Written by Phil White
Depreciation is a sad fact of life for car owners but you can still get more for your car when you sell it with seven simple steps.
Just driving that new shiny motor off the forecourt can see its market value drop by as much as 20% and over the course of five years of driving most cars will be worth just 65% of their original purchase price.
Your car’s value depends on a number of factors that include:
- Its age
- Your location
- The demand for the make and model
- Its mileage
- Its overall exterior and interior condition
- Its modifications
- The parts it has had replaced
- And even simple things like how it smells inside
Whilst you may not be able to influence some of these factors there are many other ways that you can help to increase your car’s resale value and get the most for your motor.
To do this you are going to need to go against nature and start ignoring those voices in your head telling you to spend no more time or money on something you are about to sell.
Go against nature
Your natural instincts may be telling you to do nothing to your car before you put it up for sale. After all you are not going to benefit from any improvements you make now.
It is indeed true that to make any major spend may not help you see a return on your investment but there are a number of things you can do that will help your car sell for more cash than you spend on it. What’s more they will also help you sell your car quickly – and its value depreciates every month that it remains in your hands.
Even something as simple as a clean can add a surprising amount to the value of your car. In a recent review by the Daily Telegraph it was estimated that spending no more than £30 on car cleaning products – and setting aside an afternoon to work on it – could easily increase your car’s value by at least £200. Investing a little more – £135 on average – and getting professional cleaners on the case could see your car selling for as much as £1,000 more.
Ignore your natural instincts and spend a bit of time and money on your car before you sell it and you could easily see a return on your investment. Cars that look like they have been loved inspire trust – and people will pay a lot more for a car they feel they can trust.
Here, then, are the seven simple steps that can ensure you can drive the hardest bargain when you are selling your car.
1/ Sell privately
Quick cash nearly always means less cash. So try and steer clear of internet sites promising to buy any car and those dealers with their tantalising trade-in offers.
Cashing in: on the forecourt
Admittedly nothing could be more tempting than a trade-in: it’s so convenient and you are usually offered more than other dealers have previously quoted you on a straight sale.
All that convenience does come at a cost, however. You may get more for your car on a trade-in than by simply selling it to a dealer but you could get a lot more still if you sell your car privately. The latest estimates we have seen suggest that trade-ins typically get an average of 20% less than private sales – that’s as much as one grand less on a £5000 car.
Cashing in: online
Another sure-fire way to get less than you could for your car are those car buying and valuation internet sites with catchy jingles and promises of instant cash. Sites such as We Buy Any Car and We Want Any Car have grown in popularity over recent years and offer an easy way to sell your car.
Just like the trade-in deals, however, you do have to pay for the convenience offered by such services. They will buy almost any car quickly but at a price that is significantly below the average.
Cashing up: on your own
It is surprisingly easy to sell a car privately and it offers you the best chance of realising the highest resale value possible.
What’s it worth?
First of all you need to get a feel for the value of your car. You can quite simply value your own car by checking prices listed at used car valuation sites. These include:
- Glass’s Guide – The most respected name in the used car business allows you to check the current average value of your car’s make and model but not taking into account any damage.
- WhatCar – This car valuation tool does allow more options for assessing wear and tear but its database is less frequently updated.
- AutoTrader – For getting a sense of average prices in your area AutoTrader is invaluable as it is published regionally. This will help you to qualify national estimates and assess what people in your area are more likely to pay. AutoTrader also offers a premium car valuation service which is based on CAP data and allows you to modify the valuation according to damage.
Who wants it?
Once your car is valued you need to let people know it is for sale. Rather than shouting it from the rooftops here are some tried and tested ways to advertise your car and find those buyers.
- AutoTrader – Make sure you opt for a package that includes internet advertising as their web presence is much larger than their print circulation. A six week package costs under £60 but cheaper options are available.
- eBay – eBay may not as popular as AutoTrader for buying used cars but this means less competition. You gain a greater degree of control over amending your listing and can advertise your car from just £30.
