How to Refurbish Your Car Before Selling It

Refurbishing your car before selling it is a great way to increase its value and earn more. But where do you start, and just how much effort (and money) should you put into your car before placing it on the market? Brand-new cars lose around 10% the moment they leave the showroom floor, and most cars depreciate at approximately 15% to 20%1 each year during the first five years of their life. But how do you get the most of your ride’s remaining value before passing it on to someone else?

While you obviously won’t be able to recover the depreciated full value of your car when the time comes to sell it, you can boost its worth a little by putting some effort into the vehicle. Most buyers will appreciate a car that’s recently been fully serviced and damage-free with all its paperwork in order. But learning how to refurbish your car is a smart way to ensure you end up closer to your initial asking price than the buyer’s offer.

This article unpacks some of the DIY refurbishing tips, tricks and recommendations that have been shown to work in helping sellers increase their cars’ value. While many of these quick fixes may seem minor, together, they can transform your car’s appeal and add a pretty sum to your overall asking price.

What it means to refurbish your car

We’re not talking about a full overhaul here. Rather, refurbishing your car before selling it aims to increase its value and make it a more attractive option to potential buyers. This means finding the right balance between touching up some of the ageing and worn areas of your car yourself and leaving the rest to the pros, like mechanics and service centre specialists.

You’re not rebuilding it

It’s important to remember not to go overboard when refurbishing a car to sell. Refurbishing means cleaning, polishing, repairing, and replacing the smaller, less expensive bits. You’re not rebuilding your car. All you’re working towards is improving its general appearance and fixing the easy things that buyers will definitely spot.

Don’t break the bank

Spending too much on refurbishing your car could leave you with even less money than you could have had if you’d just left it alone. Set a budget and add the value of your car refurbishment to the final price when the time comes to sell. Stay on top of any expenses that are getting difficult to control and, if replacing or repairing something costs too much, rather leave it.

Refurbishing isn’t a vehicle service

Understanding how to refurbish your car should begin with focusing mostly on the things you can see. Bodywork, upholstery, surfaces, and covers are your targets when refurbishing your car before selling it. Leave the advanced technical stuff to the professionals and visit a service centre to get the important mechanical components checked out. Even things like your aircon and other electronics should be left for the specialists to handle.

You can always send your car in for a full service once you’re done with the car refurbishment. There are many top service centres around who can take care of your engine, shocks, brakes and even aircon quickly and affordably.

Start with the pre-refurbishment basics

Before getting stuck into your car’s makeover, start with the basics. This includes inspecting your car, cleaning it and making notes of what else needs to be done. This is an essential first step when refurbishing a car to sell.

  • Inspect – Review your car front to back, from top to bottom

Start at the front and work your way back, noting all the things you can fix or replace inside. Don’t forget to examine all the switches, handles, lights, and levers. Seatbelts and even loose door panels should be tested and checked, too.

Check the outside, looking for any damage on the bodywork, chips, dents and scratches in the paint. This inspection will form the basis of your refurbishing efforts, so make sure you don’t miss anything.

  • Clean – Tidy your car, inside and out

Remove all rubbish, personal items and any stickers or ornaments. Vacuum the seats and floor and check the boot for any sand, dust or grime that may have collected over the years.

Check the spare wheel well and get into the nooks and crannies with a cloth or brush. Wipe out air vents, shake out your mats and get rid of your old slips, coins and any bits of food (don’t worry, we’re all guilty of the odd chip or sweet getting away from us).

  • Wash – Give everything a good washing

From your dash to the gearstick and even the headrests, wash your car. You can use soap and water for your seats, floor, roof and all surfaces. Be sure to allow your car to dry out fully, or you’ll risk mould setting in. Give the exterior a good washing too.

This wash isn’t for any buyers yet; it’s to help you spot any chips, scratches or dents on the bodywork and glass and to aid in spotting what needs work on the inside. Once you’ve refurbished your car and are ready to sell, you can take it in for a valet.

Refurbishing the interior of your car

Now that you have an idea of what needs to be refurbished and have a clean car to work with, it’s time to get busy inside the vehicle on the how to refurbish your car process. This is where most of your car refurbishment efforts are going to pay off. The interior covers everything inside the vehicle. This includes your car’s ceiling, seats, floor, dash, cubby hole and boot.

  • Lights – Cabin light and dashboard indicators

For those who don’t use their cabin light, there’s a good chance that they don’t work anymore. Remove the cover to check the little globes to see if they’re still OK, and if they are, test out the setting that turns the lights on when you open a door.

Check to ensure all your dash warning lights are working. If you don’t know how, you can ask the mechanics to test them out during your next service. Replace any cracked or loose covers and polish up the screen covering your dashboard display.

  • Upholstery – Seat covers, floor, roof and doors

Faded, torn, or worn upholstery is one of the biggest telltale signs that a car is either old or hasn’t been looked after. Whether your seats are leather or cloth, after years of use and sunlight, even the best coverings can start to take strain.

