6 Tips for Trading in a Car (and Getting a Good Deal)

car trade in deals

Buying a new vehicle is an exciting prospect for car owners. Who doesn’t like the thought of driving away in a shiny new model with the latest bells and whistles? But for some, stepping into a dealership can be daunting. Options seem endless and confusing, and negotiating can be stressful.

On top of that, there’s the issue of what to do with your current car. It’s true that selling a used car yourself is often more profitable than a trade-in. But there are also advantages to trading that car to the dealer, including paying less in sales tax. By subtracting the trade-in amount from the new car price, “You would only pay sales tax on the difference that’s left,” says Lauren Fix, an automotive expert known as the Car Coach.

Once a decision is made to trade your used vehicle, there are a number steps you can take to help get you the best deal from the car dealership. Here are 6 tips to help you get a fair deal on your trade-in car:

1. Stage your car

Some car experts advocate taking your car ‘as is’ to the dealer – they can tell if it’s in good shape regardless. But others believe a thorough cleaning reflects on how you treated the car overall, and can give you an extra edge.

“Stage it,” says Fix. “Get all the junk out of the vehicle. Have the car washed, waxed and vacuumed, because the dealer is going to walk around it and make a determination on its value when you bring it in.” Clean the engine, too, so when you pop the hood you don’t see grime and grease.

2. Fix the dings

Lauren Fix also advises getting small, exterior dings fixed. “You want to make the car look as new as you can,” she says. This goes only for cars with less than 50,000 miles, she adds, because vehicles with high mileage typically go to auction, where appearance is not so important.

3. Have receipts handy

The first step should start when you initially acquire the car: keeping records and receipts. If so, when the day arrives to finally trade your vehicle, you can show the dealer receipts for all the purchases and repair work done on the car. If the dealer questions the condition of a certain engine part or area of the car, you can back up your side with a receipt. “Even though the dealer might throw those receipts out later, it says you took care of the car and ‘here’s proof,’” says Fix.

4. Do some competitive research

Another important step to take before arriving at the dealer is to do your homework. Visit multiple websites and check the value of similar vehicles with the same mileage while monitoring ecommerce sites to follow your car model’s auction price. “Print out that information,” says Fix. “The first offer you get from the dealer is going to be low.” When you counter-offer with a higher price you can say, “here’s the paperwork to back that up,’” she says.

5. Look for promotions

Be aware that a dealership’s offer on your trade-in can be affected by several factors, including current inventory and the likelihood the car will sell. Look for dealers who may be offering special promotions with trade-ins, or visit at the end of the month when sales quotas need to be met. It’s always recommended to get quotes from competing dealerships to find the best deal.

Walking into the dealership with a folder of receipts and research on your car’s market value can help you establish a price for your trade-in up front. “You can make a straight-up deal,” says Fix. “‘I want to sell you this truck for $10,000,’ and put that money into the new car.” This puts the business of trade-in haggling to rest and allows you to focus on your main goal: finding the new car you want.

6. Prepare to walk

Finally, if the deal doesn’t make you happy, don’t be afraid to walk away. “Never be pressured to sign on the bottom line,” says Fix.
These trade-in tips can help you get a fair price for your old car. But what should you look for when buying your next car? Here are some key tips for buying a new car.