Best Repairs for a Car’s Resale or Trade-In Value

Your vehicle is likely one of the most expensive, and perhaps valuable, things you own.

While it’s essential you maintain your vehicle over its lifetime with regular oil changes, tune-ups, and fresh parts, when it comes time to sell your vehicle, you’ll want to evaluate what additional repairs will increase your trade-in or resale value.

If you know there are mechanical or body issues with your rig, it’s best to acknowledge it upfront so the buyer knows what they’re getting into. However, sometimes small issues are better repaired than shared.

If a potential buyer shows up and finds issues, they may walk away. It’s worth taking the time to make repairs that will improve the chances of making a good impression (so you can raise the bottom line).

In order to make sure your vehicle looks and runs its best, consider the current condition and make a list of repairs you know need to be addressed now or in the near future.

Then decide which repairs you’ll make and which you’ll inform potential buyers about instead.

Calculating Value

There are several ways to go about figuring out the value of a car. Start online. Follow the steps to estimate your Nada car value and do the same on Kelley Blue Book. There are other sites as well.

Each of them takes you through the same basic steps. You’ll need to report the condition of the body and engine, whether the car has ever been in an accident, the general overall condition of tires, and a listing of the vehicle’s features.

With this information, your value will be reported as a range that may span several thousand dollars.

The next step is to look for listings of owned cars for sale. Find vehicles similar to yours and see what the asking price is in different areas.

Of course, asking price is not the same as selling price, so also look for recent sales of your make and model to see what people have actually paid.

Remember to be critical when comparing your vehicles to others. Features like AC, a sunroof, a spoiler, new tires, leather seats, etc. can bring in a significantly higher amount than a base model in the same year, make, and model.

If you have known issues, run the data with that information, and again without consideration for the problem.

It’s a good way to instantly see the difference in price between a car with a dent and one without, or a vehicle that runs and one that doesn’t.

This can help make financial decisions about whether you’ll recoup the cost of repairs when selling or trading in your vehicle.

Dents and Paint Chips

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

While scrapes and dents that don’t affect the performance of the vehicle may not matter to you, potential buyers may be turned away by a vehicle with rust or a questionable accident history.

You’ll really feel the value for your trade-in drop if there are issues with the body too.

While you don’t have to buff out every small scratch, consider making repairs to dents, chipped paint, and scratches. Many of these types of repairs can be tackled DIY style for very little money.

Windshield Replacement

Since the windshield is an essential component of the vehicle, it’s worth the cost of replacement before trying to figure out your car trade-in value.

Not only is a cracked or chipped windshield a potential safety hazard, but it’s a concern for anyone thinking about buying the car. It may be a headache they don’t want to deal with, even if the rest of the vehicle is in great shape.

Most insurances will help cover the cost, so check your policy before setting up an appointment.

Headlights and Tail Lights

tail lights

Again, these are essential functions on the rig. A light out here and there indicates you haven’t taken good care of your vehicle and can cause buyers to question what else might be wrong with it.

Since repairs to headlights and tail lights are typically fairly easy and relatively inexpensive, make sure they’re all functional before heading to the dealership or listing your vehicle for sale.

Leaking Sunroof

This is one of those things you could probably get away with if you show your car on a warm summer day. But can you sleep at night knowing you sold someone your issue?

A thorough buyer will check for leaks, but it’s best if you’re upfront about it. Sunroof and moonroof leaks are common, and the cause can be difficult to surmise. Sometimes the drip travels quite a way before exiting.

A sunroof is a desirable feature on a car so bring up your Nada car value by fixing the leak. Then you can proudly share it was recently repaired, hopefully removing any worries your buyer may have had.

Windows

hands repairing car windows

When a potential buyer gets into a car for a test drive, he or she will be imagining driving it in the future, perhaps with the windows down, that sunroof open, and the stereo blaring.

But if the power or manual windows aren’t working, that dream dies quickly, bringing instead a flood of doubt. Unless your buyer is mechanically minded and unconcerned with window motor repairs, it could be a big enough repair to end the sale.

Doors

Let’s make sure you, and any future owners, can get in and out of the vehicle. If you have any doors that don’t open, get them repaired. It’s more than an inconvenience, it’s a safety hazard. Plus, it affects your car’s trade value.

Tires

It’s not uncommon to sell a vehicle with little wear left on the tires. But it’s much more appealing to a buyer if the tires are in good working order with plenty of wear left on them.

Again, it’s a safety issue, but it’s also where a buyer will see themselves doling out additional dollars and hassles.

Brakes

When asking, “How much is my car worth?” the braking system is an important consideration. If you simply need brake pads, the repair is fairly inexpensive and easy to do, even if you change your brake pads yourself.

