Six Steps to Prepare Your Car for Sale

When selling your current vehicle, you want to make it appealing to prospective buyers. Following these simple steps to prep your car for sale will lead you on your way.

Step 1: Make your used car look great!

When a dealer preps a car for sale, it gets the works. You should do the same for your used car. After all, if you get a higher value when selling your used car, then you have more money to work with when buying your next car.

While the primary concern is how well the car runs, the vehicle’s interior and exterior appearance play a major factor when buyers select a used car. Use these tips to prep your used car for sale:

If you’re going to trade in your used car, you have it easy. One of the advantages of trading in your car is that the used car dealer will do most of the detailing.

Here’s what we recommend if you trade in your used car:

  • Clean out the car.
  • Dispose of any garbage and unnecessary items. Vacuum the interior and wipe down the console.
  • Remove visible stains.

If you’re going to sell your used car yourself, there’s a bit more to be done. The reason is that you want a potential buyer to see themselves driving your car. Set aside one afternoon to follow these steps and your used car will be a prime candidate for the next potential used car buyer:

Give your car a good exterior wash
A shiny, clean car is more appealing to prospective buyers. Don’t forget to wash the door jambs; it’s often an overlooked area, yet gives the extra finishing touch.

Give it a wax
Waxing your car can really make a difference, particularly if you have an older used car. One or two coats of wax will make your car shine more than the other used cars for sale.

Vacuum, remove stains and dust the interior
This will make the interior look clean. Consider using cleaners specifically designed for vehicle interiors, or as an alternative, use one of the coin operated shampoo machines available at many gas stations next to the vacuum cleaners. When cleaning the console, don’t forget to wash the steering wheel; you’ll be surprised at the amount of dirt that accumulates. Cleaning the interior takes time, but these details make a difference in the experience of how the car feels when potential drivers sit in your car.

Clean out the ashtray
What’s one of the first things you do when you look at a new car? You open all of the compartments. You want all of the compartments to be clean. This is a small detail that is easily overlooked.

Use an air freshener
It’s the nature of older cars to develop that "old car smell," but it can be overcome. Adding an air freshener will make it more pleasant - and if you shop around you can even find one with a new car smell!

Clean out the trunk
Another area you may not think about cleaning is the trunk. Having an empty trunk allows prospective buyers to see how large the trunk really is. Go the extra step and vacuum the trunk and clean its jamb.

Clean your engine
If you are familiar with the do’s and don’ts of cleaning the engine with a degreaser, give it the once over. If you don’t know how, don’t sweat it; some car washes will be able to steam clean your engine. This gives it the extra clean touch, but remember, everyone expects that used cars have some grease under the hood. Shine up the chrome To really give your used car an extra shine, use a chrome polish. You will be amazed at what it will do, and it will really set your car apart from other used cars that prospective buyers may be considering.

Step 2: Do final maintenance on your used car

Before you sell your car, you should do a few maintenance items to send it off to your buyer in great condition.

If you’re going to trade in your used car, it’s easy. We recommend:

Replace missing or broken items
Visit an auto parts recycler (junkyard) to find replacement parts. Items to consider include: brake lights, taillights, cigarette lighters, ashtrays, etc.

Once this is complete, you’re ready to trade in your used car to the dealer!

If you’re going to sell the car yourself, here’s what we recommend:
Change all fluids and oil. Don’t forget to keep the sticker in the windshield to identify when the next oil change is due.

Check your tire pressure (this can affect how the car drives)

If you have missing or broken items, visit an auto parts recycler (junkyard) to find replacement parts. Items to consider include: brake lights, taillights, cigarette lighters, ashtrays, etc.

Step 3: Purchase a CARFAX report to put potential buyers at ease

A CARFAX report searches a nationwide database to provide a detailed history on a particular vehicle. The goal of the report is to protect used car buyers against hidden problems that can go undetected. CARFAX checks to see if the car has been flooded or rebuilt, if the odometer has been tampered with and, in some states, if the car has been in a major accident or stolen. Having the CARFAX report for a prospective buyer will put them at ease.

If you’re going to trade your used car in to the dealer, it’s easy. You don’t have to worry about a CARFAX report because the dealer has access to this information. Go on to step 4.

If you are going to sell the car yourself, go to CARFAX at to purchase a report for your vehicle and include it with your maintenance records being compiled in Step 4.

Step 4: Organize your maintenance records

Every car needs maintenance. Package your maintenance information so that prospective buyers can see how well the vehicle was maintained. They may be looking for things such as how frequently the oil was changed, when the tires were last replaced, etc. Organized records show a potential buyer that you took care of your car. It’s just one more way your car will stand out from the other used cars for sale. This can be as formal or informal as you choose; the important thing is to have your maintenance records organized so that you can show them to a potential buyer.

Step 5: Make a flyer

Now that your car is ready to show, it’s time to let people know it’s for sale. Make a flyer for your car and hang it up at work, the grocery store, in the car window – anywhere that allows you to advertise your used car.

Here’s what we recommend you include:

  • Photo(s) of the car
  • Asking price, Kelley Blue Book Value for Retail Used Cars
  • If the price is higher than your asking price. You can find the KBB Value at:
  • Current mileage
  • Car color – exterior and interior

The goal of your flyer is to attract interest and bring a prospective buyer to come look at your used car.

Step 6: Make handouts for used car buyers that come see your car

If someone comes to look at your car, they are interested. If you did well in Step 1, your car is going to leave a lasting impression. Now let them take that impression with them by giving them a handout illustrating the details of your car. We suggest you include:

  • Your flyer
  • Copy of the CARFAX report
  • If your car was ranked as a "best buy," include quotes or a copy of the article
  • A list of any unique features on your car and what makes them particularly appealing

Now you’re ready to put your used car up for sale! Put your flyer in your car, consider placing an advertisement in the paper and/or listing your car on a site such as Autobytel ( or Auto Trader ( A free form of advertising is to hang your flyer up wherever you can post information about items for sale, such as a bulletin board at the grocery store or your workplace.