There’s nothing like buying a new car – or at least one that’s new to you.
But before you do that, you have to ask yourself: what do you do with your current vehicle?
Most people will try to sell their car, either through a third party like CarMax or on their own. Places like CarMax will typically offer you a certain amount of money and be done with it, but if you’re listing it on your own you have some wiggle room for negotiation with the buyer.
In either case, there are some obvious things that will affect your car's resale value, like the age, the condition, and the mileage. But there are a few things you can do to make sure you get the most money possible for your old car to put toward your new vehicle.
Have the right car
One thing you can do to get the most bang for your resale buck is to have a vehicle that people are actually willing to pay for. Obviously, this requires a little long-term thinking – you have to have resale value in mind when you buy your car in the first place – but if recouping some of the cost is important, you’ll need to think about it.
For example, Kelley Blue Book annually publishes a list of the cars with the best resale value. If you’re thinking of what your resale value will be in five or ten years, limit your choices to this list so you have an idea of what you can expect.
Or think about what the most popular used vehicles are. According to a recent survey, the Ford F-150 was the most popular used car in 36 states. You shouldn’t buy a truck if it won’t fit your needs or price point solely for its eventual resale potential, but if you’re in the market for a bigger vehicle anyway, maybe this bumps the F-150 to the top of your list.
You should also consider what features your car has when you buy it. Neutral colors like silver, white, and black are the most popular car colors, so you’re more likely to get a good deal when you resell than if you have, say, a yellow car, which isn’t in as high of demand.
Along those same lines, automatic transmission is more popular than manual transmission, except for in a few cases like high-end sports cars. Most people aren’t likely to pay more for manual transmission, so if your vehicle is automatic you already have a leg up.
Leather interior and a sunroof can also increase the value of your car, but it’ll depend on the vehicle. High-end cars might be expected to have a leather interior, so that’s not really an additional selling point, but it’ll add more value to a car where it’s considered a luxury.
Make the easy fixes
There are a lot of ways for people to buy used vehicles, so you need to give yourself every advantage you can. Making small, easy fixes can go a long way in convincing buyers you’ve cared for your vehicle and are willing to make the transaction as easy as possible.
Have a blinker or a headlight out? Spend a few bucks on a replacement bulb and you won’t have to deal with them wondering, "Is it really just the bulb, or is there some sort of electrical issue with the car? Maybe I should look somewhere else. Thanks, I’ll be in touch."
But they won’t be in touch, and you just lost out on a sale because you couldn’t be bothered to go to Advance Auto Parts and pay six dollars for a new taillight.
The same thing goes for windshield wipers, brakes, tires, and anything else that takes a minimal investment of time and money to fix. Sure, the buyer could also invest a little time and money, but you’re the one trying to sell the car. Why include unnecessary friction in the process?
Mind the aesthetics
You might think of your car as "gently loved" but a potential buyer will just see wear and tear. Make sure your car looks good before you put it on the market.
If your windshield has chips or cracks, get them taken care of. You can buy kits to repair smaller cracks yourself, but you may need a professional service to get it done. If that’s the case, find out if your insurance will help pay for it; it could reduce the cost of the repair by quite a bit.
Small dents or scratches you can probably handle yourself, too, although major body issues will probably require a professional. If you’re able to, look into getting your car detailed. This goes beyond just a wash and helps restore and protect your paint, wheels, and lights. If you get the interior done, it usually comes with a steam cleaning or shampoo. Most detailing packages are under $200.
A new coat of paint never hurts, either, but t can cost a lot more than a detailing – up to $2,000 in some cases – and remember to stick with a popular color and not something like metallic lime green. And if you can’t swing that, a simple waxing can brighten up your car for a lot less money.
You can do a lot to maintain your car over its life (or at least its life with you) so it’s in tiptop shape when you’re ready to sell.
Regular maintenance of your vehicle is important to keep it running smoothly. Oil changes at recommended mileage will prevent a lot of damage on your engine. Balancing and rotating your tires keeps wheel bearings and your suspension in good shape. These small tweaks over the years could mean avoiding large and expensive repairs – and gives potential buyers one less reason to avoid purchasing your vehicle.
Keeping maintenance records adds even greater peace of mind. If you can prove that the car is in good shape, you have a better chance of maintaining your asking price. Even going as far as having a CarFax or other vehicle history report on hand can be helpful and will show that you’re serious about showing a quality product and you aren’t trying to pull one over on anyone.
Bells and whistles
It can be fun to add extras to your car after you buy it. Everything from rims to satellite radio to Bluetooth connectivity to remote start systems let you customize your car and make it your own.
And you might think that these little extras can boost the resale value of your car. After all, who doesn’t want heated seats, right?
Sometimes they can help out, but other times they won’t make a difference. There are a few ways adding aftermarket parts can backfire on you (at least when it comes to reselling your car – if you enjoy the add-ons while you own the vehicle, more power to you!).
First, know your audience. If you’re reselling a minivan, a buyer might like the idea of a DVD system to keep kids entertained, but spinners probably won’t be a huge selling point. A navigation system might not matter either considering every smartphone comes equipped with a GPS these days.
You also might not recoup your cost. Adding a couple of thousand dollars of extras might let you raise your asking price by a few hundred bucks, but they probably won’t pay for themselves. Again, if you’re installing a remote startup because you like the idea of not having to sit in your car while it’s warming up, that’s one thing, but if you’re installing it with an eye on the resale value, you’ll likely be disappointed.
Finally, some alterations, like messing with your suspension, can void the manufacturer’s warranty, making it less attractive to buy because it offers less protection for the buyer.
Remember: just because you like something doesn’t mean everyone else (or anyone else) will. Installing a hot tub into the back of a car ensures that the market for the vehicle is going to be very, very limited, so don’t bank on your personal tastes bringing in big bucks.
In the end, you’ll need to make a financial decision for yourself about how much you’re willing to accept for your vehicle. But if you follow the tips above, you’ll be able to increase your car’s resale value – and be that much closer to buying your new vehicle.