When someone arranges to come see the used car that you're selling, it's easy to get carried away. "They're going to buy it! It worked! Dinner on me tonight!" But the reality is, you're only halfway there, and the second half of the selling process can be just as challenging. Your task now is to make sure that the car doesn't disappoint in person, and there's an art to this phase, as well. Here are three steps you can take to ensure that your used car shows as well as possible.

Clean It!

In our collective experience, it's amazing how often a seller fails to clean the car before showing it. A prospective buyer's excitement can quickly turn to disappointment if there's dust, dirt or bird droppings on the paint. Don't forget about the interior, too. If you have old fast-food boxes lying around, say, or even innocuous stuff like balled-up receipts, it can send a message to the buyer that you're not very careful with this car. The impression you want to leave is precisely the opposite.

So, at a minimum, wipe the exterior down so it shines a little (a waterless car wash and a microfiber cloth work great for this), and throw out anything in the interior that doesn't belong. If you have time, go to a gas station and vacuum the floors with one of those coin-operated machines. Alternatively, consider having the car professionally hand-washed or even detailed. Remember, you're potentially competing against used-car dealers for the buyer's attention, and you know that any car on a reputable dealer's lot will be spic and span. You'll have a better chance of selling your car if you meet that standard of cleanliness yourself.

Check Fluids and Tire Pressures

This is another common dealer strategy that can make the buyer feel at ease. Think about it: If you go to look at a used car, you're hoping it's a well-maintained specimen, right? Well, people who maintain their cars meticulously are constantly checking fluids and tire pressures. If you don't do this already, now is a great time to start.

You can inspect fluids such as the oil and coolant yourself, but if you're not mechanically inclined, most garages will check these and others (power steering fluid, brake fluid, etc.) for free or a nominal fee. If topping-off is required, that won't cost much, either. As for tire pressures, you can check and adjust them at any filling station for 25 cents. Even if these steps aren't part of your routine, taking them now is a good way to show the prospective buyer -- a.k.a. your customer -- that you're taking the selling process seriously.

Have Your Car's Story Ready

Smart shoppers want to know about a used car's history, and we don't just mean the Carfax report. They want to hear about how you've cared for the car, what work you've had done to it, and why you're selling it now. Ideally, you'll have already covered some of this in your classified ad, but now's the time to back it up with any available documentation. If you've kept the maintenance receipts, put them in a folder or paper clip and present them to the buyer without even being asked. If you haven't done so, that's OK; you probably still remember any major repair bills, so take a minute and write them down, either estimating the costs from memory or checking your banking records to confirm. Make note of the garage(s) that did the work, too, since thorough shoppers may want to call the mechanic to discuss.

And as far as your reasons for selling are concerned, just try not to sound desperate. If the shopper detects a note of desperation, that's a red flag, because why would you be so eager to get rid of what you're presenting as a great car? A coherent, well-documented story will be music to a used-car shopper's ears.

AutoTrader Says

When it's time to show your car to a prospective buyer, do what's necessary to show it with care and pride. These steps require minimal investment in terms of both time and money, but they can pay off in a big way.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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