When it’s time to dispose of retired units, which vehicle preparation strategies can improve resale value? Further, what actions only break-even or potentially have a negative impact on value?

Following these industry basics can have a significant impact on vehicle resale prices.

Improving Curb Appeal

Just as in real estate, the buyer’s first impression is everything. If the exterior of the car is in good condition it gives the impression of a well cared for vehicle, thereby laying the groundwork for a higher sale value.

The Detail

Detailing the exterior is the first step. Sheet metal and chrome should be free from oxidation and reflect color properly, while painted surfaces should be smooth to the touch. In all likelihood this will require polishing and waxing the vehicle. Clean the wheels to remove road film and brake dust buildup. The tires should be cleaned and have tire dressing applied.

It’s a good idea to contract with a local car wash or mobile detail shop in your area to detail your vehicles prior to sale. Exterior detailing including washing, polishing and waxing can typically be arranged for around $100 and should certainly return more than that amount in vehicle value.

Bumper Repair

Next, look at the bumpers for faded paint, scuffs, small tears or “puncture wounds.” A damaged bumper may convey hidden damage. In many cases, it is not necessary to replace the bumper. In the past, getting a quality bumper repair was hit-or-miss, but today the materials used to repair and paint urethane bumpers yield high quality results.

Repairing a faded or slightly damaged bumper costs between $200 and $300.

Body Damage and Rust

Does the vehicle have existing body damage or signs of rust? For previous body work, pay attention to off-color or faded panels and operation of moving panels (doors, hoods and trunk lids).

A professional buyer will spot rust and poor repairs—so be armed with as much knowledge as possible. Obtain an estimate from a qualified body shop. We’re not recommending a $2,000 repair to a truck with 250,000 miles on it. However, the estimate will give you an idea of the extent of repairs and cost, which should help you price your vehicle properly for a timely sale. In fact, showing a repair estimate up front to a prospective buyer may aid the sale.


If the body has dents in which the paint has not been broken, a qualified paintless dent repair (PDR) technician can remove small dents for fees ranging from $50-$75 per panel. This improves your vehicle’s appearance for a nominal fee.


Many states require that cracked or sandblasted windshields be fixed immediately. Regardless, repair or replace the windshield prior to sale. Don’t repair if the vehicle is not drivable due to body damage or mechanical failure.


Replace tires that have less than 1/16-inch tread depth. Look for unusual wear patterns and scuffing. If tires are mismatched (size, brand, load rating) it’s a good idea to replace them and have the alignment inspected.

Interior Detail

The same vendor doing your exterior detail should handle the interior as well. The interior detail should include shampooing the carpet and seats and cleaning and dressing the dash and trim.

Replace worn driver’s seat cover panels and cushions as needed so that the driver’s seat doesn’t look worn and tired on an otherwise pristine car. This expense should be offset by the increased resale value.

Under the Hood

Next, consider the vehicle’s operation.

Does it shift into gear properly and without delay? Do the brakes work properly? Does the air conditioning blow cold? Are fluids leaking from the vehicle? An experienced buyer will check these things during the inspection process.

Engine Detail

If the engine compartment is dirty with caked on oil, dirt and grime have the engine compartment detailed as well. An experienced buyer will appreciate being able to easily inspect the belts, hoses and gaskets while an average buyer will simply be impressed with a clean engine.

Battery Check


Number one rule—make sure the vehicle will start every time. Don’t make the mistake of trying to sell a car with a weak battery. Once the vehicle is taken out of fleet and isn’t getting a daily charge you may have to jump start it.

A weak battery does not build confidence with a buyer. Buy a new battery; if the buyer opens the hood he will notice it immediately.

Additional Repairs

Repairs beyond getting a vehicle to start will require a more critical evaluation and expense/return analysis. As a general rule, replacing worn out drive belts and leaking coolant hoses is justified; replacing a transmission on a 200,000 mile truck is not.

Good Fleet Policy

Aside from the vehicle itself, your company’s fleet policies and good record keeping can have a significant impact on end-of-term value.

Keeping it Clean

Use floor mats. Worn or stained carpets are not cheaply replaced.

Do you allow smoking in your vehicles? Smoke odor can affect first impressions while dropped cigarettes and stray embers can cause interior damage.

Maintenance Records

Documentation that confirms service history and validates a minor versus major body repair will definitely support your pricing.

Current Tags

Dealers and wholesalers can easily make the corrections but they will typically pay less for a car with an expired registration. Sales to the general public require a current registration just to road test the vehicle.

Copy of Title

Make a copy of the vehicle title and make it available to a potential buyer. In this day and age of “flood damaged” and branded vehicle titles it will give the potential buyer a lot of comfort.

If there is a lienholder or the vehicle is leased, your lender or lessor should be willing to give you a copy of the title to assist with a sale. They’ll hold the original until the vehicle is paid off.

For vehicles sold through auctions most lenders will release titles to the auction in advance of sale with the auction acting as an escrow agent ensuring funds, title, vehicle payoff and proceeds distribution.