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Auto & Auto Buying

Maximize Your Car's Trade-In Value

If you’re ready to say farewell to your current car, and hello to something new, there are important steps you should take to maximize your car’s trade-in value. Taking your time and doing the proper research will not only get you the most money for your old car, it can help ensure you save on the purchase of your new car too.

Step 1: Research your trade-in value

Visit reputable sites like kbb.com and edmunds.com to check the trade-in amount you can expect to receive based on your car’s condition. Bring this info with you to the dealer so you can avoid being low-balled during negotiations.

Step 2: Get your trade-in detailed

While it doesn’t change anything about the mechanical issues and wear/tear your car may have, a super clean car is a general indication that you cared for it well while you owned it. Don’t forget to the clean the engine too!

Step 3: Consider fixing small dents and dings

If your car has less than 50,000 miles on it, consider fixing small dents and dings to help increase what you fetch for the car. Reach out to a few repair shops to get quotes, then determine if the cost to repair the dings will result in a significantly higher trade-in value. For example, if your car – with dents included – would be considered in “good” condition, but without those dings would fall in the “excellent” category, and net you few thousand dollars more, it may be worth the repair investment.

Step 4: Organize all repair and service records

You should keep all repair and service records for the entire time you owned your car. That way, when you are ready to trade it in, you have details regarding any parts that were replaced and “proof” of your car’s condition.

Step 5: Get quotes in writing

Once you have an idea of the fair market value for your trade-in, it’s time to visit a few dealerships to see what they offer you. Get these quotes in writing and ask the dealer if they’ll honor the quote even if you don’t buy a new car from them. This way, no matter where you go to purchase your new car, you have a firm number on which to base your down payment.

Step 6: Negotiate the price of your new car separately

Experts recommend negotiating the price of your new car – always the price, never the payment – separately from any sort of trade-in negotiation. This way, the dealer can’t try to make up for lost value on the trade-in by bumping up the price of your new car. If possible, start fresh at a dealer that doesn’t know about your trade-in. Steer away from any conversation around your down payment or monthly payment. In fact, get pre-approved so you know exactly what you can afford to spend on your new car. Then, once you’ve agreed on a purchase price, you can mention you’ll be trading in your old car as a down payment. This is the best way to preserve the highest amount for your old car, and the lowest price for your new one.

Bonus Tip: Look for deals

Sometimes dealers will sweeten the pot by offering a cash value above what your trade-in is worth. For example, if your trade in is worth $5,000, the dealer might add $500 on top of that if you also buy your new car from them. These promotions typically come with specific qualifications, so be sure to read the fine print. And don’t skip price shopping other dealers just because one is offering an incentive and another isn’t. At the end of the day, choose whoever is willing to give you the most for the car.