- Car auctions – More traditional car auction sites can be regularly found all over the country. They offer a great way to sell your car quickly but at the risk of never really knowing how many people will be interested in your car – and pushing up its price – on the day.
- Local listings – Newspapers, local listings magazines and online local listing sites also offer ways to advertise your car for sale. Many will include some form of internet presence for your listing. If you are fixing up your car for selling in Sussex, for instance, you could consider using The Argus or the Friday Ad to advertise it.
- Garage sale – As a supplement to these ways to sell your car there is the old-fashioned notice in the window. If you can park in a high-traffic area the more people will have the chance to see your For Sale notice.
There is no doubt that a private sale to a private individual will help you make the most out of selling your car but as with all transactions with people you do not know you should take care. Here’s some advice on things to do and things not to do.
- Never let anyone test drive the car without you in it.
- If you are not meeting the buyer at your house always meet in a public place during the day – supermarket car parks are good bets.
- If possible, bring a friend along.
- Make sure you know where the Vehicle Identification Number is marked into the car’s body.
- Avoid cheques and ask for cash or a banker’s draft. Alternatively agree to a bank transfer but only hand over the car once you can see the money is in your account.
- To transfer ownership of the car you must write your buyer’s contact details into section 6 of your car’s log book. This is sometimes known as a V5C certificate. The buyer will need to sign the declaration in section 8. Next you complete and give to the buyer the section called the V5C/2 before you post the rest of your log book to the DVLA.
- Take the road tax disk out of the car window so that you can claim a road tax refund on it from the DVLA at a later date.
Depending on the value of your car you are now between £1,000 and £3,000 better off than trading-in so book that luxury break and enjoy yourself!
2/ Keep it clean
Ridiculous as it may sound the Daily Telegraph recently found that cars that had been professionally cleaned could sell for us much as £1,000 more than those that hadn’t.
Many buyers will let first impressions sway their judgement and read dirt on a car as a sign of a car that has not been cared for. That mud splashed up the side can very easily conjure up images of reckless driving and stand as a symbol of an inattentive owner. For even the most logical of buyers a dirty car spells potential trouble – once those alarm bells have rung the purse strings tighten.
Getting your car clean for selling does not cost the earth but it really does help you convince buyers that paying a higher price is worthwhile.
For around £135 professional car cleaners can get the interior spick and span and the exterior showroom shiny and you will find yourself quids in when your car sells. Be sure that your car cleaning and valet service includes detailing and a wax for that fresh off the showroom gleam that makes your car look its best in pictures and on the road.
With a bit of elbow grease, a spare sunny afternoon and some car cleaning products there is no reason not to do the work yourself. Roll up those sleeves and grab a bucket because this is how you can start adding value to your car by washing off that grime and waxing on that shine.
People really do get all lathered up about car washing and there are plenty of guides to cleaning your car elsewhere so here we’ll just stick to the basic ways you can make sure your car is presented to its best.
- Never use washing up liquid to clean your car – If you want to preserve your car’s finish you need to use products that have been designed for car washing alone.
- Wash from the top down. – This avoids spreading dirt and scratching the paintwork with small particles of grit.
- Waxing and polishing – To give lustre back to your car’s paintwork and bring back to life tired colours you need to wax and polish it. This will give your car the showroom look that will truly impress buyers.
- Clean that machine – Open up the bonnet and make everything look as good as new with some engine degreaser and cleaner. These citrus-based marvels work wonders and set your car apart as one that has been thoroughly cared for. If you are tempted to use a pressure washer make sure you have it on a low setting.
- Don’t forget the inside. – Throw open those doors and get vacuuming. Hopefully your floor mats will have protected your carpets from the worst of the wear: it’s not a bad idea to replace the mats if they are worn out for that all important first impression.
- A touch of glass. – Glass cleaner on your windows and windscreens will help to make it crystal clear that this is one well looked after vehicle. If your windscreen is chipped you may wish to consider fixing it – the cost of this can be as little as £60 but your buyer will be mentally deducting a lot more when they see that crack.
