If you’re getting ready to sell your car, you may not think minor fix-ups are worth doing now — the new owner could spend the time and money instead of you — but that layer of dirt on your car, the stains on the seat and that burned out taillight send potential buyers the message that you didn’t properly care for your car.
That could cost you money.
“You could probably negotiate an extra $300 to $500 if it’s properly cleaned,” said Alec Gutierrez, manager of vehicle valuation for Kelly Blue Book.
According to Lauren Fix, an auto care expert and spokeswoman for the Car Care Council, the value of a “mid-range car” can be increased by $2,000 or more when selling it privately by just sprucing it up and making minor, easy repairs.
Here are eight easy fixes to spruce up your car so it will sell for hundreds — or thousands — more.
1. Wax on, wax off
Got a faded paint job? Don’t spend a fortune getting a new one. Break out the wax and polish your way to adding value to your car.
If your car’s paint has become so faded you no longer remember what it used to look like, try opening the door and looking inside the door frame, suggested Tim Miller, founder of Surf City Garage car care products.
The area inside the door frame rarely gets exposed to sunlight and harsh chemicals so it will be close to the car’s original color.
Keep in mind that all the waxing and polishing in the world may never get it completely back to that color and shine, but at least it gives you something to work towards.
Keeping it shiny: When washing your car, experts advise against using household detergents, like dish soap. To preserve your car’s finish, use products that were created for the purpose.
2. Bright lights
Nothing says “worn out beater” like dingy headlights. There are a number of headlight cleaning products on the market that can make those plastic headlight covers bright and clear in a matter of minutes. And many of these products really do work, said Lauren Fix of the Car Care Council.
If you’ve tried window cleaners before to no avail, they failed because they weren’t made for this job.
3. Shiny wheels
Shiny wheels look new and can add to your vehicle’s luster and potential value.
So, take the time to get in there and clean out dirt, dust and grime from the wheels. Also, swab a tire shine product on the tire sidewalls to make them look new, too.
4. Inside jobs
Pull out those removable floor mats. If they’re cleanable, clean them. If they’ve got big holes in them or stains that only a flame thrower will obliterate, you’re just going to have to buy new ones.
Fortunately, a new set of floor mats shouldn’t cost you that much. A set of attractive rubber mats at your local auto parts store should cost you only about $20 to $30, said Kelley Blue Book’s Alec Gutierrez.
Once that’s done, clean the rest of the interior. Clean and treat the leather, if there is any, and vacuum and clean the carpeting.
Except for glass cleaner on the windows, don’t use household cleaners in your car, warns Lauren Fix, an automotive expert who represents the Car Care Council. The materials inside your car are different from the stuff used to make the furniture and and carpets in your home. Buy cleaners that are made for the job.
5. Get your papers in order
Sure, you say you’ve had your car maintained regularly and the battery is practically brand new, but can you prove it? This is why you should keep a folder of maintenance and repair records on your car.
Besides providing evidence, an orderly folder packed with repair and maintenance records shows you really cared about your car and that’s what a potential owner wants to know.
Also, get a vehicle history report from CarFax or Experian and present it with the car. Among other things, these records will show the vehicle’s ownership history.
6. Make easy fixes
If your car has a burned out headlight or taillight, replace it. If, at some point in your car’s life, some miscreant popped the chrome badge off the grill, you should replace that, too, just so long as the replacement doesn’t cost a lot.
Also, make sure there are no warning lights — a.k.a. “idiot lights” — glowing on the dashboard. If the “windshield washer fluid low” warning is on, top it off. If the check engine light is on, have it checked. It could be something simple and inexpensive to fix. (If it’s not, you can either have it fixed or divulge the ugly truth to potential buyers.)
You may be tempted to just let the next guy worry about these things, but leaving anything unrepaired brings your care as an owner into question.
Remember, the damage to the car’s value is beyond just the cost of the light bulb.
7. Consider paying the pros
If your car’s worth more than $40,000 or so, it may be worth paying professional auto detailers to clean and polish it thoroughly. (“Detailing” just means “cleaning obsessively.”)
With a car like this, the difference between super-clean and dirty could be thousands of dollars, so it will be worth paying to have the work done right, said Lauren Fix of the Car Care Council.
8. Don’t have a scratch-and-dent sale
Don’t think a dent isn’t worth fixing, it is.
While it probably isn’t worth investing in serious body work, some simple scratches and parking lot dings can be repaired without incurring huge bills.
Many minor paint scratches and scuffs can be polished out. For dents, there are reputable firms that specialize in dent removal, said Kelley Blue Book’s Alec Gutierrez.
Be careful, though, not to resort to shoddy bodywork that could actually reduce the car’s value.
“If you’re going to get a poor job done, you’re better off disclosing the car needs some body work,” Gutierrez said.