How to get the most for your trade-in
When it comes to buying a car, it’s usually out with the old and in with the new.Deciding whether to trade in your car and how much trade-in value to expect for it is an important part of the buying process.While automotive experts say there are ways buyers can increase the value of their trade-in, they consider other measures useless.“It depends on what kind of condition it’s in,” says Tony Hummel, a purchasing manager for CarMax, a nationwide company that buys and retails used cars and has more than 60 highly rated locations on Angie’s List. “Is it normal dirt, are the stains long lasting, or has the car been heavily stained? That can limit the marketability of the car. A lot of people also customize their car. But that can prove to have limitations, if the car was painted a wild color. It might not appeal to the masses.”Selling a car you plan to replace instead of trading it in could put more money in your pocket, but trading it in will eliminate the time and effort it takes to sell it yourself.Don’t overdo itScott McClure, who owns highly rated Westerville Automotive in Westerville, Ohio, doesn’t believe taking a car to a service station such as his before trading it in is worth the money. He found that out when he went to trade in his late mother’s car in January. “She had [two months before she died] put new tires on it, gave it an oil change, new struts and new belts,” McClure says. “But the value of the car is still the value of the car. And when I talked to a car buyer at a dealership, he told me that they just go by year, make, model and mileage. If anything, I think the first impression of having it cleaned can help with the trade in.”Hummel says people should save their money and not worry about things like oil changes, filling up the gas tank, adding windshield fluid and putting on new tires.“We’re not expecting to see spot-on maintenance,” Hummel says. “We’re looking to see if the car was maintained over the long haul of the vehicle. Was it regularly maintained, or was the car neglected? Does it have drivability issues? If it had gone through regular maintenance intervals, it should maintain its value a lot better.” First impressions matterDriving a clean car onto the dealership lot could help you get the most trade-in value, experts say.Eric Palacios, owner of highly rated Ace Car Reconditioning in Beaverton, Ore., says drivers should consider having the inside and outside of the car professionally detailed before taking it to a dealership to trade it in.“This way, the dealer doesn’t have to spend time doing it,” Palacios says. “It takes time. A lot of time, they have to send it to an auto detailer. The cleaner a dealer sees it, the less time they have to get it ready. Even a dealer gets turned off by a messy car.”It’s important to note, though, that many dealerships have their own detailing facility, so a full detail wouldn’t be a wise investment in those cases. Smaller dealerships or used car lots often have to hire a detailer to clean trade-ins, according to several auto dealerships on Angie’s List.On the inside of a car, Palacios says, a thorough detail will include shampooing the carpet and the seats and cleaning the dashboard. The total cost of a full detail can be around $100 to $225 on average, according to multiple reports on Angie’s List.Having a professional wax and polish the outside can also enhance the car’s exterior appearance. Also, consider having noticeable scratches, dents or rust fixed.Keep service recordsDealerships have online access to some of a car’s records, but likely not all of them. Hummel says if a seller has saved the car’s records, and it’s a good service history, the dealership will likely offer more money.“We love that because there’s a lot less risk,” Hummel says. “It makes the car more desirable.”Those service records could include oil changes, engine tune-ups and other repairs.Research your trade-in’s value Go to the dealership with a decent idea of what your trade-in is worth so you can negotiate a fair price. Many websites, like Kelley Blue Book, offer tools to give you an estimate of what the car is worth.How it works
At many dealerships, the money you get for your trade-in will go straight toward the payment of the new or used car. Other places may hand over a check for what they decide the vehicle is worth. CarMax is different than many dealerships because you can sell them your vehicle without purchasing one.“We’ll buy your car whether you’re buying for us or not,” Hummel says. “We give a free appraisal where we examine the interior and exterior of the car. We’ll write an offer that is good for seven days.”Hummel says the car will go through about a 30-minute inspection and a test drive by one of its buyers. The inspection includes examining the car inside and out, looking at aftermarket parts and/or modifications, options, features and frame or flood damage, according to CarMax’s website.Ultimately, the market value of the make and model, as well as the economy, can impact the trade-in value of the car. In 2008, for example, when gas prices neared the $5 mark, there was an influx of people selling SUVS, which in turn, lowered their market value.