When it comes to used cars, things you can’t control, like model year and mileage, are important factors, but so is something you can control: condition. For example, Kelley Blue Book says the trade-in value of a 2007 Honda Civic with 50,000 miles can be worth between $8,350 and $10,225 depending on the condition. So if you can bump your car up a grade with a few bucks and some labor, that’s time and money well spent.
Money Talks News reporter Jim Robinson reveals some of the biggest bangs for your buck when it comes to increasing your car’s curb appeal. Check it out, then read on for more.
Now we’ll add some ideas and detail to Jim’s video report:
- Wash and wax. This sounds obvious to people who routinely clean their cars, but those who don’t may be surprised how well their vehicles clean up and shine. Cost? A few bucks if you do it yourself, $5-$20 for an automated car wash, or more for a hand wash/wax.
- Defog the headlight lenses. If your headlight lenses are hazy or yellowed, defogging them will make your car look newer. A headlight restoration kit and an hour will get the job done for about $15.
- Properly inflate and clean the tires. Hopefully you keep your tires properly inflated to maximize mileage, but if not, go to a gas station and drop a quarter in the air pump. Once they’re properly inflated, clean up both tires and wheels. You can buy generic tire cleaner for under $10, but you can also make your own for practically nothing. Combine baking soda with water to make a paste, then use a scrub brush to work it into your tires. Let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse. For wheels and chrome, mix equal parts of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray on, then clean with a sponge or rag.
- Restore the interior. Start with a thorough vacuuming, including the trunk. Then do what you can to get rid of stains. In the video above, Jim recommended trying a teaspoon of dish soap in a cup of warm water. You might also try a tablespoon of vinegar and half teaspoon of dish detergent mixed in a quart of water. In either case, apply the solution by blotting it on, then blotting it dry. If the floor mats are terrible, don’t kill yourself trying to clean them. New ones should cost less than $30.
- Make it smell good. Fruit peels make a cheap natural air freshener, but if you’re going to pay $5-$10 for a commercial solution, go for scents like “new car,” “linen,” or, if your car has leather upholstery, “leather.” If you smoke, sprinkle baking soda on your carpets, let sit overnight, then vacuum. And don’t smoke in your car for at least a week before you sell.
- Top off fluids and change the oil. When you’re buying a used car, you should always pull out the dipstick and look at the oil – is it old and dirty? Does it have water/gas/metal shavings in it? This is the same thing a person will do with your dipstick, so change your oil. A professional oil change can be less than $20 (look for coupons), and usually includes checking your other fluid levels too.
- Fix simple problems. A “check engine” light is an obvious red flag for any buyer, so if you’ve got one, visit a mechanic. If it’s simple, fix it. If not, at least you’ll be prepared to honestly explain the problem and solution to potential buyers.
- Fix lights and add finishing touches. If any of your lamps are out, replace the bulbs: They’re cheap. If you’re missing the owner’s manual, look for one online, either through eBay or this list of manual links from Edmunds.com. For any other missing bits or pieces of plastic, check local junkyards.
- Scratch and ding repair. If you have scratches, scuffs, or dings, they can be fixed, but a poor job may be worse than leaving them alone. Rubbing compound can often remove surface scratches, but if the scratch goes through the paint, unless you’re an expert, it’s probably best to forget it. For more information on repairing scratches, check out this guide from Popular Mechanics.
- Get records in order. A tidy and organized maintenance history implies you’ve taken care of your car. A vehicle history report from Carfax runs $35 (you can get 5 reports for $45, so you might cut a deal with friends and save) and shows you have nothing to hide. It reveals things like number of previous owners and length of ownership, accident and lien history, plus warranty and recall info.
All these suggestions added together run less than $200, and could easily result in a much higher sales price for your car.
One last tip: If you’re selling to a private buyer, you’re about to become a used car salesman. Dress and behave professionally. Look people in the eye, and be friendly and straightforward, but not smarmy. Be willing to negotiate, but have a firm price in mind and stick to it.