Skip to main content

The difference between your car’s trade-in value and retail value could tempt you to sell the vehicle yourself. However, due to the associated hassle and time, a private sale may not be as appealing as trading your car in. Before you visit the dealer’s lot, you should know the following information.

Know your values

Kelly Blue Book is a good source for obtaining vehicle values. It’s important that you be absolutely honest when entering information into the website. Variables like condition and miles can create a wide range of values for the same vehicle. For comparison’s sake, it’s even a good idea to get a value for a step below your vehicle’s condition.

It’s also important to remember that trade-in values will always be lower than what you could sell your car for. A dealership won’t give you more than it’s worth to their business. They’ll want to pay a price that allows them to invest a few hours detailing, possibly doing a few maintenance tasks, and still make 2-4% profit.

Make it presentable

Most dealerships, even small ones, have a service bay for minor repairs and tune-ups in addition to a detail department. They make your trade-in look and smell like it belongs on a car lot, so don’t spend a lot of time trying to make it perfect before heading to trade it in.

Also, when you tell them you’d like to trade your current vehicle, they’ll want to test-drive it. If they see it’s completely cleaned out and freshly polished this gives them a clue that you may be ready to make a deal. We’ll get into why that’s a bad idea soon.

Research your area

When you find a dealership you are interested in, it’s a good idea to review their inventory in-person to see if they have one or more vehicles similar to yours on the lot already. If they already have a few of the same model — or close to the same year — as your trade-in, it could make it harder to negotiate.

Negotiation tactics

As soon as you exit your vehicle on the lot, you’ll likely be greeted by an enthusiastic salesperson. They’ll introduce themselves, ask what brings you in, and offer an observation about the weather. Sound cliche? Welcome to the process. 

There is no need to be dishonest. But there is also no need to convey any sense of desire to buy a vehicle today — and especially not any vehicle on this particular lot. Avoid phrases like, “I need to trade this car,” “I need something more reliable,” or “better gas mileage.” 

You should be ready to walk away if the deal doesn’t seem fair. But remember, a fair deal is the best you can hope for. Walk away if you don’t feel they are giving you a fair value for your trade-in. Walk away, too, if they’re asking too much for the car you want to buy or add-ons.

Do not let the amount of time invested seem like you’ve reached a point of no return.