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SELLING A CAR

Preparing your car for sale


Every week, thousands of used cars are offered for sale. Selling your car can be made a lot easier by spending some time preparing yours before you advertise it, to achieve the best price. 

Carefully and critically inspect your car

Make a strong first impression.

You may not know it, but you can make or lose a sale within moments of a potential buyer arriving. If you can make a good first impression, you’re already half way to a sale.

  • The first thing to do is to carefully and critically inspect your car. Imagine you’re seeing it for the first time. Stand back and look at it overall. Then move in close and look for imperfections and blemishes. Sit inside and think about whether you’d like to spend time here.
  • Make a note of scratches in the paint, dents and parking scrapes, and stone chips. Kerb damaged wheels can be a turn-off. On the inside, check for scuffed trim, loose fittings, worn patches in the carpet, stains on the upholstery.
  • A good first impression starts even before the buyer arrives – good photos of your car will attract buyers in the first place so take plenty of photos, inside and out, with a neutral background. Be honest regarding any obvious flaws – buyers don’t like surprises when they arrive for an inspection. 

Call in a car care professional

Chipped or scratched paint always detracts from any car’s appearance and appeal. There are some simple and cost-effective repair options that can address minor scratches and dents  to your car and wheels. It’s worth having these small repairs done prior to selling your vehicle. Car dealers do it all the time – that’s why they get top dollar for the cars they sell. 

Thoroughly clean it from top to bottom

A clean car is a happy car.

It’s amazing how many people offer their car for sale in a filthy condition. Before someone comes to inspect it, thoroughly clean it from top to bottom.

It’s worth spending some time cleaning the exterior of your car carefully.

  • If the paint is looking a little tired, a mild cut and polish (using a gentle cutting compound available from any auto shop) can restore the lustre.
  • Remove anything and everything from the interior that shouldn’t be there. Empty all the storage pockets, consoles, ashtrays, glove box and the boot. 
  • If you still have them, leave the owner’s manual and service book in the glove box. Make sure your service book is up-to-date so you can demonstrate how you have cared for the car.
  • Collect your receipts for any work you’ve had done to the car in your ownership, including replacing batteries and tyres, and have them on hand in a folder to show the buyer – service records are immensely important to buyers.
  • Also, check if the manufacturer warranty or extended warranty is still valid and can be transferred to the new owner.
  • Clean the windows inside and out, and don’t forget to clean inside the door jambs – it’s the first thing you see when you open the doors. And give the wheels a good scrub too, especially if they’re coated in brake dust.
  • Give the inside a good spring clean . Remove the floor mats and vacuum the whole interior, not forgetting the vents. Then vacuum the mats before replacing them.
  • Check and clean under the seats, and remove anything that might roll around under there or make a noise – unexplained noises on a test drive are a real turn-off.
  • Spraying some deodoriser will remove any unpleasant smells. 
  • While you’re in the boot, make sure the spare wheel and any tool kit is securely stowed so they can’t rattle around during the test drive. Also make sure the spare tyre is fully inflated. Then vacuum the boot and make it as clean and tidy as you can.

Clean that grubby engine bay

A car that is externally appealing can often let down a potential buyer when you open the bonnet. If it’s grimy, it suggests to a buyer that you haven’t looked after the car. Engine oil and coolant leaks are warning signs for buyers too, so think about having them fixed.

Then clean the engine bay area with a steam cleaner (your own or at a car wash) or an engine cleaner spray. Clean the battery and replace oil and other mechanical fluids (smart buyers look for fresh fluids). Be careful not to get any water on electrical components.

Don’t forget the paperwork

Have your registration papers and roadworthy certificate (if required) ready to show the buyer. If you still owe money on it, contact your lender and follow their process to pay out the loan.

Have a bill of sale ready, including all your information (name, address, phone number, vehicle identification number, vehicle model, make and year). Leave a space for the odometer reading at the time of sale and the buyer’s details. Your best option is to specify that the vehicle is being sold in “as is” condition with a long registration and a roadworthy certificate, which gives the buyer the peace of mind they’re buying a sound car.

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Author Bio:

This article is written by Ross Vasse.

Ross Vasse is the author of Car Hunters: The Best Trade Secrets Revealed and compiles the Complete Classic Car Value Guide annually. He is a founding partner of Survivor Car Australia magazine, and performs duties as an ‘expert witness’ in appraising and valuing motor vehicles Australia wide.

He’s has had a lifetime of experience around cars, learning the trade secrets that others in the car industry do not want you to know.


Insurance is issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 trading as Suncorp Insurance. Information provided is general advice only and has been prepared without taking into account any person's particular objectives, financial situation or needs. Please read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before making any decision regarding this product.

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