- Finishing touches – Finally, it may be a little late to mention it but there are plenty of easy ways to protect your dashboard from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays. Your local motoring supply shop will stock a range of protectants that can prolong the life and prevent fading of your car’s vinyl, rubber, leather and plastic.
Don’t worry we’re not going to leave you with a shiny car marred by scuffed wheels and worn-down tyres – we’ll get around to your wheels next.
3/ Looking tyred?
At the bare minimum those tyres, rims and hubcaps are going to need a good, old clean. If your treads are down to their bare minimum, however, you may need to consider a little more.
Shiny wheels look new and you can quickly clean out all that dirt and grime from the wheels and even give a new lease of life to those faded tyres by rubbing in some tyre shine product.
For the amount a buyer will deduct in their head for worn tyres it is a mistake to try and sell a car whose tyres are looking tired. The tyres are often used as an indicator of the care that has been taken with the rest of the car. Replacing a worn tyre will be money well spent – and you could always just swap it over with the spare.
As for the rims unsightly scratches are probably not going to be profitable to replace but it can be cheap to replace peeling or dented hubcaps. It goes without saying that if a hubcap is missing you should always get it replaced before putting your car up for sale.
4/ Help your buyer to see the light
Lights, like tyres, are often used by buyers as a guide to the condition of the rest of the car. Spending a bit of time getting them right will see your buyers spending that little bit more.
Dingy headlights and broken taillights will not help you to convince a buyer that this is a much-loved car.
There are plenty of cheap, effective headlight cleaning products out there that can really make your scratched and foggy plastic headlight covers bright and clear. Cleaning them up will take no time at all but do use the right stuff for the job. Before you consider reaching for that household window cleaner to save a few pence we can save you the effort – it just will not cut it. You are going to need a cleaner that was made for the job to get the results you want and your buyer expects to see.
Needless to say if your car’s lights are burned out you should replace them. The damage to your car’s value will be much more than the cost of a small light bulb.
Broken lights are inexpensive to replace and a quick trip to your local car supply store or junkyard and a few twists of a Phillips screwdriver and you’re back in business for helping your car go that extra mile in achieving a price that’s right.
Whilst we are on the subjects of lights there are some that you definitely do not want your buyer to see. These are the warning lights – or ‘idiot lights’ as they are sometimes called – that flash insistently on your car’s dashboard when something is up.
More often than not these just tell us that something as simple as topping up the windscreen washer is needed. Regardless of what they warn do get it checked out and try and get rid of that annoying light. The last thing you want is for your buyer to start seeing are warning lights when they take your car out for a spin.
5/ Do nothing
Your efforts to add value to your car could be doing exactly the opposite if you are not careful. Some things are better being left exactly as is.
This is not to say that you should not replace those important parts that help your car function efficiently and perform at its peak – this should be done as a matter of course during your ownership of the car and you should be sure to point out to the buyer just what has been replaced. The price of your car will increase for any mechanical and cosmetic improvements – whilst it may not be worth making these just for the sale it is certainly worth highlighting them during the sale. Those new brakes are one potential cost saved further down the road for your buyer.
There are some things, however, that are best left alone if you want to make the most money out of your sale. Modifications and customisations are a case in point. Do not undertake these to increase the value of your car – they have the opposite effect. If you modify and customise a car you do it for yourself – for your own pleasure and enjoyment and not for your pocket. So-called after-market modifications actually decrease a car’s value. It is highly unlikely that orange spoiler, expensive stereo kit or state-of-the-art safety equipment will help raise the final price of your car. Spoilers can spoil the price, safety gear lead to a price crash and your rating of your audio upgrades may not see your buyer singing from the same song sheet.
Sometimes less is more.