While it may cost you a pretty penny in refurbishing a car to sell, consider replacing any upholstery that is badly stained or torn. Don’t forget about the floor and roofing – this can be replaced with new fabric, too. You may not have noticed it before, but even these surfaces can get damaged.

  • Steering wheel and gearstick – Yes, they can be replaced

Your car’s steering wheel and gearstick (for manual vehicles) are two of the most-used parts of your car’s interior. Over time, friction caused by your hands can lead to wear and tear or to these important controllers coming loose.

Use a detergent or a polish to give your wheel a new lease on life, or consider replacing the gear indicator and its boot (the soft part covering the lower half of the gearstick). You can speak to your car’s manufacturer about affordable replacement parts.

  • Switches, knobs & buttons – All the little things

Test out all of the dials, switches and buttons on your car to ensure they illuminate properly, can turn or slide as they’re supposed to, and are doing their job. While a full vehicle service will check up on the most critical ones, you’ll need to check all the others to see if any should be replaced.

  • Emergency equipment – Wheel spanner, jacks and spare tyre

Although these things are required to be in your car by law, they must also be in good working order. Older jacks can get sticky and struggle to support your vehicle. If your rims or wheels have been replaced, the nuts fastening them may not properly fit your standard wheel spanner. And your reflective emergency triangle may be missing altogether. Nobody said car refurbishment was easy.

Think about refurbishing these important tools or replacing them. You can even consider adding a basic first aid kit, along with an emergency blanket and tow rope, to give your breakdown kit an extra valuable edge. Don’t forget to make sure your spare wheel is inflated fully and that it is in good condition.

The exterior revamp

Depending on how old your car is or the condition it’s in, with a little bit of effort, you can get the exterior of your car looking like new as part of refurbishing a car to sell. There are many tricks and hacks for getting your paintwork sparkling. You can use the many products available to polish the body or revert to traditional, less-expensive solutions using DIY products and home solutions.

  • Repair accident damage – An important refurbishing item

This is a must when embarking on the how to refurbish your car journey, no matter how serious the damage is. If you want to get a good price for your car when selling it, you’ll need to do everything you can to repair and refurbish any lingering accident damage. Replace broken, dented or cracked bumpers, smooth out big dents and check for any issues under the car on the chassis.

Most major accident damage will need a specialist to fix. Take your car to a panel beater for the heavy repair work and rope in someone who can do a good paint job. You are obligated to inform the buyer of any accidents and work done, so don’t try to hide anything. Honesty is the best policy here.

  • Paintwork – Polish, buff, and fix to reinvigorate the paint job

Your paintwork is the first thing a buyer will see when they meet your car. Deal with all dents, chips and scratches in the paint by buffing them out or touching up any areas that are looking a bit worse for wear. Investing in fixing these elements up is worthwhile and can really improve your selling prospects.

Take a cloth, mix a little Handy Andy with water and work a small 10cm x 10cm area of your car’s body to see just how much better you can make it look. Over the years, dust and grime will work their way into the microscopic gaps in your paint, making your car look dull and worn.

  • Wheels – Rims & tyres

If your tyres are still OK, you don’t need to replace them. This can cost you a lot of money and isn’t always a requirement of buyers. Clean your tyres and ask the people at the valet to “paint” them, using a special mix that makes your tyres look newer and protects their walls.

Check your rims for any damage (especially on the inside) and repair any cracks or loose edges in the wheel well. Even old or loose mudguards can be swapped out for shiny new ones to give your car an extra edge. Polish your rims and try to buff out any scratches.

  • Wipers – Check the blades and the arm

Windscreen wiper blades are prone to cracking and warping as they get older. The delicate rubber may also come loose or not be fitted properly against the glass. Swapping out your wiper blades for new ones and refurbishing the arm by straightening, painting and tightening them ensures you’ve covered an important car refurbishment base, too.

The advantages of learning how to refurbish your car before selling it

Refurbishing your car before selling it may take a little time, effort and money, but it’s worth it in the long run. A refurbished car for sale is likely to:

  • Sell faster than other for-sale cars that haven’t been refurbished.

  • Earn more money since many of the parts and surfaces are new or have been revamped.

  • Attract a wider market of potential buyers looking for cars that are ready to drive.

  • Help you to negotiate a higher price by refurbishing a car to sell and using your efforts as motivation for negotiation.

Remember to tell any potential buyers about what parts of the car you’ve refurbished, or you’ll be making an effort for nothing. Keep all the invoices and slips proving you’ve invested in refurbishing your vehicle, and don’t forget to add any car refurbishment expenses to your overall price.

Conclusion – Get a post-refurbish service

Once you’re done refurbishing your car, take it to a local accredited service centre, like one of Auto Pedigrees', located around South Africa, for a complete service or a quick checkup before selling it. We’ll take care of anything you may have missed or items that are a little too advanced or technical.

Come check out our service centres here and take advantage of some of the hard-to-miss promotions on offer.

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