The old saying is that a used car is only worth what someone will pay for it. Well, that’s a fun little cliché, but it doesn’t really set a reasonable guideline. Obviously, you want them to pay as much as possible, but what is that?
To arrive at the pricing sweet spot, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. One of the tools that always comes in handy is a pricing guide, such as the Automobile Red Book. Quite a bit of work has already been done for you. The market has been researched, and there is a very representative baseline from which to start.
But just because a book says something is worth a certain amount doesn’t mean your car is going to bring it. That’s where a real knowledge of how to present a vehicle comes in. This is a topic that could fill a book. You have to know how to market your vehicle, and you have to know how to sell it when a potential customer comes to see it. But one of the biggest factors, and one that frankly, not that many people, including professionals, are that good at, is often overlooked.
I’m referring to proper auto detailing. I know you’ve seen article after article on this subject over the years. So why is it that when you go look at used cars that are for sale, so many sellers seem to do it so wrong?
The most basic premise, and the one that seems to get lost, is “clean the car.” That seems simple, but apparently it’s not. Let’s break down the phrase.
“Clean.” What does that mean? Actually, it is as simple as it seems. Clean is clean. Dirty is dirty. You may think stating this is an insult to your intelligence, and maybe it is, but you would be surprised how many people just don’t get the concept. If you wipe the dust off of a dashboard, and you can’t get your fingers in the vents to clean those out, they’re not clean. If you use a buffer on a car and you don’t get the polish out of the cracks and seams, it’s not clean. If you have a car with a dirty engine, and you spray paint over the dirt, you haven’t cleaned anything; you’ve just covered up dirt. If you are more interested in saving time than making money, go ahead and cut corners.
“Clean” can lead to the perception of “honest” in the eyes of your customers. Lazy detailing and covering up dirt indicates that your car is dirty and you’re covering something up.
The other part of the phrase that we are looking at is “the car.” What does that mean? Again, fearing that I’m pointing out the obvious, “the car” refers to, well, the car. Notice the phrase is not, “hit the body panels with a buffer,” or, “smear some shiny, greasy stuff on the tires.” Pay attention to the details. Do you realize how bad those shiny tires look against filthy, untouched wheel wells?
You need to turn your attention to every part of the vehicle that can be seen from the ground, up close and far away. Just because the paint is shiny on the hood doesn’t mean your car looks good from the street. The first time many people see a car is when they drive up to it, so they aren’t looking at it the same way you may be in your detail shop. What does it look like from car-level? From low angles? From above? Keep an eye on things like rocker panels, the body where it curves under the car, and the underside of the bumper. Notice exhaust tips and grunge around things like lug nuts and wheel rims.
I know, you’re thinking that being all persnickety like this is not going to make that big of a difference. No one is going to pass on a car because the wheel wells are dirty. But you should consider the details as part of the total package. That’s why they call it detailing. If even the smallest things are left unattended, they will cast an unfavorable impression on the entire vehicle. The idea is not to make it look like someone spit shined it. The idea is to make it look like a good car that has been taken care of.
So now let’s go back to that pricing issue. You look in your Red Book and determine that your car is worth an average of $5,000 based on the condition and mileage. You can bet that that’s a pretty reasonable valuation. But you want your car to bring more than the average. Think about being the consumer. There is a good chance that you would be willing to give more for a “honest,” “clean” used car over a “warmed over” looking car. Is your car worth 5% more than average? 20% more? Curb appeal is underrated in the car business. If you learn how to detail, really detail, you’ll boost your vehicle values, your reputation, and your bottom line.