There’s a famous quote attributed to baseball great Mickey Mantle that goes, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
Well, the same logic can be applied to your car. If you knew you were going to trade it in someday, you probably would have taken better care of it.
But now you need to face the facts. You paid a little less attention to your vehicle than you should have, and you’re going to pay the price — literally. For every greasy French fry that dropped between your seats and every time you were stuck behind a gravel truck on the highway, your car may have lost more of its value than you’d like.
Whether you sell the car yourself or trade it in at the dealership, you’ll at least want to make your vehicle presentable. After all, you’ll probably get a more reasonable offer if your car doesn’t look like it’s been mistreated.
So, how much effort should you put into cleaning up your vehicle? Well, it depends. Don’t put more into it than you think you’ll gain in sale or the trade-in price. In other words, don’t drop $800 on new tires and $200 on a professional detailer if you’re going to potentially get an extra $500 for your $1,000 investment. You can quickly assess the difference in value between the same car in “rough,” “average” and “clean” condition using the AutoGravity trade-in estimation tool.
There are, however, some simple things you can do to improve your car’s condition — and recover some of that diminished value. The rule of thumb is this: when you’re done sprucing up your car, and its glistening-fresh appearance has you second-guessing your willingness to part with it, it’s probably ready.
Here are some basics to help you squeeze a little extra value out of your trade-in.
Inside and Out
If you wash your car regularly, then this last time before you say goodbye shouldn’t be such an effort. Get out the garden hose, a big bucket of soapy water, and a boombox. For extra motivation, Crank up “Car Wash” by Rose Royce. With a little elbow grease, you’ll have all the grime gone in no time.
When you’re done, apply a coat of easy-to-use spray wax to your clean paint and clear off water spots for a nice, clean shine. Spending two hours applying a paste wax and buffing the paint down to the clear coat is probably not in your best interest.
Make sure the windows, chrome and rubber are free of water spots with an extra spritz of window cleaner. Remember, you’re going to trade in your car, not display it at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Now turn to the car’s interior. Start by going on a hunt for all the debris that’s migrated between and under the seats, like receipts, phone numbers, ketchup packets, matchbooks, etc. Then, vacuum. Vacuum like you’ve never vacuumed before! Vacuum the rug, the vents, all the nooks and crannies, and anywhere dust accumulates.
If there are stains on the rug or cloth seats, use a good upholstery cleaner and some vigilant scrubbing to make it blend inconspicuously with the unstained area around it. Just for fun, decry, “Out, damn’d spot! out, I say,” for a little Shakespearean melodrama to impress your neighbors.
Clean the interior glass and use a restoration product on all the leather, plastic and vinyl. Be wary of using too much product, however; basting the dash and interior door panels like a Thanksgiving turkey isn’t the effect you want. Just get things looking clean and fresh.
The Little Things
If your car has the same windshield wipers from when you bought it, they might be worth an upgrade. And, it doesn’t take a lot of effort or money to switch out burnt fuses or dome lights. Your local auto-parts store can help you find all the right replacements.
Also, open the trunk and get it straightened out. Is it orderly and replete with all the tools with which the car came when it was new? Is the spare there? Is it inflated properly?
Now, pop the hood. There are a few small but significant things you can do to give the car appraiser the impression that you’ve been caring for your car all these years. For instance, ensure that fluid levels are where they should be, including the oil, wiper fluid, brake fluid and coolant. You might even change out the air filter if it appears dirty enough to make you look neglectful. Again, your auto parts store can help with everything you need.
If your car needs more serious work, leave that for the dealer. A multitude of things might lower the value of your trade-in, but the dealer has the resources to do repairs for less than it would cost you.
Even with all the prepping you may do to upgrade your car in the dealer’s eyes, the truth is, if you want the most possible money for your vehicle, you may need to sell it privately. The downside is, you have to become your own salesperson — setting up rendezvous with potential buyers and contending with their eagerness to haggle. This just might be more time and effort than you’re willing to invest.
Whether or not you have a trade-in, turn to us at AutoGravity. We can make your car-buying journey a whole lot better by helping you find your next new or used car and get financing — in just a few simple steps!