Find Your Used Car Trade in Value

March 18, 2013

Learn the 5-step process for determining used car trade in value, factors that can lower it, and tips to increase it.

car key next to hundred dollar bills

If you are considering trading in your old car in order to reduce the price of purchasing a new vehicle, it is important to find out the accurate used car trade in value of your vehicle. Besides helping you decide whether or not you actually want to trade it in, an accurate trade in value will also ensure that you get a fair price from the dealer when it comes time to trade it in. If you're wondering how much your used vehicle is worth, follow these five helpful steps.

  1. When you are considering trading in your used car, you should know the difference between the trade in value and the loan value or retail value. The trade in value is what a dealer will give you for your car on a trade for another car. The loan value is what a bank will loan you on a car, and the retail value is what a dealer could expect to sell a car for.
  2. Write down the year, make, mileage, and model of your car. Include trim level if you know it. For example: 2002 Chevrolet Impala LTZ with 86,000 miles. Also, include as much standard equipment and options as possible, such as heated leather seats, sunroof, power windows, etc. This will be helpful to determine the best price of your car.
  3. Go online to a website that will allow you to calculate the price. There are several of these sites available to you, such as Autotrader, Kelly Blue Book (KBB.com), or right here on CarsDirect where you can get a free trade-in valuation. Enter as much information as you know about your car.
  4. When you get the results, you will notice that there are three "condition" quotes. Be realistic in your assessment of your car. No car is "excellent" condition unless a dealer could put the car on the show floor. Therefore, your car would be "good" condition or "poor" condition. Each of the criteria is explained for you. Write down the information that you get so that you can present it to the dealer at the time of the trade in. While the dealer may have a different assessment of the actual worth and value of your vehicle, this information will at least give you a ballpark estimate of how much you should receive in trade in value.
  5. When you know the approximate used car trade in value, you can then determine if you want to trade in your car, keep it and try to sell it yourself, or give it to another family member. Dealers will often compete with each other over the trade in value of your car. The more dealers you visit, the more you will learn about the value of your used car.

>>Calculate Your Car's Trade-In Value

Trading in your used car can often be a great way to get compensated for your old vehicle without having to go through the time-consuming process of actually selling it yourself. But before you trade it in, make sure that you have an accurate idea of exactly how much your car is worth.

Facts That Can Hurt Your Car's Value

Trying to sell an old car to a dealer at a fair price can be tough, moreso if you are unaware of how much your car is truly worth. Consider these aspects that could hurt your car's trade-in value before you go to make a trade, and keep them in mind when choosing your next car, too.

Color Affects Resale Value
Here's something you won't find on Kelley Blue Book: the color of your vehicle affects how easy it will be for the dealer to resell it. Pre-owned cars which are red, blue or silver are in higher demand than cars of different colors. A vehicle which is one of these 3 colors are more likely to be purchased, so a car dealer will be taking less of a risk that the car will not be resold, so the car is worth a little more. Certain colors can also harm the resale value: "irregular" colors like orange or purple tend to be difficult to sell, so cars of those colors will be worth less.

Some Investments Don't Pay Off
When purchasing a pre-owned vehicle, customers prefer function to flash. Features like heated seats or a navigation system are always great, but flashy extras like spinners or flame decals are not likely to impress a buyer and will not add any real value to the car. Tricking your car out is just fine if it's for your own benefit, but anything that does not add functionality to the vehicle should not be viewed as an investment.

Service Makes a Difference
There are obvious differences between cars that are well kept and maintainedy versus cars that aren't brought into a service department until they break down. Especially in older pre-owned vehicles, the care and attention paid to the vehicle will be evident and will strongly affect the resale value. The Kelley Blue Book value assumes excellent condition, which is very rarely the case. Any car which is not impeccably cared for will reflect heavier depreciation.

Dealers Have to Make a Profit
When bringing your car in for a trade, you need to be aware that car dealers must make a profit off of reselling your car in order to keep their business running. They will have to put paid labor into inspecting the vehicle and making it ready for sale, as well as take the risk that nobody will buy it. No matter how perfect your vehicle may be, you will not get the Kelley Blue Book price unless you sell it yourself, without a car dealer as the middle man.

