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How to Get the Most Out of Your Trade In Car

by Brian Wong (May 17, 2013)

Buying a new car usually means that it is time to part ways with the old one, and your old car can give you a leg up on buying a new car. Trading the old set of wheels in to a dealer can give you a great head start and can end up being a sizable chunk of the down payment. This makes your trade in a very important part of the new car buying process. Think of it this way — every extra dollar you can get for your trade in is a dollar saved on your new car.

Selling an old car generally comes down to two options: selling it yourself as a private party or trading it in to a dealership. There are benefits to both methods; selling it yourself yields more money for your used car, but comes with its own set of issues (listing the car yourself, worrying about the buyers check bouncing, etc.). Trading in is the faster and more convenient option, but you won't get as much money.

If you do choose to go the trade in route, there are a few important things to keep in mind.

1. Do your homework.

Black Book Appraisals for Used Cars

Just like buying a new car, you never want to go into a trade in negotiation without any idea of how much your car is worth. Here at NewCars.com, we make it easy to find the Black Book Appraisal Guide value of your used car. Black Book is superior to other used car valuation services, like Blue Book, because their values come straight from auction and guidebook data, which gives a clearer picture of what to actually expect for your trade in. An informed seller with a firm grasp of their car's worth is prepared to get maximum dollars for their trade in.

2. Prepare the car.

Give your car a thorough inspection before you take it in to the dealer and be sure to clean it inside and out. Remove personal items, including stickers and license plate frames. This not only gives the dealer a clean car to inspect, it shows that you are a serious seller. And if you've also done your homework, it makes the transaction smoother for both parties.

3. Be realistic about the value of your car.

Your old car might have been your best friend for the last 100,000 miles, through thick and thin. But sentimental value does not translate to dollars and cents. It's important to be realistic about the value of your car. So be honest when you're entering the information to snag a Black Book value, otherwise when the dealer starts their appraisal you'll be in for a big surprise. Also remember that things like high mileage figures and any cosmetic or mechanical defects will ding the car's value, as will worn down tires and brakes. A car that's in good condition generally has original paint, no body damage, and is in good working order.

4. Negotiate your trade in and your new car purchase separately.

This point cannot be stressed enough — do not negotiate for your trade in and your new car at the same time. Keep the two separate so that you are completely clear on the type of deal you will be getting on both transactions. If the salesman asks you to talk about them together, politely decline and say you would like to focus on them one at a time.

A few final things to remember:

  • Usually, a trade in will be more valuable to a dealer of the same make. So it's generally a good practice to trade a Honda in at a Honda dealership, or a BMW at a BMW dealership, etc.
  • When you go to trade the car in, make sure to have the title on hand. The dealer can get a peek at it electronically, but may try to charge you for it; it's easiest just to have it on your person at the point of sale.
  • If you still owe more money on a car than its worth, or the value you will get for it via trade in, that's called being "upside down" and it may be time to reconsider buying a new car until the current set of wheels is paid off, or at least gets above water. But trading in a car for less than is owed on it is basically taking a loss, and at that point buying a new car will just add more debt so we urge great caution in those situations.

Your trade in represents a great head start on a new car purchase, make sure not to waste it. And remember, NewCars.com is a great place to not only find out the Black Book value of your trade in, but to get a free internet price quote on your new car as well.

Need more new car buying advice? Check out our extensive How-To section.

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