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How to maximise the value of your car

Nobody wants to be taken to the cleaners when they sell their car, but how can you maximise the amount you get for your car when you sell it? It’ll come as no surprise that giving it a seriously good spruce up can make a big difference to its value – potentially hundreds of pounds!
When somebody buys a used car they want to be reassured that it’s been looked after. A dealer doesn’t want to have an unhappy buyer bringing the car back and a private punter won’t take on a car that they think will be a liability. So how important is cleanliness at selling time?

In short, a thorough valet is essential before you sell any vehicle. If a car is really dirty potential buyers will assume there’s something hidden, and that the car has been neglected. Giving it a decent once over inside and out indicates the car is cherished rather than neglected, so investing just £50-£100 in a full valet will probably net you several times this in return – anything between £300 and £500 on a car worth £5,000-£8,000. If the car is newer and more valuable, the returns could be even greater.
Where you sell your car is also likely to have an effect on how much extra you get for it. The biggest difference is likely to be found at an independent trader rather than a franchised dealer, although sell privately and you’ll probably also see a big return on your investment. Not only will you get significantly more cash but you’ll also find the car far easier to sell.
The secret to the transformation is attention to detail; anything that can be removed easily such as trays and parcel shelves should be taken out for easier access. Clean every single surface and when it comes to the outside, be just as meticulous. If the paintwork has lost its lustre, buy some cutting compound and polish; you’d be amazed at what a difference this can make with a bit of time and effort.
It’s not just about appearances though; there’s the paperwork to take care of too. Don’t even consider selling your car without the relevant documents. Make sure the V5C (logbook) is to hand and if you have a fully stamped service book, make sure that’s present too; even a part-history is better than none. If potential buyers feel confident that a car has been well maintained they are more like to buy it. By making it easy for the buyer, you can maximise the value of the vehicle you’re selling.
A decent MoT is also essential. If there are just a few weeks left to run, expect to be offered several hundred pounds less by a dealer because they’ll assume you know your car won’t pass the test, so you’re offloading it as quickly as possible. It’s the same with the service history, especially if the car has done a lot of miles; any potential buyer will want to know that it’s been maintained properly. Having a decent history with the car can make the difference between a buyer being interested in it or them walking away.
If the car is damaged in any way, you may be better off accepting a lower trade-in value than forking out to fix it yourself. Paintwork is the best example of this; a trader can get it repaired more cheaply than you can, so you might end up paying £500 to put something right, only to be offered a measly £250 extra for it. It’s the same with tyres and items such as cracked windscreens or headlamps; unless you can fit good quality used parts, you’re better off leaving the trader to put anything right.
So in a nutshell, here’s our guide to maximising the value of your car when you come to sell it:


You should have regularly spent cash on your car, whether it’s for tyres, servicing or bigger items like a replacement windscreen. Keep all the receipts in a folder and make sure everything is to hand when trade-in time comes. Know what’s there and be knowledgeable about what’s been done to your car.


If there are deep scratches in your car’s paintwork, they should be airbrushed in by a professional. But there’ll be loads of fine scratches too. Go over the whole car with a light cutting compound; it’ll remove the fine scratches and bring back the lustre your car had when new.


This is the hardest part to clean really well. Chucking all the rubbish out and giving it a good vacuum is only the start; you need to clean the seats, carpets and headlining thoroughly. Don’t use silicone on all the plastics, because unless you clean everything completely beforehand, the dirt will just be sealed in.


Don’t be tempted to drench all the plastic trim with dressings; your car will look artificial and such treatment won’t add to its value. Instead focus on washing everything thoroughly, making sure you point your hosepipe into the wheelarches before leathering the paintwork down. Don’t overlook the roof either – get some steps if necessary.


If the tyres are past their best, don’t fit top-quality replacements as you won’t get your money back. Instead, leave them as they are and take a hit because if you fit cheap ones, you may be assumed to be a skinflint who is happy to maintain your car on the cheap.
As you’d expect, getting the most for your car centres on you preparing as fully as possible before the sale. Just a day spent cleaning inside and out (or investing in a professional valet) and collating the paperwork will not only increase interest massively, it’ll also increase the value significantly. It could be the easiest £500 you make this year.
Richard Dredge