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Compare the best car trade-in deals

Get the most out of your car's value.

Car dealerships may have plenty of tricks up their sleeves when it comes to swaying a sale in their favor. But knowing how to set your trade-in apart from the rest can help you save when you’re shopping for a new car. And comparing offers can help you get the best deal available to you.

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How to get the best trade-in price at a dealership

Before you visit a dealership to trade your car for a new one, start taking steps to ensure you maintain or enhance your car’s value.

1. Pay attention to the market

Market fluctuations influence how much a used car is worth at any given time. There are a few factors that influence this:

  • Time of year
  • Location
  • Popular models and brands
  • Gas prices

The type of car you’re looking to sell matters, too. A convertible won’t sell as well during the winter, and a truck won’t be worth as much when gas prices are high. Check used car comparison websites like Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds to get an idea of what your car sells for in your area — knowing the current market will help you get a good deal.

2. Take care of your car before you sell

The simplest way to keep your car’s resale value high is to take good care of it while you’re the owner.

  • Have it serviced regularly. Book your car in for regular servicing on the manufacturer’s recommended schedule. Make sure you record each service in the car’s logbook so you can provide it to the next buyer as proof the car has been well-maintained.
  • Stay on top of repair and maintenance. If there’s a strange noise in the engine, get it looked at by a licensed mechanic. If you’re involved in an accident, get the car repaired as soon as possible. Regularly clean inside and out so it will still be in the best possible shape when you’re ready to sell.
  • Drive it like you own it. If you take care of your car when you own it, you’ll increase your chances of getting a better trade-in price. If you’re hard on your car, don’t expect a premium price from the dealer. Treat it right, and you’ll reap the benefits.

3. Fix major and minor issues

If there are some small issues with your car that won’t cost you an arm and a leg to fix, bring it to the mechanic. Investing a little now could get you a better price down the road. Fixing glaring issues — or even just buffing out minor dings — can increase your trade-in’s value.

4. Clean it before bringing it to the dealer

man washing his carDon’t visit a dealership without thinking about how your current car looks. If it’s scratched, been parked under a tree and hasn’t been washed in months, it’s hardly going to look like an attractive trade-in prospect to the dealer.

With this in mind, get your car into the best possible shape before stepping up to the negotiating table.

  • Wash your car. First impressions count, so give your car a thorough wash to make sure it’s gleaming from every angle. A quick run through the automatic car wash isn’t enough, so you should either give it a good scrub yourself or visit a professional car detailer.
  • Clean the interior. It’s essential to give the inside of your vehicle a thorough clean. Wipe down every surface to remove stains and don’t forget to take your personal items from the car before making a trip to the dealer.

With that said, don’t bring it in too clean. Having too clean a car can make it look like you’re hiding something and might actually get you a worse deal.

5. Don’t be afraid to negotiate

This is the part where most people trip up. While you’re excited to get behind the wheel of your new car as soon as possible, the salesperson is a professional negotiator who will do whatever they can to get the best possible deal. Stand your ground and use the prices you researched as ammunition to increase the value of your trade-in and pay less on your next vehicle.

You may also want to shop around. Getting a quote from two or three dealerships can greatly increase your negotiating power, so be prepared to spend the day haggling. Once you settle on a dealership, you’ll be able to use the quotes from other dealers to get a good deal.

6 tips for negotiating with a dealership

Keep the following tips in mind to ensure that you get the best trade-in deal.

1. Do your research

Knowing how much your car is worth will give you power at the negotiating table. Services like Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds can help you gauge your vehicle’s approximate value. You can also look at private sale prices for your make and model, but keep in mind that trade-in values are usually lower than private sales.

2. Know common tactics

Dealerships are experts when it comes to buying and selling cars, so familiarize yourself with some of the more common negotiating tactics they use. For example, don’t be surprised if the dealership claims your car won’t be easy to sell or that it’s doing you a favor by taking it off your hands — these tricks are designed to maximize the dealership’s profit, not yours.

3. Use your own negotiating skills

Don’t bring your trade-in to the table until the end. Negotiate the sale price of the new car separately to the trade-in. Once you’ve reached a reasonable purchase price for your new vehicle, tell the salesperson that you’d also like to trade in your current car and that the right price will seal the deal.

4. Shop around

Don’t be afraid to shop around for a better trade-in deal. You might be surprised just how much more you can get from a different dealership, so look elsewhere if you’re not happy with the price you’re offered.

