Get Your Used Car in Shape... To Sell! (part 3)

February 11, 2010

If you have been following along in the series, you now know that preparing your car for selling is a big part of actual being able to sell it.  New car sales are down, but used car sales are up.  However, the competition is fierce, so you need to put on your game face and learn to think like a used car buyer.  Thats what getting your used car ready to sell is really all about.

Used car buyers want to find a car that is cared for, properly maintained, and properly serviced per the manufacturer's recommendations.  In other words, they want a car that's in good order.  Not perfect, just in good order.

The easiest way to impress on a buyer that your car is perfectly in order is to present a clean, well maintained vehicle with the original keys, the factory owner's manual, and all maintenance and service documentation.  It's that easy.

Rate Your Own Used Car's Value

Kelley Blue BookPart of successfully selling your used car is knowing its true value.  Not its value to you, but its value to buyers.  To get this information, you need to understand how the used car buying and selling industry valuates used cars.

In most cases, buyers and sellers alike use the information published by Kelly Blue Book (KBB).  The "Blue Book" value of any automobile is based on a condition grade of poor, fair, good or excellent.  The value difference between a car (less than five years old) thats in fair condition, and the same automobile in good condition is typically $1,000 or more.

What does all of this mean to you?  A good rule of thumb that I like to suggest is to spend $100 so you can make $1,000.  By following this rule, you'll make your used car sell faster and at the best price possible.  Right now we are in a buyers market, not a sellers market, so you need to make your used car as perfect as possible without spending more money than you can get back.  So, make wise spending decisions.

Here's how Kelly Blue Book defines used car condition:

Excellent (less than 5% of all used cars fall into this category):

  • Looks new, is in excellent mechanical condition and needs no reconditioning.
  • Never had any paint or body work and is free of rust.
  • Clean title history and will pass a smog and safety inspection.
  • Engine compartment is clean, with no fluid leaks and is free of any wear or visible defects. Complete and verifiable service records.

Good (most consumer owned vehicles fall into this category):
  • Free of any major defects.
  • Clean title history, the paints, body, and interior have only minor (if any) blemishes, and there are no major mechanical problems.
  • Little or no rust on this vehicle.
  • Tires match and have substantial tread wear left. A "good" vehicle will need some reconditioning to be sold at retail.

  • Some mechanical or cosmetic defects and needs servicing but is still in reasonable running condition.
  • Clean title history, the paint, body and/or interior need work performed by a professional.
  • Tires may need to be replaced.
  • There may be some repairable rust damage.


  • Severe mechanical and/or cosmetic defects and is in poor running condition.
  • May have problems that cannot be readily fixed such as a damaged frame or a rusted-through body.
  • Branded title (salvage, flood, etc.) or unsubstantiated mileage.
If you tracked with those five Kelley Blue Book valuation categories, you now have to come to grips with where your car falls.  If your car is anything less than truly excellent, you will need to decide if its possible to bring it up a level or two by investing a little time and money.  Thats what Part 4 is all about.  In Part 4 we will go through my comprehensive 30 point inspection and task list.

David Bynon is an automotive industry blogger, online community builder, computer science author, and co-author of multiple patents for car care products.  Founder and former owner of the Autopia forum, Bynon loves finely detailed vehicles of all makes and vintage.  You can tune-in to his blog at or follow him on

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