Should I get my car detailed before I sell it?

I’m getting ready to trade the long-suffering Dr. J-mobile for a fine German convertible. (OK, it’s a Volkswagen.)

The car is in passable, but certainly well-used, condition. My father and several other people have advised me that spending the money for a nice detailing job will add greatly to the price the dealer will give me in trade for the car, far more than the detailing job cost.

I have trouble believing this, for a few reasons. One is that the information I get from my father involving cars is often apocryphal, if not entirely inaccurate. For another, it doesn’t make sense–the car dealership could take that car to the same place I did just as easily and pay the same price for the same detailing job; why would they pay more just because I did it?

What’s more, they have their own detailing shop there at the car dealership, so in fact, they could probably do it far more cheaply, and more to their own liking.

The Motley Fool website says that getting my car detailed positions me as more of a serious buyer, and that I’m ready to trade. But the thing is, I am ready to trade, so I don’t see it gaining me any ground.

So should I spend $100 to get my car professionally spit-shined, or should I spend $8 at Bob’s Car Wash? (Note: washing it myself is not an option, due to water restrictions.) I can see the difference if I were selling it to a private party, but will it make any difference with a dealer?

Dr. J

I vote no, with exactly the reasoning you’ve followed.

First, I would get it detailed. It will probably shock you how much better the car will look.

Second, I’d sell the car myself. You could realise maybe thousands of dollars more on the amount you recoup this way. Trade-ins always work in the favor of the dealer. They will offer you wholesale at best for your trade-in, not to mention that they’ll have another leverage chit in bargaining with you. The more complicated the deal the better chance you get bamboozled in the process. You should be able to sell your car at or near blue book retail. Check the difference on those. Assuming that your car isn’t a total piece of junk, you are likely better off selling it yourself. I sold my last used car to the first guy who looked at it, and got about 1500 more than what I was offered in trade. This was on a 4 year old Nissan Sentra, not some BMW or something, BTW.

I’m a dealer, and yes, you should have it detailed.
You will get more for it whether you decide to trade it in, or sell it yourself. Most people assume that a clean car is better maintained mechanically, and therefore it is worth more.
Depending on the car, you will get hundreds if not thousands more for your car if you sell it yourself versus trading it in.
Anyway, cleaner is always better when getting rid of your car.

We were trading in a car some years back and we got it detailed. After the deal was done, we asked the salesman if it made a difference - he said he figured it was worth $400. I don’t know how he arrived at that figure, but I can tell you, the car looked so good, I was almost sad to trade it in.