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Getting the Most Out of Your Trade

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When the time comes to buy your next vehicle, surely one of the main factors in your buying decision will be the value of your trade-in.  Here’s what you can do to make your trade-in as appealing as possible to dealers:

  1. Know your buyer–you think of your car as a trade-in towards something newer, cleaner, better.  The person appraising your car at a dealership thinks of your car as a piece of inventory.  Try to look at your car through a buyer’s eyes and ask yourself what would appeal to a buyer, specifically, a buyer whose intention it is to re-sell the car for a profit.
  2. Address any obvious issues–check engine lights or ABS lights are going to be a red flag.  They introduce an uncertain situation for the appraiser.  Will it cost $100 to fix or $1000?  Experienced appraisers draw from experience to play the odds.  If there’s a light on your dash, the odds are it’s because you brought it to a mechanic and the cost to repair it was high enough that you decided to trade instead.  Understand that if there’s a light on the dash, an appraiser is going to guess on the high end when estimating cost to repair.  If possible (and affordable), get these issues fixed before you try to trade-in your vehicle.
  3. Get your vehicle detailed–we’re all human, even the person appraising your vehicle.  An immaculately clean car is going to be valued, literally, $100’s of dollars more than a dirty one.  If you have kids, this is especially true.  Sure, the dealership’s job is to detail the car before they resell it.  But your job is to get the maximum value out of your vehicle.  Whether you detail it yourself or pay a professional, a clean car will make the initial offer higher plus give you a bargaining chip to use later.
  4. Be honest–the person appraising your car is just that–a person.  Treat them with respect and they will do the same.  You don’t have to volunteer information, it’s the appraiser’s job to ask questions for clarification.  But if they do ask questions, answer them honestly.  Everyone at the dealership wants you to buy a car–it’s how they make their living after all–and they’ll do everything they can to help you.  If you don’t feel like they are being respectful or helpful, then see #5.
  5. Buy where you are comfortable–it’s easy to get hung up on price.  Try to remember that you are making an investment–in the car, in the salesperson, and in the dealership.  Did you like your salesperson?  Did you like your appraiser?  Were they friendly?  Did you trust them?  Will you be comfortable walking into this store for service over the next 3-5 years?  Look, you shouldn’t have to pay $1,000’s of dollars to buy at a place where the people are nice.  But you might want to consider paying a few hundred dollars more to buy a car from people you like, trust, and want to see again.