Keeping these facts in mind when trading in your old car for a new one may help you determine a fair price for your vehicle, as well as choose and care for a car which will hold its value well in the future.

How to Increase Your Used Car Trade In Value

Every consumer wants to get the top used car trade in value when they go to trade in their car. Trade in car value can vary widely from each geographic area and is affected by not only the type of car but also the features of the car itself. Getting the best trade in values for used cars can seem to be a tedious process however, it is not really as difficult as one may think.

Adjust Expectations Based on the Area
While many websites like Edmunds.com or Kelley Blue Book will automatically adjust the worth of your trade in based on your geographic location, they may not take into account the state of the local economy or car market. In areas that are overly depressed or where the car market has gone stale, it is less likely that you will get the full amount specified. Be prepared when you go into the car dealership to be offered a "lowball" amount and stand firm when negotiating your price higher.

Provide Documentation of Maintenance
Documented maintenance schedules indicate to the car dealership that you took care of the vehicle and that it was maintained properly. In large part, the worth of your vehicle will be based on the overall mechanical function. By proving you kept it as up to date on maintenance issues as possible, you have a bargaining point with the dealer. Because of the maintenance schedule, the dealer will get a better price on the car when reselling it and he should pass these profits on to you for your diligence.

Determine a Cutoff Price
Before you even walk into the dealership, know what kind of price you will accept for the vehicle and stick to it. If the dealer simply will not meet your price, don't be afraid to walk away. Presumably there are other car dealers in your area, and any one of them should be interested in working on a used car trade in value with you, on your terms.

Be Prepared to Negotiate
It's important to remember that the price Kelley Blue Book gives you, while fairly accurate, is still a ballpark number. You should expect to get within a few hundred dollars of the price given by KBB, and potentially less if a professional inspection turns up some problems which you didn't know about. For the most accurate price estimate possible, you will have to have your car looked at in person by an auto appraiser.

The online Kelley Blue Book is an invaluable and easy to use resource for finding a trade in value estimate. However, entering information about your vehicle online is not the same as having a professional see it in person. Kelley Blue Book is excellent for making a general estimate, but you should not expect to receive precisely the amount which it suggests when you trade in your car.

Additional Tips
You can add value to your car by having it thoroughly cleaned and detailed (a detailing includes an upholstery cleaning and good carpet and headliner clean, as well as reconditioning for all vinyl and leather surfaces). The body should be cleaned and polished and any nicks or dings should be filled in before the cleaning. The wheels should also be cleaned. This can easily add $500 to the value of your vehicle.

You can also add value to your car by ensuring that there are no telltale signs of body painting, such as overspray, where a fine mist of paint is left on nearby non-painted surfaces. Be sure to check all body panels to make sure they are smooth. Make sure that the wheel wells are also smooth and that your bumper is in good condition (you can have it refinished for less than $100). If done correctly, these simple tips can easily add another $300 to $500 in second hand car value.

Your Used Car Trade In Value Advantage

You may be wondering if you'd be better off selling it or trading it in. After all, you want to try to get as much as possible for your old, trusty friend; but at the same time, you may not want to waste too much time with trying to sell yourself.

Benefits of Selling It Yourself
If you sell your vehicle yourself, you'll usually be able to get a somewhat higher price for the vehicle--but not always. Furthermore, you will be responsible for marketing the vehicle and showing it to potential buyers. You should know that selling a vehicle is never easy--just ask any used-car salesman. Therefore, always weigh how much more you think you might receive by selling yourself and the time and effort that will be required to sell the vehicle.

Benefits of Trading In
While you may not always receive the highest offer with a trade-in, dealers make it very easy to trade in a vehicle. The convenience itself has to be considered and accounted for. Furthermore, trading in a vehicle may help you avoid a substantial down payment or any down payment at all. Also, if your state charges a sales tax, the trade-in will help reduce the amount of the sales tax that you are charged. For example, if you buy a $10,000 car and the trade-in value is $5000, then you would only be required to pay sales tax on $5000. Depending on the rate of sales tax in your area, this could save you anywhere from 4% to 10%. Just think of the sales tax savings as an added bonus.

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