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During my time on this planet, I’ve bought (and sold) over 30 vehicles, equating to about one per year. As a result, I know what it takes to get a car spiffed up to increase its resale or trade-in value. 

With Labor Day weekend fast approaching, now is the perfect time to start thinking about selling or trading in your current vehicle and purchasing a new one. The end of summer marks the time of year when dealerships clear out existing inventory to make way for next year’s models. 

COVID-19 hasn’t limited the number of deals available to car shoppers, either. There are plenty of bargains to be had, according to CarsDirect, which notes that several automakers⁠—including Chevy, Ford, and Nissan⁠—plan to offer rebates and incentives during the holiday. 

Before you go shopping, though, you need to get ready to trade-in or sell your current ride. And we’ve got some information to help you do just that.

wiping a new car after washing
It’s smart to put some elbow grease into your car before selling it.

8 Ways to Spiff Up Your Car and Boost its Resale Value

Balance is key when it comes to reconditioning your car for resale. If you spend too much money fixing your vehicle up, you won’t recoup your funds during the sale or trade. 

Plus, not all buyers are going to look over a car in detail. Although some shoppers will want to take the car to a mechanic for a professional inspection, others won’t even bother to pop the hood. And with the latter, any reconditioning you do to the mechanical bits will go unnoticed and unappreciated. 

Dealership managers and appraisers operate in a similar fashion. Some thoroughly inspect trade-ins—others only do a quick walk around. 

Still, because you never know whether you’re going to get someone who’s a stickler for details, it’s smart to put some elbow grease into your car before selling it. 

Here are eight steps you can take to ensure your car is prepped and ready for primetime:

Make sure the fluids are full and clean

Even the typical layperson will pull out the engine oil dipstick and give it a quick glance. They may also check other accessible fluids, such as the brake fluid, transmission oil (if there’s a dipstick), and coolant. 

That’s why it’s smart to check all of the accessible fluids to make sure they’re full and reasonably clean. Top off as needed, and consider changing any fluids that are long overdue for service. 

Wash and detail the interior and exterior 

Layers of bird droppings and tree sap can make even the nicest car look like a jalopy. So, before putting your car on the market, be sure to give the exterior a good wash. Consider detailing the outside with a clay bar, polish, and wax, as well.  

And don’t forget about the interior. Sprucing up your car’s cabin—and sanitizing it to prevent the spread of COVID-19⁠—is a must. To learn more, check out our article on cleaning and disinfecting your car’s interior.  

Check maintenance items for wear

Some car parts are considered maintenance items because they’re expected to wear out eventually. For example, your car’s wiper blades have a life expectancy of around six months to a year. The battery should last three to five years, on average. 

Even though maintenance items aren’t designed to last forever, when they’re worn out, it can seem like you don’t care for your car. To avoid potential buyers making that unflattering assumption, take a peek at your car’s visible maintenance items⁠—then fix anything that’s damaged and also relatively cheap to replace. 

man replacing wiper blades on car
Your car’s wiper blades have a life expectancy of around six months to a year.

For instance, in addition to the wipers, you might want to take a look at the exterior lights, the tires, and the brakes. The battery is also important. A worn-out battery can prevent your car from starting, which (obviously) can be a turn off to potential buyers. 

But keep in mind: If you’re selling your car, you don’t want to waste money on something as expensive as a new set of tires. Knowing the tires are worn out can help you calculate the value of your car, though. 

Fix any known problems (or adjust your asking price as needed)

If you’re selling a car outright, don’t be that person who tries to hide known problems from unwitting buyers. Fix any known issues⁠—if it’s cheap enough to do so. 

For instance, if one of the ignition coils needs replacement, purchasing the part should be fairly affordable. And if you have sufficient DIY skills, you can even swap out the faulty coil on your own (which saves you from having to pay someone else to do it).

On the other hand, some repairs will definitely cost you more—such as in the case of a bad catalytic converter that needs replacement. If repairing the car doesn’t make financial sense, disclose any problems to the potential buyer, and adjust the asking price as needed.

Good karma is worth a lot more than having a few extra bucks in your pocket. 

car air freshener on airconditioning vent
Follow up with an air freshener (or two) to keep your ride factory-fresh. 

Get rid of any funky smells

A car that reeks of fast food and cigarettes is a huge turnoff. Get rid of any funky smells by thoroughly cleaning your car’s interior. Then, follow up with an air freshener (or two) to keep your ride factory-fresh. 

Clean the headlights

Yellow, oxidized headlights are undeniably hideous. But the good news is, you can clean your headlights and restore them to their former glory (at least temporarily). Having a set of crystal clear headlights will make your car more desirable. 

And guess what? We have an entire article dedicated to headlight cleaning methods

With a little work, you can get your headlights looking like new again. 

Determine your car’s estimated value

By this point, you should have an idea of the condition of your car. Head over to a vehicle valuation website, such as Kelly Blue Book or KBB.com, to get an idea of your vehicle’s value. 

Before Kelly Blue Book’s value estimator tool spits out a number, it allows you to input your car’s condition. That way, you can account for any flaws your vehicle may have. 

Then, you can adjust the asking price as needed. 

Make sure you have the title and other important documents

Several years ago, I made the mistake of trying to sell a car without locating the title first. Consequently, I couldn’t sell the vehicle to the person who came to buy it. In the end, it took me months to retrieve the title, which had gotten lost in the infamous California DMV system. 

So, before you go to sell your vehicle or trade it in, be sure you have all of the important documents on hand. If you own your car outright, you’ll want to be sure you have the title in your possession. 

You may also want to have the maintenance records and registration ready. 


All of the elbow grease you put into cleaning up your existing car will be worth it once you take the keys to your shiny new ride…. there’s nothing quite like that new car smell. 

Are you planning on getting a new (or new-to-you) car within the next couple of months? Tell us about it in the comment section below! 

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic.

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Nikola Azaric

How can I find air filter housing for my FORD engine 7.5 l , 8 cil, 1993…?

CarParts.com

Hi Nikola,

Unfortunately, we do not carry the air filter housing for your vehicle at this time. Your best bet would be a used housing from either eBay or a local junkyard.

-Mia, Chief Mechanic @ CarParts.com

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