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Should I fix my car or sell it as is? Fixing your car before you sell it might fetch a better price, but will it be worth the investment? That’s what you should consider when weighing up car selling hacks.

From the moment you drive your car off the lot, it starts to depreciate. However, for the initial three years, the smart used car buyer enjoys a “sweet spot”. Since the car has already experienced that initial drop in value, there’s an opportunity to trade it in before it experiences another depreciation at the four-year mark. If you’ve already surpassed that time-frame, you might consider selling your car privately, and that’s where this car selling hack comes in. The premise of this car selling hack is really simple: Fix your car before you sell it. 

Yes, it sounds like a no-brainer, but still warrants some consideration. Ultimately, there are several issues to weigh up when making the decision of whether to fix your car before selling it or trading it in. It is quite obvious that the private sale and trade-in value will be higher when the car is in a good condition. However, how do you gauge just how much work to put into fixing your car to get the best return on your investment?

Fixing vs. Selling: Should I fix my car or sell it as is?

Before spending too much money on fixing your car, ask yourself the following question: Is the car worth fixing, or should I sell it as is?

Car problems tend to cause unnecessary aggravation and cost money. There could be a variety of causes for the problems your car could present, including:

  1. Lack of basic maintenance
  2. Manufacturer’s defects
  3. Accident damage, and
  4. Bad luck.

Either way, it’s important to know the cause of the issue and whether fixing your car before selling it is worthwhile, or whether selling it as is is better. It’s not unheard of that repairs can sometimes exceed the value of the car. In that case, it’s important to know the current value of the vehicle in its damaged state, and sell your car as is – perhaps to someone who can use its salvaged parts.

To determine whether the car is worth fixing before you sell it, take into account the repair bill. If the cost of labor and parts exceed the value of the car, you know right away that it’s not worth your while. In that case, sell it as is. 

How do I know if my car has serious problems?

This car selling hack is not worth your while if the car has major issues, such as those that may lead to severe engine problems and a blown motor. Most of these problems start as small niggles, and don’t usually show signs of immediate damage. However, if you don’t have it seen to, it can cause expensive damages and possibly a blown engine. Some signs of severe engine problems include:

  1. Smoke from the exhaust pipes or noticeable smells – It’s normal for cars to emit some fumes, but there should not be noticeable smoke or smells. White smoke could indicate that antifreeze and water might be leaking into the engine and mixing with the fuel due to a bad head gasket. Left unattended, a damaged head gasket could cause your car to overheat and blow the engine. Dark smoke indicates that there’s oil mixing with your fuel due to damaged, worn, or loose components under the hood.
  2. Strange sounds (clanking, knocking, or tapping) – These sounds usually indicate issues with the timing belt or chain. Left unattended, it could cause your engine to lose its timing and blow the engine when all the mechanical components start to warp.
  3. Warning lights (check engine, low oil level, low oil pressure) – When your instrument panel starts to light up like an 80s disco, it could mean that there’s an oil leak, or that oil is leaking into the combustion chamber. This usually happens when a piston ring is damaged.
  4. Jerking while driving – When your vehicle’s fuel system misfires, it typically leads to jerking motions when you drive. Why? Because the vehicle is not receiving enough fuel to function properly and indicates an issue with the fuel system. Likely culprits include a clogged fuel line, a bad fuel pump, or worn spark plugs. Left unattended, it could lead to internal engine damage and the engine could stop working.
  5. A blown transmission is another common issue with used cars. Signs that you need to fix your car because of a bad transmission include grinding sounds, warning lights, strange smells, and a slipping transmission.
  6. Damage to a frame often happens when a car is involved in an accident. Although it can be repaired to its original state, it may not be safe to drive. Most vehicles (excluding pickup trucks) have unibody frames that wrap around the car, holding it together in the event of an accident. Repairing the structural frame can easily exceed the value of the car. Another accidental damage that occurs, is when the airbags have been deployed. In most cases, insurance companies will declare cars with deployed airbags a total loss and put it up for salvage auction, as it costs more than $1000 to repair one airbag.

Can I Sell a Damaged Car? 

You may still sell your damaged car, provided you are honest with the buyer. Perhaps you get much less than $5000 for it, but that can go towards a new car. 

The good news – and the crux of this car selling hack – is that not all car problems are a huge issue. In many cases, small maintenance and quick repair tasks can truly enhance the perceived value of your vehicle in the eyes of your potential buyer. 

What car issues can I fix without a mechanic?

If you’ve been taking good care of your car, and took it for regular maintenance services, it should be in reasonable condition. Yet, over time, wear and tear can result in some things being damaged and in need of replacement. Here are some of the things you can do to get your car in tip-top shape before selling it:

  1. Take your car for a full maintenance service (unless you plan to sell it for parts) – Being able to show a full-service history increases the value of the car by up to 20%, even if the body and engine may show signs of age. However, the service center will check everything from the electrics to the tires and everything in between that shows that it is mechanically sound.
  2. Undertake minor repairs, if you’re selling the car as is. Some of the things to look at include:
    • Belts – Replacing squealing belts, most notably the serpentine belt, will give the potential buyer a good test-driving experience.
    • Brakes – If you hear a grinding sound when you brake, it may be a good idea to replace the rotor and or pads on the brakes. 
    • Alternator – This part generates your car’s electric power and charges your battery. It’s quite easy to replace or repair an alternator and parts are readily available from most auto shops.
    • Battery – If your car battery won’t recharge or if your car doesn’t crank or start when you turn the ignition, it is time to replace it. If you don’t have a battery testing kit, you can usually have it checked for free at a local auto shop. 
    • Headlamps and headlights – Replace any failing headlamps, and clean out foggy headlights. 
    • Refill or change fluids, including for the windshield washer reservoir, oil, and water.
  3. If you have a luxury car and some money to invest in getting the best possible price, there are a few car selling hacks that can secure the best possible price:
    • Buy a new set of mats for the interior.
    • Repair any damage to alloy wheels.
    • Use your insurance allowance to get small windscreen chips repaired.
    • Invest in a touch-up kit for small dings and scratches.
  4. Wash and detail the car. Remember, first impressions matter, so:
    • Wash and wax the exterior.
    • Remove any trash and personal belongings from the interior.
    • Detail the inside – wash the rugs, clean inside door jambs using a toothbrush and treat the vinyl, leather, and plastic areas with suitable chemicals.
    • Install an air freshener. 
fix your car

There are many places to sell a car, and you don’t have to limit yourself to a local market. As a final car selling hack to seal the deal, offer to have the car shipped if the buyer is from out of state. You could always add the cost of car shipping – or at least a part of it – to the sales price.