If your vehicle isn’t running like it used to or you are just ready to upgrade to a shiny new one, it’s a good time to consider trading in. With used-car values hovering at record-high levels and inventory scarce, dealers are offering top dollar for trade-ins. Deciding to trade your current vehicle for another one is a good way to upgrade to a vehicle you really love. The trade-in process is generally much simpler than a private sale, and putting the value toward a new vehicle purchase can also lower your monthly payments.
Whether you’re trading in your car for a new one (or just a new-to-you car) or selling an extra car for cash, attention to detail matters. Getting a fair price for your old set of wheels is important, but the onus is on you. The first step in this process is getting your car prepped and ready before you set foot in a dealership.
Getting Ready to Trade Your Used Car for a New Car
Here are a few things you can do to ensure you get the most out of your trade-in before you go to sell your car:
- Clean the thing, inside and out. For the exterior, give it a thorough wash and a fresh coat of wax. On the inside, get rid of your personal items and vacuum the entire cabin. Don’t want to do it yourself? Have it detailed. Even though dealers have told us they can see through dirt to find a car’s actual value, a clean car makes a better impression and raises your chances of a higher offer.
- Fix small issues yourself. Check all the car’s lights, including interior dome lights, and replace them if needed. Also, check all fluid levels (washer fluid, coolant, brake fluid, etc.) and ensure they’re topped off. If your car needs more serious work, leave that for the dealer. Any major issues will lower the value of the trade-in, but the dealer can perform the repairs for less than it would cost you.
- Gather all important documents. Make sure you have the car’s title, service records, registration and anything else a prospective buyer might want to see. Cars that have been maintained with scheduled maintenance retain more of their value. Don’t feel the need to get a vehicle history report; dealers will pull one themselves.
- Grab any extras. Bring extra keys or other accessories for the vehicle. If the navigation system has a DVD or SD card associated with it, be sure to bring those items, as well. Dealers tell us that if these accessories are missing, you won’t get the full credit for your trade-in.
- Conduct your own inspection. Note any exterior dents and dings that can’t be buffed out with a little elbow grease. Take your current car out for a test drive and pay close attention to anything that just doesn’t seem right. If there are any issues with the car, whether electrical or even a need for new tires, note them.
- Determine your car’s estimated value. Do this after your inspection since that will give you a working knowledge of your vehicle’s blemishes. You can then use that information to get a more accurate idea of what you should expect to get when you visit the dealership. Cars.com’s sell tool can provide an estimated trade-in value based on your vehicle’s age, mileage and condition so you have a good starting point for negotiations with the dealership’s buyer.
- Get multiple offers. Many dealerships will make an offer to buy your vehicle even if you aren’t buying one from them. As used-car values surge, your car may be worth more than you think. To get the most money for your trade-in, secure multiple offers in writing, then go with the highest one or use it as a bargaining tool if you get a lowball offer.
For more on getting your car ready for sale, check out the video below.