Prepping a Car for Dealership Sale – Cosmetic Condition


So far we’ve talked about some general rules for prepping a car for sale generally and gone into some specifics about consumable parts. Today let’s get into the specifics about the cosmetic condition your vehicles should be in when selling them.


I was looking at one of our dealers websites the other day and I saw a car that on the outside, the bumper was clearly falling off and was held on by some sort of cord and the car was in desperate need of a bath. It was clearly rained on. On the inside there was dirt in the carpets and the tint was peeling off. This was on a car for sale around $10,000. I don’t have the specifics, but I don’t imagine they’ve got a lot of calls on that car from AutoTrader, Craigslist, their website, or any other sources (the same pictures were on all of these sources).


At most price points, including the bargain barrel below $5,000 cars, looks matter. That’s not to say a 1991 Toyota Tercel has to have perfect paint being sold for $2000, In fact I’d expect it to be oxidized. The point is, there has to be a cost/benefit analysis for all decisions about prepping a car to sell. There are still things that can be done to every vehicle to make them more enticing to a potential buyer.


First and foremost, every car, and I mean every car, should be washed and vacuumed. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen a lot of dealers who don’t do it. Not only that, they should be washed and vacuumed regularly. If it is on your lot more than a week, wash it again. The first wash should be pretty intensive. Scrub the paint, get every crumb out of the carpets, wash the windows inside and out, etc. Along with washing, make sure all the dash and door surface have been cleaned and are stain free. Make sure the interior stays regularly dusted.  The subsequent washes can be just quick rinses with a hose and towel. If your lot has enough vehicles, it may be worth hiring a lot hand for this job. If you have a smaller lot this is a job that can be contracted out to a mobile car wash company. You may even be able to work a deal with a local car wash to give you a discount in exchange for the volume of cars you bring in. Either way you handle it, wash your cars and wash them regularly. A dirty car will immediately put a potential buyer on guard about it.


Next, let’s talk about detailing. Detailing is kind of a catch all term these days that can define any number of services beyond just washing a car. Let’s talk about a few of the major things included in detailing and why they may or may not be worth it for the cars on your lot.


Buffing is one of the most expensive pieces in a detailing job, it can also be one of the most beneficial. Buffing by itself generally costs around $100-$200. Buffing is basically the process of stripping the top layer of clearcoat off of a cars paint. This can remove mild to moderate oxidation, surface scratches, swirl marks, spiderwebs, and more. It’s really amazing how much a good buffing can do for a cars paint. This is not something, however, that you’ll want to try to tackle yourself or try to save a few bucks on by finding someone to do it cheap. A bad buffing job can have the opposite of the intended effect if it’s done by someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. Paint can be stripped, swirl marks can be added, and the paint can even be scratched. This is not one to skimp on, but if the paint could use a little boost, this is a great way to add some value.


Next up is polishing. Polishing is a process that most people confuse with waxing. A car should always be polished (and waxed for that matter, but we’ll get to that later) after buffing. Polishing a cars paint looks very similar to buffing, but with a much less abrasive compound. This is one that you can try yourself, though it is a very labor intensive and time consuming process. Unless you have a paint job that’s just slightly dull, this one may not be worth it. This is not a miracle worker by any means, but it can make a paint job pop a bit more in your showroom.


Finally, for the exterior detailing, comes waxing. Waxing is oft misunderstood. As i said previously, a lot of people confuse polishing with waxing. Waxing will not visibly change the vehicle. Waxing a vehicle just puts a protective layer between the vehicles paint and the harsh world around it. Like polishing, this can be done yourself, though it is a time consuming process and may be more cost effective to let a professional do it. You should definitely wax after buffing or polishing. Any other times, it’s a nice thing to do but not at all necessary and may not be worth the money spent. This is not something that has the potential to increase the value of your vehicle.


If the vehicle has oxidized headlights or taillights, the fix is shockingly easy, and definitely worth it. There are countless home headlight repair kits that can be picked up for around $20 that can repair 5 or so sets of headlights. I’d pick up one of the more intensive ones like the 3M kit. Less than an hour of work can have headlights looking like new. Often times too, a detailer will throw in headlight refinishing for cheap or free if you are already paying for other services. Note here that nothing short of buying new headlights will be a permanent fix. Headlight refinishing buys you a year or so at best before having to do it again.


Finally, on the exterior, let’s talk about repairing damages. Any major dents or accident damage should be fixed. There is not an exemption to that rule. Unless you are a junkyard, major dents or accident damage should be fixed. A great solution for many dents is paintless dent repair. Not every dent can have this technique applied, but most smooth dent and bumper damage can be fixed with paintless dent repair. Minor dents and scratches are more at the dealer’s discretion based on the age and value of the car.


Next up, let’s talk about glass. Pitted, chipped or cracked glass should probably be replaced. Cracked glass should always be replaced, 100% of the time. In many states it is illegal to drive with cracked glass and at best it is a safety hazard. New windshields can be had for around $100 for most vehicles. Chipped glass should be replaced on all but the most bargain basement of vehicles, and even then, chips should at least be filled. Pitted glass is more of a dealer discretion thing based on how bad the pitting is and what the value of the vehicle is. Peeling or bubbling tint should always be removed, but does not necessarily have to be replaced. However, adding tints can be a great value add for a dealer. Getting windows tinted can be a great dealer upsell, just make sure you are doing it on the right vehicle, not the cheapest vehicles.


Onto the interior, let’s start with shampooing. If the vehicle is more than 2 or so years old, the carpets and upholstery should be shampooed. Shampooing removes stains and odors across the board. Shampooing refreshes and fluffs the carpet, making it look more like new. If the floor mats are old and worn, they should be replaced. They don’t necessarily have to be factory replacements, but make sure they are a good fit and color match. All cars should be shampooed, replacement is a cost/benefit analysis situation.


Rips and tears on upholstery should always be repaired. And no, shoddy, generic seat covers don’t count as repair. On cheaper cars, tears smaller than an inch on seating surface can be ignored, anything larger should be repaired. Most upholstery shops should have the skill level and fabric to replace just specific torn panels on a seat, and not have to replace the entire interior.
This can seem an expensive undertaking to make sure all of your vehicles are in nice presentable condition. Doing so will pay back dividends in many ways. Drive by traffic will be far more willing to stop in and look at clean cars, Internet buyers will see the care you put into prepping and be more likely to shop with you, and interested customers will be more likely to convert to buyers with clean cars. Work to build relationships with local vendors for much of this work. As you do, many will respond with discounts because of volume. The time and money you spend on prepping your cars will definitely come back to you in sales.

August 15, 2014 - Written by

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