of the best things you can do when you’re getting ready for a sale. This shows a potential buyer that you are being transparent and backs up information that you might provide, such as accident history or any major repairs that have taken place while it’s been in your possession.

Step Four: Oil Change & Wiper Fluid Replacement

Good news—there are only a few items left on the checklist. The last few things are relatively simple to take care of and will help ensure that you sell your car with little to no difficulty. They’re also things you can skip if selling to a dealership but are great to do if selling privately. Our next maintenance suggestions are relatively easy and cheap but are good to do to put your best foot (or wheel) forward with a sale. They can be done at the same time and even when you bring your vehicle to the mechanic for an inspection.

An oil change is one of the most fundamental of all routine services that a vehicle needs to stay on the road and run in pristine shape. It’s expected that a responsible car owner will get this service done at regular intervals to keep the engine parts lubricated and remove deposits that build up over time. Even if you had an oil change done not too long ago, getting one shortly before you intend to sell is a show of good faith to a prospective purchaser. They’ll be more inclined to purchase your vehicle at a higher price if you can show that it’s been properly taken care of.

Another essential fluid that should be refilled is the wiper fluid. Depending on which geographic location you sell your car in, the wipers might be used more often than usual. Making sure there’s plenty of wiper fluid and changing the blades will be more points in your favor. If you live in an area that is constantly at the mercy of the warm weather, having the radiator flushed and adding fresh coolant is also advisable. The more effort you put into making your car sale ready, the better impression you’ll make on potential buyers.

A person is shown washing a red vehicle.

Step Five: Wash & Detail

You’ve taken care of the mechanical details, and now it’s time for the presentation that will help you sell your vehicle for sure. Getting it washed thoroughly and detailed will have it look like it’s ready for the showroom. You’ll want to do more than drive through the car wash, though that is something you should do. You’ll need to clean out the interior, remove trash and personal items, wash down the interior surfaces, and vacuum the cloth areas like carpeting and seats. Just in case you’re unsure if it is too thorough, just think back to when you purchased your last vehicle. You want to capture the feeling of a new car as much as possible to make the best impression and hopefully get the highest amount of money possible.

Follow These Steps to Get the Most for Your Car

Perhaps this checklist might seem like a bit much, but keep in mind that there are a lot of factors that go into selling a vehicle. While publications like Kelley Blue Book will give you the general ballpark figure of what your vehicle might sell for, condition, structural integrity, and whether or not it’s been properly taken care of are all determining factors in selling your car for a decent rate. If a vehicle is primed and ready to sell, you’ll be able to sell quickly and set a higher price. Following this checklist will ensure that you have a leg up in the game of vehicle selling. Doing the research and putting in the time for preparation means all the difference between getting your asking price and settling for a much lower rate.