Six Tips for Trading-In a Car Without Being Taken to the Cleaners

Subaru inventory

You’ve decided you’re ready to purchase a reliable used car. If you’re shopping for a used car, it’s probably crossed your mind that you could get a significant savings if you trade your old car in as part of the downpayment. The problem is, when you take your car to the used car dealer, they have an entire career negotiating how much to offer for pre owned cars, while this is probably your first time going to bat. Here are a few tips for getting the highest value on your trade-in at a pre owned car dealership:

  1. Know what your car is worth. Get an appraisal from one of the many car value websites that provide free estimates. It’s also a good idea to visit several used car dealers and to get a good grasp of the high and low value of your car. Most used car dealers will ask what you want for car, give them a fair price that is closer to the high value of the range, giving yourself some room for haggling.


    It’s also sometimes advantageous to get estimates from car dealers who have similar cars on their lots; if you’re trading in a Malibu, get estimates from a few used Chevy dealers who understand its popularity and value.

  2. Consider timing. Your negotiating power will increase if the timing is right. In example, you have less leverage if you owe more on your old car than you can get from a used car dealer. Another timing factor is gas prices; if you have a compact car known for its fuel efficiency, it’s a great bargaining chip when gas prices are high.
  3. Take your car to a car spa. Even if your car has a few dings and flaws, you might get a better offer if you dress your car up in its Sunday’s best. Get your clutter out of it, take it through the car wash, vacuum the inside. It doesn’t hurt to spend the extra $2 on a “new car” scent that takes it back to its glory days.
  4. Bring your records. Ideally, you’ve kept up with all the routine maintenance on your vehicle throughout your ownership. Bring records of the care you’ve taken to keep your car in good shape to the used car dealer. You’ll be taken seriously and will likely get a better offer on your trade-in.
  5. Negotiate the trade-in before the new car purchase. Your end goal is to get your new car for as little as possible and trade your old car in for as much as possible. Negotiating both deals together leaves the salesman the opportunity to blend them together, and give you a concession in one deal in exchange for a compromise in the other. Negotiate the best deal you can for your trade-in, and then choose your new car and start over with a new deal.
  6. Get a gauge of the popularity of your car. A few days before visiting the car lot, post your car in the “Cars for Sale” section of Craigslist. If it generates a lot of interest, use that to your advantage while negotiating.

Do you have any great tips for getting the most out of a trade-in vehicle? Please share them in the comment section below.

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