Selling Your Car? What to Fix and What to Leave As Is

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If you’re preparing to sell your car, you’re probably thinking about all the little problems that could interfere with your resell price. Obviously, you want to sell the car as quickly as possible, and you want to ensure you get the best possible price while you’re at it. Making repairs and improvements to your vehicle can help you in both departments—but not all fixes are objectively valuable. In fact, some might cost you more money than they’re worth.

So how do you know what to fix and what to leave as is?

Know Your Seller

First, you should understand the motivations of your seller. For example, if you’re selling to a dealership, they’re probably going to thoroughly inspect your car, and they might make a low offer if they know they’ll have to deal with the hassles of repairs. If you’re selling to an individual, their values and preferences are going to dictate which fixes are most important. But if you’re using an online marketplace like Swap Motors, you’ll probably have more flexibility; your listing will be visible to a wide variety of people, so you’re less likely to receive a low offer or have people pass on your car altogether.

What to Fix

That said, there are some repairs that are almost always worth making before selling a car:

  • Tires. Worn tires are easy for even amateur car buyers to spot, and since they’re on the outside of the vehicle, they’re often the first place a prospective buyer will look. Replacing your tires can make your whole vehicle seem newer, and make sure that first test drive goes smoothly.
  • Brakes. Brakes are another feature that are easy to gauge, even as an amateur. While handling the vehicle, any sign of squealing, grinding, or difficulty stopping could be a major concern for your test driver. It’s better to get these brakes repaired, replaced, or updated as needed so you can ensure a safe, pleasant test drive.
  • Oil. Your buyer may or may not check the oil in your car before they proceed with the purchase, but it’s still a good idea to get your oil changed before trying to sell your car. Oil changes are inexpensive, and your proof of purchase will show your buyer that you’re serious about putting the car in top shape before buying.
  • Windows. Windows can be a show-stopper for most buyers. If the windows don’t work, if they’re cracked, or if they’re otherwise unsightly, they can immediately leave a prospective buyer with a negative impression of your vehicle. Make sure you get them repaired.
  • Lights. Lights are imperative not only to keep the vehicle legally operational, but also to keep the driver safe. If you have a headlight out or a turn signal not working, it’s in your best interest to try and get it repaired before you sell.
  • Dirt and grime. Though not technically a repair, make sure you give your car a thorough cleaning, inside and out, before you sell. Dirt and grime can be real turnoffs, even for a motivated buyer.

What Not to Fix

So what repairs shouldn’t you make?

  • (Most) rust. Rust comes in multiple varieties, and almost all rust is unsightly, impacting the value of your car. However, not all rust is worth removing. Some early-stage, surface-level rust can come off with a good round of sanding and buffing, so it might be worth your investment. But if there’s significant rust on your vehicle, any repairs you make could make things worse or cost you far more money than it’s worth.
  • Engine compartment dirt. While you’re cleaning your vehicle, you might be tempted to open the hood and clean out all the dirt and grime in the engine compartment. However, this may not be worth the effort. Not only will this require significant elbow grease, it could also work against you; a shiny, new-looking engine on a new car may look suspicious, turning prospective buyers off.
  • Major damage. If you’ve been in a major collision, or if some critical component of your vehicle is no longer working, it may not be worth repairing the damage. At some point, the cost of repairs will exceed the resale value of the vehicle, and you’ll be better off scrapping whatever you have left.

For the most part, if the repair is going to cost a disproportionate amount of money, or if it’s going to fix something that isn’t really an issue, it’s not worth making. Correcting significant wear and tear will help you get a better, faster offer, as will any cost-effective improvements you can make. Just make sure you do your research, and don’t sink any more money in your old car than you have to.

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