Although situations vary, you generally don’t want to do repairs that cost more than 10 percent of the car’s value, says Kimberlea Buczeke of RepairPal.com, a website with a calculator that estimates repair prices based on your location and age, make and model your vehicle.
In most cases, new brakes or tires don’t make much of a difference in the price you get. But it makes sense to focus on visible maintenance issues, she says. They should replace broken taillights and burned out lightbulbs. If the “Check Engine” light or other dashboard warning lights come on, fix the problem before attempting to sell the car.
In addition, further repairs can be useful. Body shops can often remove minor dents at a reasonable cost. Missing or damaged hubcaps can also be replaced online inexpensively, and using carefully matched touch-up paint on minor scratches can do wonders.
Above all, be honest with your potential buyer about the condition of the car. While private sales are usually “as is,” the last thing you want is a dissatisfied buyer claiming you misled them. In most states, you are at least required to tell the buyer if the car was salvaged, rebuilt, or damaged in a flood. (Remember, a buyer can learn a lot about your car’s background by purchasing a vehicle history report online.)
Consider small upgrades
A few minor upgrades — most under $20 — can make a big difference, says JR Duren, personal finance expert at HighYa.com. Dirty or worn floor mats can be replaced inexpensively. Also invest in new seat or steering wheel covers if yours are stained, faded or cracked. “You’ll be amazed at how many little things you can get done if you spend $20 or less on each upgrade,” says Duren.
Keep your documents handy
Vehicle condition aside, the sale price of a car may depend on your records.
Most importantly, you have the title in your hands. When you’ve financed and paid off the car, have the lien release ready as well. Also read the title carefully before signing it to the buyer. Each state’s procedures are slightly different, and if you make a mistake, additional forms may be required to correct it.
If you have any, bring receipts and detailed records of all oil changes and maintenance, which can allay a buyer’s fears – and increase your selling price. And if you’ve had an accident or had extensive work done on the vehicle, keep those records handy as well.