- Give the car a good cleaning. The way your car looks reflects how well you've cared for it over the years, so cleaning is the single most important step you can take to ensuring a fair trade-in valuation.
- Do your best to get the smell of smoke out of the interior, if you're a smoker.
- Change the oil. Old oil shows that maintenance has not been a priority.
- Decide whether to buy tires. Some dealers prefer matching tires because that's how they sell vehicles on their lots. If the tires are new, however, you may not want to bother.
- Fix any "star" in the windshield. Once a crack starts to spread, the whole windshield has to be replaced, and a dealer will deduct the repair cost from the trade-in.
- Consider fixing obvious mechanical and body problems, especially big dents and scratches (door dings are OK). But forget about pricey repairs, or you may spend more than you'll get back.
- Be realistic. Most owners are too optimistic about what their cars will fetch in an honest trade-in.
To come up with an honest trade-in price, dealers consider what they would pay for a car like yours at a wholesale auction and then subtract what it would cost to repair and clean your car.
Dealers don't go by price guides, such as the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) "blue book," as rigidly you may think. But to get a very rough idea of what to expect for your trade-in, consider some point between the NADA blue book trade-in and loan values as a starting point (remember to subtract the cost of all necessary repairs and detailing). Forget about the retail price; even dealers don't get that much once deal making with the next buyer is done.
Consider selling your old car on your own. If you are willing to endure the hassle, you may get as much as 50 percent more for your vehicle.
Be wary of too high a trade-in valuation. A big offer up front compromises your negotiations on a new car if the dealer covers an overgenerous trade-in for your old car by inflating the price on your new set of wheels - a practice honest dealerships do not follow. To get a fair deal on both ends, you must keep the two transactions separate.
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