How to prepare a car for sale — and get the most money out of it

If you thought buying a car was tough, then selling can be an even more difficult experience — especially if you’ve never done it before.

The trick is to be very well organised and follow a logical procedure when preparing a car for sale, so you can be sure that you’ve done everything you need to. We’ve put together some tricks from the trade to help you out…

Look after the car throughout ownership

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the better a car is looked after, the more it will be worth.

Make sure you clean your car frequently. Not only will this make the car easier and quicker to clean in the future, but it will look generally better, with no etchings being left by tree sap or bird excrement. Applying spray wax regularly will aid this.

It’s also wise to ensure you stick to your car’s servicing schedule and stay on top of the regular maintenance necessary to keep your car in good running order. If your last service or MOT brought up any advisories, it would make sense to get those sorted before selling the vehicle.

All this care will mean prospective customers will be able to tell your car has been looked after well throughout its life, meaning they’ll be more likely to want to buy it and pay extra for the privilege.

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Value the car

When selling a car, it’s vital you know how much it’s objectively worth. This allows you to work out what you expect to get for it and how much a customer will likely seek to pay.

The easiest way to do this is by using an online car valuation site. There are plenty of websites to choose from and it’s usually a free service, so get a few quotes and work out an average figure.

The best of these sites will not only take into account your car’s spec level and mileage, but will ask you about the condition and even allow you to input exactly where any issues, damage or wear and tear are.

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Have the car valeted

While cleaning your car regularly is a good idea, when it comes to the pre-sale wash, you need to do something more substantial if you want your pride and joy to stand out in adverts and in the metal.

Going to a local car wash and putting down a £20 note will get you a basic valet service where the inside and outside of your car will be given a thorough clean, which is a good option for those on a budget.

If you can stretch your wallet a bit more, it’s worth getting a professional valeting job done, where your car will be meticulously cleaned in every spot. Each valeter charges differently for this, so it’s worth doing your research in advance.

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Have the car detailed

If you do go to a professional valeter, it’s a good idea to ask about their detailing service.

This is where the valeter really gets into the nitty gritty, focusing on the finer details of the car and removing scratches, scuffs and marks to really get it into concourse condition.

On a more expensive model or a low mileage example, this will pay dividends when it comes to resale value.

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Dent removal

On another aesthetic point, it’s worth remembering that dents can significantly reduce a car’s value.

There’s a service called paintless dent repair, or PDR, which allows dents to be “pulled” away from a car’s bodywork using specialist tools.

This doesn’t always produce perfect results, but it is a highly cost-effective way of smoothing out any visual nuisances on your vehicle.

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Check fluid levels and tyre pressure

Although it comes under general maintenance, we can’t reiterate enough the importance of making sure your fluid levels and tyre pressures are correct before selling a car.

If a prospective customer notices that one of these factors is not as it should be, it will be a sign to them that the car has not been looked after properly.

This means that if you risk not keeping a close eye on these aspects, you risk knocking the confidence of those who would otherwise buy your car.

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Get an MOT

An MOT is a certified document that proves your car is roadworthy, so it’s best to have one done with plenty of time left on it.

If your car is on a statutory off-road notice, or SORN, or doesn’t have long left on its MOT, that may be a sign to buyers that there’s something wrong with it.

Your best bet is to take the car along to a garage and get the MOT done, sorting out any advisories as well, to make sure the vehicle is in top condition.

Collate the paperwork

What with the likes V5 certificates, vehicle logbooks and warranty documents, there’s a lot of paperwork to go with a car.

As much of a faff it may be to collate all this, it really is a necessity, not just for legal purposes, but also to further prove to prospective buyers that the car has been well looked after.

It’s easiest if you keep all of these documents in a file for easy access and so you can hand it right over to the new owner when you do sell the car.

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Decide how to sell the car

When it comes to the method by which you sell your car, you have quite a few options.

The most obvious is to create a listing on an online vehicle marketplace where customers can see pictures of your car and read a detailed description. Interested parties can then contact you via phone or email and you go from there.

Another option is to use an auction site, where you may get lucky if a bidding war starts, but this of course runs the risk of you not getting quite what you hoped for.

If you really can’t be bothered with all the fuss, you can always take your car to a dealership and sell it there, but be aware that you will almost certainly be offered a trade-in price that’s lower than the vehicle’s actual retail value.

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Empty the car of belongings

Whether it’s a coffee cup in the cup-holder, a packet of chewing gum in the door pocket or a pile of coats on the back seat – get it out of there.

Not only does it look bad to have a messy car in pictures, but prospective buyers who come to look at and test drive your car do not want to have to wade through piles of rubbish to see the car in detail.

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Take high-quality photos

If you are selling your car online, not only does it need photos, but they need to be good – really good.

The first thing to do is to make sure you’re using a decent camera. It doesn’t have to be some mega-expensive kit a professional photographer would use – a modern smartphone will do the trick.

Make sure you shoot in landscape, not portrait, and that the camera is focussed correctly. Get loads of shots of both the exterior and interior from as many different angles and distances as possible. Remember – you can never have too many pictures.

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Write a good advert

Once your prospective buyers have had their eyes caught by your magnificent photos, you need some sparkling copy to really get them hooked.

Be very precise and clear about all the details of the vehicle. Don’t use any language abbreviations and keep your spelling, grammar and punctuation correct.

Make sure you mentioned the number of owners the car has had, what condition it’s in, its service history, mileage, key equipment and when the next MOT is due.

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Make sure test drives are insured

When people start responding to your advert and turn up to look at the car in person, they may well want a test drive.

This is all well and good as long as you make sure it’s legal. You can’t just let anyone jump into your car and drive off, even if you’re with them – you have to be certain they’re insured.

Their own insurance policy may cover them to drive other people’s cars third party, which is ideal, but if not then you can’t let them get behind the wheel on a public road. The other option is to let them drive on a private road where insurance isn’t required.

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Haggle

This is it – you’ve got through all of the car care, put the listing online and found someone who is ready to put some money down. Here comes the haggling…

Assuming you’ve worked out what the car’s worth using the methods described earlier, it’s worth asking for more than you expect the car to sell for — this will help counter any haggling.

Once the punter inevitably tries to lower the price, be flexible. Come down to the car’s actual value and see how they respond. If they say yes, great. If not, don’t panic. Find out what they’re willing to pay and go from there until you find an agreeable sum.

If you can’t reach a deal with a customer, don’t sell for the sake of it. It’s important to remember that there will be someone else willing to buy the car.

Be honest

If there’s one piece of advice you take away from all this, it’s this final one – be totally, absolutely, 100 per cent honest at all times and about everything.

Don’t tell any porkies or try to cover anything up in the online listing. If there are any problems with the car – minor or major – mention them, photograph them and explain to what extent they apply.

When a potential buyer turns up to look at their car, answer all their questions as fully as you can and with complete transparency. Admitting to there being a flaw with the car early on will make them trust you and trust the fact that there is nothing else majorly wrong with the vehicle.

Even when it comes to the price of the car, if they offer lower than you need to get and won’t budge, straight-up tell them that you literally can’t accept any lower than what you’re asking. Even if it doesn’t make them up their bid, at least it will stop any time-wasting.

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