Selling well—tips for getting the most for your car

In the last few months, just about everything about our daily lives has changed. Many of us are working from home. We don’t go out to eat, or to see movies. But road trips are everything. Even just going for drives is an exotic adventure now, because it’s a thrill just to go anywhere. And it’s actually a great time to buy or sell a used car.

The used car market is heating up because new cars are getting scarce. Factory closures, supply chain disruptions, and global shipping all mean that a lot fewer cars have been produced, and a lot fewer cars are making it to dealers. You’d think the economic uncertainty and people staying home would mean a lot of great deals, but—scarcity is making dealers reluctant to discount the few cars they have in stock.

So new car demand is outstripping supply, and there aren’t many good deals, either. Which means it’s an ideal time to list your car for sale (and it’s actually a good time to buy on the private market as well, to upgrade to that car you’ve had your eye on).

If you’re thinking of selling (and upgrading) here some simple things you can do to be more successful, and to protect yourself:

Clean it up

This seems like common sense, but it’s always surprising how many people don’t do it. Even if your car is older, it’s going to look a lot more appealing to potential buyers if you make an effort to clean it: wash the outside, vacuum the inside… it will make a big difference when people look at your pictures; they’ll be much more likely to take the next step and come see it if it looks like it’s been well cared for.

Depersonalize it

When people shop for a car, the more like-new it looks, the better. A car is such a personal space; we all want it to reflect our own sensibilities; our level of tidiness, our taste in any accessories, and to be “ours.” The ideal is always to start with a new car, but most of us buy a used one—so making your used car look as “blank slate” as possible is ideal.

So in addition to cleaning it up and minimizing signs of wear, it’s usually a good idea to remove your own personal touches. Things like air fresheners, bumper stickers, or any other particularly personal accessories—anything easily removable that makes a notable stylistic statement.


This helps a potential buyer be able to envision your car as theirs—to plan how they’ll personalize it, and make it theirs own. There’s really something to that, psychologically, and it will help it sell.

Take great pictures

In addition to making sure your car is clean, and free of personalizing touches, think about the surroundings when you take pictures. A neutral, uncluttered background is a good place to start—a relatively plain background, like a wall or a building. It’s best to avoid too many things in the photograph.

If you can, a nice natural backdrop—side of the road with a nice view behind, or bushes, or trees—really helps with the overall presentation of your car. Shots of it parked on a street with a lot of other cars, or billboards, or barbed wire security fencing, for example, don’t present it in its best light.

And lighting and focus are important. Most smartphones can take extremely high quality photos. But it’s helpful to really pay attention to what you’re capturing: are the things you’re trying to show in focus? Is there glare in the photo? Are there reflections of distracting things (like you, taking the picture, or a lot of vertical lines of reflected fence posts)? Is it hazy, or too dark or too light to really see the car? Taking a minute to pay attention to these details makes a big difference in how effective your photos will be.

Make sure any scheduled maintenance is up to date, and that there are no outstanding recalls

Service records are always good to have, to show to potential buyers. And if you happen to have a major service due, it can be worthwhile to have that done before selling your car—or expect that a savvy buyer may expect a discount to offset the cost, if they know they’re going to have to pay for it soon.

Also check to see if your car has any factory recalls. You can usually check that by going to the manufacturer’s website, and entering your car’s VIN. Factory recalls will be remedied by a dealer (at no cost to you) no matter how old your car is, and they often pertain to serious safety issues, so getting it done before selling—or at least telling the buyer about it, so they’re aware and can get it done themselves—is the right thing to do.

Clear your navigation history

A lot of people don’t think about how much personal information is stored in their navigation system. But usually your home address is in there, as well as any destination you’ve used it to guide you to—work, friends’ homes, your children’s school, etc. This is all information that it’s a good idea to delete.


You can usually find instructions on how to restore the nav system to factory settings (and clear its memory) in your owner’s manual, or on the manufacturer’s website.

If your car has a programmable garage door opener, you’ll want to remember to delete the stored settings in that, too.

These few simple details can help you make your car more appealing to buyers, protect your privacy, and give your buyer safety and peace of mind.

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