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The smart way to sell a car with dents and scratches

The countless scars bear witness to its hard life.

And now the time has come to sell or trade in my battered-and-bruised-but-still-proud nine-year-old car – but is it worth fixing the dings, dents, scrapes and scratches to hasten its sale and possibly reap a higher price?

This is the question faced by car owners across Canada: How much is too much to spend?

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Since being handed over to me – in exchange for several thousand dollars – the family sedan has endured far too many indignities for a car that has been so reliable. The 2007 Pontiac G6 bears the painful scars of poor driving by others, poor driving by its owners and seemingly a thousand unrequited hits from shopping carts and other unidentified weapons of parking-lot destruction.

There's a deep scratch on the front bumper, incurred after its owner hit black ice and slid into a taxi whose driver, for reasons unknown, said "no problem" and pulled away despite an equally large scrape on his rear bumper.

There's a particularly ugly scrape running along the passenger-side door and front fender, incurred in an underground parking lot after my wife's precataract-surgery excursion to – no kidding – her optometrist's office.

There's another on the rear passenger-side fender and another on the front wheel well on the same side, scars left by fellow shoppers in a mall parking lot.

For years, we have lived with these testaments to bad driving. But now, as the car enters its dotage, the time has come to rectify the situation.

As cold as it sounds, thoughts of making amends are spurred not by guilt but by the prospect of trading in this scarred warrior, preferably for something that at least has an MP3 player.

With all these imperfections, there's little chance it will be a hot commodity.

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But with a shiny new coat, anything is possible. Time to put some lipstick on this pig and take it to market.

Unfortunately, lipstick doesn't come cheap. Visits to three auto body shops produced estimates ranging from $1,600 to $2,500.

Would that make any sense?

Brian Murphy, vice-president of research and editorial at Canadian Black Book, says probably not.

"If you are considering getting those dents and scrapes repaired, find out first what your car is worth," says Murphy, whose company produces the online bible for auto resellers. "If your car is only worth $5,000, it doesn't make a huge amount of sense to spend thousands in bodywork.

"A $5,000 repair on a car that's worth $20,000 is still a judgment call, but it might make sense."

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A visit to Murphy's website produced some rather disheartening news, since the G6 is likely not in the latter category.

According to the site's online calculator, a 2007 G6 with a power sunroof and 151,000 kilometres on the odometer is worth between $2,173 and $3,253.

The lower figure is almost certain for a car that looks as if it was imported from a war zone.

Therefore, spending $1,500 to render it market-ready makes about as much sense as paying almost $1,000 nine years ago on a sunroof that has barely been opened.

There are cheaper alternatives to regular body work, though the ill-fated G6 isn't a candidate.

You can buy touch-up paints, but most of those are nothing more than lipstick. Besides, the G6's flaws are a little too deep for mere buffing out.

There are companies that do paintless dent-pulling for less than the cost of sand-and-paint body work.

"If you can get bumper work done or pull the dents out, it's like a house that's been staged," says Greg Cookson, director of Dent Wizard Canada, which does such work for rental agencies and other fleet owners. "It's about curb appeal.

"There's the 10-foot rule. Does it look good from 10 feet? A door dent should be pulled out, because that gets spotlighted."

A door dent is a lot like a piece of spinach stuck in your teeth: not serious, but a definite turn-off.

But that approach doesn't really work when you've got the visible scratches that afflict the G6.

Cookson suggests another route in that case.

"If you want to trade it in and get the max, spending $500 to $700 makes sense, but it has to be the right thing," he says.

"If your rims are scuffed up, get them polished. Then I'd drop some good money on a detail. New tires could be a good investment.

"There's nothing worse than getting in a car and the carpets are ratted up and there are marks on the dash. Nobody wants to buy a car and then spend $200 to have it detailed.

"It also says a lot about the guy who owned it. If he didn't take care of this, what about oil changes, etc?

"If you have a high-mile car that's been taken care of and looks good, you'll get top dollar.

"You'll get all of that money back.

"It's all about spending the money wisely."

All things considered, that may be the best road for the G6 to go down. Or we resign ourselves to listening to CDs for a few more years.

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