6/ Bodywork and paint
The body and paint on your car will inevitably pick up dents, dings and scratches over the course of your ownership. Sun, pollutants and the dreaded bird poo all mar the paint. The end result can be a car whose body and paintwork do it a disservice and help lower its price. Many of these issues can be cheaply solved and you are back on track for selling your car for significantly more. Here’s how.
Dents and dings
Dent removal can be surprisingly affordable and makes a real difference to the look of your car.
Paintless dent repair sometimes can offer a good alternative to the more extensive traditional body shop repairs if you only have small dents and dings. Specialist tools are used to massage the dented bodywork back to its original condition without the need for repainting. It’s quick and it’s cheap – from as little as £50 – but it makes a real difference to the look and potential price of your car.
Larger dents such as knocks from other car doors or parking scrapes may need the more extensive filling, painting and lacquering offered by body shops. Whilst this entails more cost the sight of a major dent will seriously cave-in your asking price too. These dents can be fixed for around £150 but in terms of preserving your car’s value they are arguably more cost-effective than the cheaper small dent repairs.
Minor blemishes to your paintwork caused by stone chips or swirls and scratches left by automatic car washes look unsightly but can be easily fixed.
Those small chips can be disguised using a touch-up kit that contains primer, colour-matched paint and lacquer and is applied to your car a bit like nail varnish is applied to nails. If the damage is extensive it may be worth considering an airbrush touch-up but this is a job for the pro’s – expect to pay around £70 a panel.
Surface scratches and the fading effects of the sun’s rays can be dealt with by applying a colour polish or T-Cut colour restorer. If the scratch is deeper – such as a vandal’s keying of the side of your car – it is off to the body shop where it can be flatted, filled, painted and smoothed for around £150.
Marks on the paint
Those trees that you park under to keep the car in the shade or shelter it actually place it directly under the firing line of those birds overhead. They call paintwork that has tell-tale ugly bird poo stains on it birdlimed and it can seriously affect the value of your car. The good news is it is pretty straightforward to fix so only a lemon would try and sell a birdlimed car. Apply a clay kit – such as Meguiars – to remove the lime, tar and contaminants on your paintwork. When you wipe it off you will have spent just £25 to realise much more on your car.
Similarly for just a fiver you can transform those whiteish-grey bumpers back to black. Products such as the ‘does what it says on the tin’ Back to Black are rubbed on to a bumper and, when dry, leave it restored to its original colour.
7/ Get your papers in order
A lovingly cared for car is nothing without its documentation. Nothing reassures a buyer more than well organised paperwork documenting maintenance checks and work carried out.
Sticking to your car’s maintenance schedule is the best way to keep your car in tip-top condition but your buyer needs to see you have done this. Each and every time you have the car serviced, get its oil changed or have some parts replaced file the receipt in a folder because documentation helps augment the selling price of your car. It’s another way to buy trust because – besides providing evidence of what has been done – an orderly folder shows the buyer that you really cared for your car.
A vehicle history report from providers such as Experian will show the car’s ownership history along with other useful information to help you gain the trust of your buyer. This can be stored with the rest of your documents relating to the car.
To realise the best value for a classic car – especially one that has undergone restoration – is a topic worthy of a much fuller discussion. You can explore how to make money on selling classic cars elsewhere but here we will just mention that documenting the history and restoration of the car is absolutely crucial.
Full disclosure sells classic cars so gather up every bit of information you can find so you can document the car’s history, features, strengths and even weaknesses. You’ll need receipts, sales papers, registration and ID documents, owner manuals and a list of historical contacts including previous owners and the details of mechanics who have worked on the car.
Any restoration work undertaken should be detailed with photos showing the work in progress so that the buyer can see at a glance what has been carried out and how it was done.
The more information you have the less risk the buyer sees and the more they are willing to pay.
Seven simple steps to increase your car’s resale value
So there you have the seven steps to a successful car sale. With a bit of organisation, some careful cleaning and attention to detail you could be literally putting more than a thousand pounds on your car’s final sale price. So you could be as well-oiled as your car.