If your car needs a more comprehensive brake job, say new calipers and rotors, the price rises.

It’s best to make brake repairs before listing your vehicle for sale. However, if you don’t have the time, money, or means to make the repair, be upfront with any potential buyers. Never send someone out for a test drive if it’s not safe to do so.

Engine Maintenance

The value of a car is deeply affected by the overall maintenance during its lifetime. In addition to regularly changing the oil, check other fluids and change them according to the recommended schedule.

Also pay attention to the air filter in the engine compartment as well as the cabin filter, both of which are inexpensive, easy to swap out, and important for the efficiency of your engine.

Read your owner’s manual or take your mechanic’s advice to schedule regular maintenance, such as replacing spark plugs and wires.

Deep Clean

steam cleaning car

The day you sell your car, it will probably be the cleanest it’s been since the day you brought it home. That’s a good thing if you’re worried about your car’s value. Obviously, a used car will show some wear here and there.

Buyers probably won’t expect it to be in pristine condition. But they’ll be impressed if it is. At the very least, they don’t want to take over the food smashed under the car seats, crumbs in the drink holder, and mud on the floor mats.

Many car owners report higher car value after paying for a professional car detail. Even if you don’t go pro, do your best to clean every corner of the interior and exterior of your car.

Start with a good vacuum job that covers every crack and crevice, including the trunk.

Remove every item that doesn’t belong with the car as you work. You can leave applicable paperwork that pertains to repairs and upgrades. Otherwise, if it’s not leaving with the car, take it out.

Remember to look beneath every seat, in the glove box, the ashtray, drink holder, and seatback pockets. Remove everything from the trunk too.

Make leather seats shine with leather conditioner and apply Armor All or a similar product to the dashboard and other applicable surfaces.

Use glass cleaner inside and out of every window, and remember to clean the mirrors too.

Toothpicks and Q-tips make great tools for getting debris out of small spaces. You can also use tape to pick up crumbs, fur, and other unwanted items.

Seat Repair

Rockin’ and rollin’ while driving is not the way to go. If your seats move when they shouldn’t or don’t adjust when they should, get them fixed. However, if the issue with your seat is more cosmetic, don’t worry too much about it.

Do your best to clean fabric or wipe down leather. However, if you have a crack or tear, buyer beware. It’s probably not worth the money to get it fixed.

Warning Lights

oil warning light

One of the best repairs to increase your car’s resale value is to get those warning lights checked out. When your car throws a code, it could be something minor, or something major. It’s important you know which.

There are countless reasons a check engine light can flash, and it can be anything from a fouled spark plug to a clogged filter to a cracked engine head.

The good news is it’s easy to diagnose what your car is trying to tell you without going to a mechanic.

Although many mechanics will run a code check free or relatively inexpensively, you can head to most automotive part stores and ask if they have a code reader you can borrow. Most do.

Using the code reader simply requires plugging it into the proper port, usually beneath the steering wheel, and following the directions.

The device will then tell you what the code means. You might find it’s lost compression in cylinder four, or the computers have sensed an issue with the evaporation, exhaust, or oxygen flow in the system.

Battery

Typically, a car or truck battery runs about $100. Of course, there is a range, and it depends on your vehicle. If your battery is acting up, refusing to hold a charge, or causing other issues, it’s definitely worth replacing.

Replacing a car battery is an easy DIY task, so you shouldn’t need to pay extra for a mechanic to do the work.

Alternator

car alternator

The same goes for the alternator. It’s an essential component, and if you’re having issues, it will devalue the vehicle. Cough up the money for this repair to improve your resale value.

It may be a task you can tackle yourself for some cost savings.

Squealing Belts

No one wants to turn over the engine in preparation for a test drive to be greeted by a squealing belt. It literally screams mechanical work needs to be done and doesn’t make a great impression.

Unless you’re willing to take a hit on the value, look into replacing belts as needed. Some, like serpentine belts, can be expensive to have replaced, so get a quote and factor it into your asking price.

If your squealing belt looks solid, try using some belt lubricant, which may be enough to solve the problem.

Clean the Engine

While it doesn’t directly contribute to the value of your car, a goopy engine can be a turnoff for potential buyers taking a look under the hood.

Spend a few bucks and a half hour of time to use some engine cleaner. A shiny engine will certainly promote a better first impression.

Since you likely won’t have every issue on this list, it’s worth considering repairs for those that do apply.

See our related article for more information on Effects of a Small Car Dent on a Car’s Resale Value. Also consider these 5 Tips for Making Profit When You Sell a Used Car.