When it’s time to “down fleet” or turn your rental vehicles over for the new model year, 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 first impression is everything. If the exterior of the car is in good condition and it gives the impression of a well-cared-for vehicle, the groundwork is laid 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 some cases this may require a quick buff and polish, but make sure your detailer doesn’t rub through the clear coat. Clean the wheels to remove road film and brake dust buildup. The tires should also be cleaned and have tire dressing applied.

If you don’t have a detailer on staff, 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. If you will be sending your cars through an auction, make sure to have them quote a detail price. For the additional business they just might give you a “sweetheart” deal.

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 as in the past. Today, the materials used to repair and paint urethane bumpers yield high quality results. Repairing a faded or slightly damaged bumper should cost between $200 and $300.

Body Damage and Poor Previous Repairs

Does the vehicle have existing body damage or signs of poor previous repairs? Any potential buyer will see existing damage, and a professional buyer will quickly pick up on poor repairs—so be armed with as much knowledge as possible. Obtain an estimate from a qualified body shop to repair existing damage and/or correct previous repairs. We’re not necessarily recommending making repairs to every vehicle but having the estimate of required repairs will help you price your vehicle properly for a timely 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 in the neighborhood of $50-$75 per panel. Typically, if you are repairing no more than one or two panels, PDR makes a lot of sense. However, the cost benefit decreases as a car with a multitude of damaged panels is more than likely rough on the interior as well.


Many states require that cracked or sandblasted windshields be fixed immediately. Responsible rental operators replace windshields when the damage is in the driver’s line of sight and perform repairs for all others. Regardless, repair or replace the windshield prior to offering for sale. Windshields can typically be repaired for $45–$75; replacements cost $200–$300.


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 person or vendor who is performing your exterior details should handle the interior as well. The interior detail should include shampooing the carpet and seats and cleaning and dressing the dash and trim.

Repair or replace torn seat covers, especially if the damaged area doesn’t represent the rest of the car. If all the seat covers are stained, damaged or worn you are probably better off selling it the way it is and letting the buyer deal with the upholstery shop.

MUnder 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 at the auction or during the inspection process.

Engine Detail

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

Battery Check

Make sure the vehicle will start the car every time. Don’t make the mistake of trying to sell a car with a weak battery. Once a vehicle with a weak battery is taken out of service and isn’t getting a daily charge, it will most likely need to be jumped. A weak battery does not build confidence with a buyer. Buy a new battery to ensure that the potential buyer can start the car and check the accessories.

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 drive belts and leaking coolant hoses is justified. Anything beyond that needs to be evaluated carefully.

Good Fleet Policies

Aside from the residual value of the vehicle itself, your rental return check-in process can have a significant impact on end-of-term value. Your check-in personnel should be on the look out for missing components, loose trim items, mismatched tires and of course body damage. In many cases catching these issues early will save you additional expense and ensure customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Keeping It Clean

Use floor mats, and don’t make the mistake of trying to save a few dollars by not purchasing floormats. Worn or stained carpets are not cheaply replaced and floor mats are. Your detail manager should have a ready supply of replacement mats to install when the originals get stained or “wander” away.

Maintenance Records

Documentation that confirms maintenance and service history and validates minor repairs versus major repairs will definitely support your pricing methodology.

Current Tags

Dealers and wholesalers will typically pay less for a car with an expired registration even though they can easily remedy this. 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 if 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.

David Funston is president of Funston Fleet Services, Inc. a consulting group that assists dealers and rental companies with fleet vehicle sourcing and remarketing strategies. Funston has held positions with American Isuzu, Hyundai Motor America, DriveTime Auto Sales & Finance, Chevrolet Motor Division and several retail dealer groups in Southern California.