Get More for Your Car

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Selling your car? We've got five tips to help you fetch top dollar.

Car salesmen have a reputation for being slick operators. That might make you a bit uncomfortable when buying a car — but when it comes to selling one, it pays to take a lesson or two from the pros.

For most folks, the goal is to get the car's full value — as quoted by the bible of used-car appraisals, Kelley Blue Book. Be warned: It isn't easy. Everything from the frequency of your oil changes to your smoking habits can affect your car's resale value.

You also need to be on your toes when trading in your old car for a new one. No matter what, approach the buying and financing of the new car and the selling of your old one as three separate transactions. Too many moving parts may make it harder to determine if you're really getting a good deal, warns Charlie Vogelheim, executive editor of Kelley Blue Book. For example, a sneaky salesman could get you so focused on the monthly payment for a new car that you don't realize how little he's giving you for the trade-in.

Here are some additional tips on getting the best price for your used car.

1. Take Good Care of Your Car
If you do only one thing to preserve your vehicle's value, make sure you properly maintain it. That means following all service recommendations in the owner's manual — from changing the oil filters to the timing belts. In fact, if you don't complete all required maintenance, you could void the car's warranty. (Missing an oil change won't trigger this, but more serious stuff could.) And a car that's sold while still under warranty is likely to fetch a better price than one that isn't.

It doesn't matter where you get the service done. You just need to be able to prove that it was done. So make sure you keep a maintenance log from the service department of the dealership. And if you took your vehicle to your local mechanic instead, hang on to all of your receipts. "If you can show the documents, it speaks volumes about your entire attitude about your car," says Kelley Blue Book's Vogelheim.

2. Keep It Shiny
As in other corners of life, first impressions matter. That's why it's crucial that you lovingly care for the exterior of your car. Washing it regularly and waxing it once or twice a year will preserve that shiny finish. When possible, try to hand wash your vehicle. If that's not an option, look for an automatic car wash with a "touchless system," which just sprays the car without physically brushing it, says Brian Moody, an auto expert with

How often you need to wash your car depends on where you live. Under normal conditions, every couple of weeks is usually sufficient. But if you live where it snows, it's crucial you rid your vehicle of salt as soon as possible. The same goes for acid rain. Both elements will eat away at the paint job.

3. Sell It on Your Own
The folks at Kelley Blue Book and agree: If you want to get the highest price for your vehicle, sell it on the private market. In some cases, you could get a couple of thousand dollars more for your car if you sell it on your own vs. trading it in at a dealership, says Moody. For example, estimates that a 1999 BMW 328i sedan would sell for $17,871 on the private market, but an owner would only get $15,913 if it were traded in at a dealership. Remember, the dealer needs to leave enough room in the price to recondition the car and still be able to turn around and make a profit.

If you do decide to go it alone, try using a listing service. Two of the largest are and eBay. Otherwise, consider going the old-fashioned route and take out a classified ad in your local newspaper. To figure out how much your car is worth, click on's Used Car Appraiser or Kelley Blue Book's Values.

If you can't be bothered with trying to sell your vehicle on your own, try to sell your car to a dealer that specializes in your car's brand. A Saab dealer, for example, is more likely to give you a good price for your old Saab than a Ford dealer since it will be easier to turn around and resell the car.

4. Keep It Clean
A car will show better if you remove all the candy wrappers from the back seat and the golf clubs from the trunk. If you're selling it on the private market, you should also spend the money to replace a cracked windshield and headlight lamp cover, says Vogelheim. These relatively cheap repairs will make your car far more attractive to a buyer.

If you plan on trading it in or selling to another dealership, however, you probably don't need to bother banging out the little dings, says Kelly Blue Book's Vogelheim. Dealers know that it's cheaper for them to make the repairs than it is for you to do so, and they'll need to recondition the vehicle anyway.

5. Buy a Car With Broad Market Appeal
When you're buying a car, think about its potential resale value. Fact is, some automobiles hold up better than others. According to auto experts, Japanese cars tend to maintain their value more than European or American models.

A vehicle with broad popularity is also likely to command the most money. That means buying a vehicle with standard features in a pleasing color. When possible, select a four-door sedan, an automatic transmission and a common paint color, such as white. Black, on the other hand, is very unpopular in warm climates like Arizona and Florida and also tends to show more etching from automatic car washes.

As a general rule, the more you personalize a vehicle, the less it will appeal to others, says Vogelheim. But there are some extras worth paying for. If you're buying a minivan or SUV, spring for the third row of seats, if available, says's Moody. Large families looking to save money on a used car will flock to these vehicles. And if you're buying an upscale vehicle, pay for the premium wheels and sound system.