6 Ways to Increase Your Car’s Trade-In Value

Learn how to boost your car's trade-in value so you can get the most money out of it.

When you’re in the market for a new car, you might decide to do a trade-in at the dealership rather than sell your car directly to another party. Selling it yourself could net you more money, but it also means advertising, setting up meetings and test drives with potential buyers and possibly having deals fall through. See how you can increase your car’s trade-in value so you can purchase the car you want.

How Trade-In Value Is Determined

Although you’ll get less money if you trade in your car, the process is much easier and you can still negotiate to get the best possible price. The actual trade-in value is based on several factors:

Make/Model/Popularity: Some brands, like Hondas and Toyotas, traditionally have better car trade-in value because they command higher resale prices for dealers. Certain individual car models also get a higher trade-in price because of their desirability, like popular sports cars.

Age and Mileage: Newer cars are typically worth more because many used car buyers are bargain hunters looking for late-model vehicles at attractive prices, which makes them easy to sell. Older vehicles with low car mileage get good trade-in offers too, because buyers like cars that were only gently used by prior owners.

Condition: A car’s model, age and mileage don’t matter if it’s in poor shape. Dealers don’t want dirty cars with chips, scratches, dents, torn upholstery and other signs of an uncaring owner because those vehicles are hard to sell to finicky used car buyers.

Dealers are concerned about these factors because their profit on reselling trade-ins can hit thousands of dollars for a popular make and model in good shape, far exceeding the typical profit margin on a new vehicle of less than $1,000. That’s why you should research your car’s value and negotiate a fair trade-in price based on the wholesale value. The dealer will still make money by selling it at a higher retail price.

See: 5 Things to Never Tell a Car Salesman

How to Increase Your Car’s Trade-In Value

You can influence the factors that determine trade-in value and make your car more attractive. Here are six ways to increase a car’s trade-in value:

1. Make It Shine With Car Detailing

First impressions count, so investing in a full car detailing pays dividends in trade-in value. When your vehicle is sparkling clean, it gives the impression that it’s been well maintained, which can up the dealer’s offer by several hundred dollars.

If you don’t want to spend money on professional car detailing, do the job yourself. You can give the car a thorough wash and wax to make the exterior shine, then wipe down and vacuum the interior. Don’t neglect the tires when you’re making the rest of the car look good. Wash away the dirt, then polish the tires with a product to bring out the shine. Also, if the floor mats still look shabby after they’re cleaned, invest in an inexpensive new set.

2. Don’t Look Desperate

Don’t clean the car out completely if you don’t want to appear too desperate to get rid of it. If all your personal belongings are gone, the dealer might think you’re so eager to get a new vehicle that you’ll go for a low-ball car trade-in deal. Leaving some possessions inside gives you room to believably say you’re still shopping around.

3. Make Sure the Tires Are Good

You don’t have to replace the tires before you trade in your car if they’re in reasonably good shape, but consider getting an inexpensive set if the current tires have little to no tread. Otherwise, the dealership might focus on the bad tires as a reason to lower the trade-in price. If your tires are decent overall but are marred with curb rash, have them repaired. It’s a low-cost fix that might net you a higher car trade-in value.

Related: Where to Get the Best Cheap Car Insurance

4. Do Some Minor Car Repair

You might have lived with little annoyances — like sticking door latches, for example — for so long that you barely notice them; however, trading in a car with problems can net you less money. A dealer will spot issues right away and get the impression that you didn’t do a good job maintaining the car. Invest in car repair for small issues to get big pay-offs on the trade-in price; this goes for minor bodywork like dents and scratches, too.

A car repair as minor as fixing a burned-out headlight or buffing out a scratch supports the impression that you took good care of the car — and doesn’t cost you very much.

5. Show Documentation of Your Car’s Good Condition

Even though good looks might impress a dealer at first glance, you’ll get a better trade-in value if you have the documents to back it up. Bring oil change records and other maintenance-related paperwork to show that your car was well kept. If it’s never been in an accident, present a CarFax or Experian report to prove it.

6. Shop Around for the Best Trade-in Price

Research your vehicle’s trade-in price before you negotiate so you know if an offer is fair. You can find a number of online sources for checking out your car’s trade-in value — like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds and NADA, to name a few. Remember to figure in some profit for the dealer when you research prices.

When negotiating car trade-in deals, don’t make the first offer. Let the salesperson give you a price first. If it’s too low, you can always counteroffer and back it up with research on the car’s value.

You don’t have to accept the first figure, or any subsequent trade-in price, a dealership offers for your car. Get purchase offers from other dealerships and sell your car to one of them if that makes more financial sense, or use their offers as a bargaining tool. You might want to find a dealer that specializes in used cars if you have a vehicle in good condition with low car mileage, or you can bring your car to a dealership that sells the same make as your vehicle.

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