Whether you are trading in your car or are selling your car, you can get more money for it if it looks good. An older car that looks good sends the message that it’s been well-maintained. As a result, a buyer will feel more confident buying your car and is more likely to spend at the top of the range for its age and mileage.
Here are five tips to get your car looking good for little or no cost. You will have to weigh whether any additional cost will be worth the return from the car’s sale.
Detail the exterior. You can take your car to a professional detailer and spend $200, or you can do it yourself with a few car care products and some elbow grease. Spray on a wheel cleaner to loosen black brake dust and grime and then wash the entire car thoroughly. Use a bug and tar remover on any stubborn spots on the paint. Once the car is dry, wax the paint, or if you don’t have the time (or want to avoid that much elbow grease), spray on a quick detailer product and wipe it off to give your paint a nice (albeit somewhat temporary) shine. Complete the detailing by applying a trim detailer designed for rubber and plastic trim to black bumpers and other trim pieces. Remember, you don’t need the car to look like it’s just come off the showroom floor. You just want it to look clean and well-maintained.
Clean the interior. Start by cleaning out all personal items and find homes outside the car for everything except the absolute essentials. Clean the windows. Using a damp cloth, lightly wipe down the dashboard, console, switches, door handles, cubbies and any other nonupholstered surface. Use an old toothbrush or cotton swab to get in any hard-to-reach places where there’s visible grime. If necessary, clean the upholstery with a cleaner designed for fabric or leather upholstery. Next, vacuum the interior and trunk, moving all the seats (including those that flip forward or stow) since dirt and crumbs collect in these lesser-seen areas. If the floor has stubborn stains, use a carpet shampoo. Finally, find homes for your personal essentials in your car’s many cubbies, versus letting them lie on a seat or floor. Invest in an organizer for the seat-back or the trunk if necessary.
Remove any odors. You may not notice it, but your car probably has an odor and it may be offensive to someone else. To get rid of it, spray an odor-eliminating product in your car’s air intake — the vents that are outside the car usually where the windshield meets the hood — and run the climate control system on its outside air setting, not on recirculate.
Remove the dings and dents. A car that has many door dings or small dents will look worn-out no matter how nicely detailed it is. Today, these minor imperfections can usually be removed easily without any bodywork. Look up “paintless dent removal” to find a specialist in your area or ask your mechanic. Prices will vary depending on where you live and depending on whether you bring the car to them or they come to you, but you can usually get several dings removed for around $100.
Repair windshield chips. Finally, fix any chips in the windshield by hiring a specialist. (Research “windshield repair” to find one.) Seventy percent of all car glass damage is repairable, according to the Car Care Council. Again, costs will vary on your location and if the service is mobile or not, but most repairs can be completed for under $100, sometimes much less. Sometimes businesses specialize in windshield repair and paintless dent removal, which can further reduce costs if you handle both repairs in one visit.
Ask the adviser