Vacuum top to bottom


A clean vehicle is a sign of a well-cared-for-vehicle. You can’t spend enough time vacuuming and cleaning the interior. Cotton swabs are ideal for getting dust out of tight spots and air vents. Use lint-free towels or cloth diapers and clean water to wipe down the dash and console area. A stiff-bristled brush will help to get dirt out of the carpet. For stubborn stains, use a small amount of carpet cleaner, but don’t over-saturate the carpet. Make sure the carpet is completely dry before closing up the vehicle.


Make it wheel clean


The wheels are often forgotten but what a difference they can make to the appearance of your vehicle. Dealers will take note of the condition of your wheels, so make sure they’re clean and in good shape. Front wheels usually will look dirtier, because of an accumulation of brake dust from the disc brakes. Several car cleaning products help remove brake dust, but choose the right product for your type of wheel or wheel cover because there are different products for alloy wheels and plastic wheel covers.


Tires and treads



Your tires should be in good condition and have a reasonable amount of tread remaining; otherwise you may want to consider replacing them. Swap out a full-size spare if you have one that’s in better condition. It’s smart to apply one of the spray-on tire protectants found in most auto parts stores. These formulas revitalize the rubber and leave even war-torn tires looking showroom new.


It’s all in the details


You may want to have your vehicle professionally detailed. The $100 to $300 expense can add significantly more to the trade-in price a dealer may offer. You also should inquire whether the detailing shop can steam clean the engine compartment. To find a reputable detailing shop, call the service department at your dealership to see whom they use for their detailing work.


Inoperative parts and emission standards

It’s relatively easy to replace a broken headlight or a cracked lens on a taillight or turn signal. These types of obvious damage can detract significantly from the value of the vehicle and because they’re inexpensive to remedy, it’s best to have them fixed in advance. Also be sure you can produce a current and valid emissions standards document stating that your vehicle complies with local environmental regulations


Have minor body damage repaired

Depending on the extent of the body damage, you may want to have minor dents and dings repaired by a paintless dent repair professional. They also can airbrush small scratches and chips to eliminate the minor imperfections in your car’s exterior. For more extensive body damage, you may want to get a written repair estimate and use this as part of your negotiations.


Repair or replace a cracked windshield


If your windshield has a chip or crack, it may be repairable you should get it fixed or have the windshield replaced. This is something a dealer will have to fix due to the liability of selling the vehicle to another customer. If you’re not sure whether the crack is significant enough to warrant a complete replacement, have a windshield repair shop evaluate whether the crack can be economically repaired.


Pull together copies of all your service records


A complete set of service records will show that you took care of the vehicle and provided the proper scheduled maintenance. This will help increase the trade-in offer if the dealer knows that the vehicle was properly maintained. If you’ve had all your service work performed at the dealership, the records should be in the service department’s computer system and you can ask for a printout of all service work performed. If you carry and Added Security Extended Warranty, present this to your dealer. This policy may be transferable and can add to the current value of your trade in.


Many factors will determine how much a dealer can offer for your trade-in, such as blue book value, mileage and vehicle popularity, but the condition and cosmetic appearance of your vehicle is something you can affect. Service records will demonstrate to a dealer that the vehicle was maintained properly, but absent a complete set of service records, the cosmetic appearance will be a significant factor in determining how much you get for your trade-in.


Lease or purchase a new car? For help, see Should I Lease or Purchase?

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