5. Focus on the changeover price

Remember that the trade-in price for your vehicle doesn’t mean you got a good deal. Look at the changeover price for your new car – that is, the purchase price of your new car minus the trade-in price of your old car. While one dealership may offer the best trade-in price, if its price for a new car is more expensive, then it may not have the best overall deal.

6. Go at the end of the month

Dealerships are often more likely to offer a better deal when the month is dragging to an end. That’s often when they’re trying to get old cars out of the lot to make room for newer models.

Is trading in my car worth it?

Trading in your car might be worth it if you don’t have the time to find a private buyer and are comfortable negotiating with a dealer. It cuts down on the time and effort it might otherwise take to sell your car and it keeps everything in one place. But you won’t necessarily get the best deal this way.

When should I trade in my car?

You may want to trade in your car if

  • You want a quick transaction at one dealership
  • The dealership offers to complete registration and paperwork
  • You don’t want to spend time advertising your car

Trading in may also be the easiest option if you’re upside down on your car loan. With a trade-in, you can often roll the balance of your old car loan into a new one if you still owe money. It’s easier than paying it off yourself, but you risk going upside down on your new loan, too.

When should I sell my car privately?

You may want to sell privately if

  • You want to get a better sale price for your car
  • You have time to list your car on multiple websites
  • You have an older car a dealership might not accept

If you want to get on the road without a headache, then a trade-in will be the better choice. If you have time to search for buyers and list your car, you can earn more by making a private sale. It’s all about choosing the avenue that works best for your situation.

How to determine a car’s trade-in value

When you’re looking to get the best value for your trade-in, keep these three factors in mind:

  • Read multiple pricing guides. There may be a big difference between two pricing guides. During negotiation, refer to the pricing guide that offers you the best deal — you can negotiate down from there.
  • Understand your car’s condition. A car in “good” condition may be worth much less than a car in “excellent” condition. If you’re not sure where yours sits on the spectrum, have it professionally appraised before visiting a dealership.
  • Check private party sales. Even if you decide to use your car as a trade-in, knowing what your car’s value is to private buyers can help you determine if going the easy route is worth the potential loss in profit.

How to trade in a used car in 3 steps

Follow these steps to swap your current car for a new (or used) vehicle at a dealership:

  1. Get a quotes from independent sources. Start with an online appraisal tool like Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds. You also might want to consider taking your car to a for an appraisal at a place like CarMax — since they don’t have any skin in the game, you’ll likely get an accurate offer on your car.
  2. Compare offers. Knowing how much you can get for your car, stop by a few dealerships to compare what they’re willing to offer. Don’t agree to the first offer — there could be a better dealership out there. Use offers you get with other lenders as leverage to negotiate the price.
  3. Compare financing. One you’ve made a decision on a deal, look into all of your financing offers — what the dealership has might not be the best deal. You also might want to consider financing from your bank or credit union, which often offer rate discounts to current customers.

Bottom line

Trading in your old vehicle can help you afford a new one. But it can be a time-consuming process, and it certainly won’t be all you need to finance your next set of wheels. Read our guide to car loans to see what kind of rates you may be eligible for.

Frequently asked questions

Why is my car worth different amounts at different dealers?

A dealer’s eagerness to make a sale impacts the estimated value of your car. Some will offer you lower prices because they have other similar cars in stock. Some may have a client looking for a similar model and will want to close the deal quickly. At the end of the day, all trade-ins are negotiated, so try to bargain your way to a good deal.

Can I trade in my car if I still owe money on it?

Yes, but the process can be complex if your car is worth less than the money you owe. For instance, if your trade-in is worth $4,000 but you owe $5,000, your lender may work the remaining $1,000 into your next loan, making it that much more expensive.

You can avoid this by paying off your loan entirely before you attempt to trade in your vehicle.

Can I trade in my previous car for a cheaper model?

It depends on the dealer. Some will accept it but may request you stay with the same manufacturer, while others won’t allow it at all. If you owe money on your car and the dealer accepts the trade-in, you’ll still have to pay the difference on your loan.

Image source: Shutterstock

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Tim Falk is a freelance writer for Finder. Over the course of his 15-year writing career, he has reported on a wide range of personal finance topics. Whether you're investing in stocks and ETFs, comparing savings accounts or choosing a credit card, Tim wants to make it easier for you to understand. When he’s not staring at his computer, you can usually find him exploring the great outdoors. See full bio

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