How to Prep a Used Car Before You List It for Sale

Clean cars are worth more.

Gloved hand cleaning car inside with clothShutterstock

There’s no trick to getting your car ready to sell, just a bit of organization and some elbow grease. Below we’ll walk you through the steps to prepare your car for sale, including removing your belongings, giving the car a good wash, collecting all of its extra parts and pieces, and getting your paperwork in order. You should be able to knock this out in a weekend. And when you’re done, you’ll have a clean, presentable car ready to pull top dollar.

Clear It Out, Clean It Up

The first thing we recommend is to remove everything (and we mean everything) from the car that isn’t bolted down. Empty the glovebox, center console, seatback pockets, and any cubbies. Pull out the floor mats and check for anything that may have slipped under the seats. Don’t forget to remove toll tags, transmitters, and any gear you aren’t including in the sale, such as roof racks, car seats, and pet accessories.

Once you’ve emptied the car, give it a good cleaning inside and out, or pay someone to do it for you. A decent detail job will run a couple of hundred dollars and up depending on the size of the car and mess. Mobile detailers will come to you, saving you that much more time and hassle.

A thorough job starts with an exterior wash, top to bottom, paying attention to the wheels and any shiny trim. Then turn to the interior; vacuum the seats and carpet, tend to any stains with upholstery cleaner, wipe down the dash and any hard surfaces with a microfiber (and interior spray, ideally), and clean the glass inside and out. Pull stickers from the windows, using a razor blade if needed and alcohol or an adhesive remover like Goo Gone to clean up any remnants. You’ll want to remove bumper stickers as well, but skip the razor and make sure any chemicals you use are safe for paint. Warming the sticker with a hair dryer can also help soften the adhesive.

Once everything is to your satisfaction, put the owner’s manual back in the glovebox along with your insurance and registration, if you plan to drive the car again before you sell it.

A little digital housekeeping may also be in order. Unpair your phone from the car and remove stored contacts, erase the memory of built-in garage door openers, delete saved addresses in the navigation information, and log out of any accounts associated with the vehicle.

Gather Parts, Pieces, and Paperwork

When you bought your car, it probably came with an extra set of keys. Assuming you can find them (hello, junk drawer), you’ll want to reunite them with their friends and make sure all remotes function properly, replacing batteries as necessary.

Now it’s time to hunt for the car’s various accessories that have wandered off for one reason or another. This includes cargo covers, front license-plate mounts, that extra set of floor mats, wheel locks, and all the things hiding in your closet or basement that you won’t have any use for once the car is gone.

It’s hard to sell a car without the title, so track that down along with the lien release or loan information from your bank. While you’re digging through files, grab your maintenance records and put them in chronological order for easy review. Due for an oil change? Get that done before listing the car for sale and add the paperwork to the stack. It’ll show potential buyers you’re on top of things and give them one less thing to worry about. And if you want to be really nice, fill the washer-fluid reservoir and top off any other fluids that are low.

Finally, you may want to do a little research. Consider purchasing a vehicle history report from Carfax or AutoCheck to show prospective buyers, and check your car’s estimated value on sites like Kelley Blue Book or National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). Congratulations, you’re ready to sell your car.

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David Gluckman
David Gluckman has over a decade of experience as a writer and editor for print and digital automotive publications. He can parallel park a school bus, has a spreadsheet listing every vehicle he’s ever tested, and once drove a Lincoln Town Car 63 mph in reverse. When David’s not searching for the perfect used car, you can find him sampling the latest gimmicky foodstuffs that America has to offer.