Tips to Get You the Most Value Out of Your Trade-In

Feb 16, 2021
buying a new car blog

Ready to replace your vehicle and considering exchanging it for credit toward the price of your next car? Trading in your car to a dealership offers a number of advantages which can make it preferable to arranging for a private party sale. Although you may be able to net more cash from a sale to an individual buyer, this approach often involves many potential pitfalls in terms of time, hassle, potential liability, and out-of-pocket costs that can reduce your profit. In addition to the money and effort you may need to spend on advertising, cleaning and fuel for test drives, you’ll want to account for inconveniences like no-shows and buyers who back out of the deal. You’ll also be responsible for completing the title transfer yourself, and may need to arrange for transportation between the time you sell your car and buy your new one.

For those who wish to bypass these obstacles and expenditures, a trade-in is often the best option. However, agreeing to trade in your car need not mean leaving money on the table. Ensure you get the most money for the vehicle you’re ready to offload with these pointers:

car with price

Get a good sense of what the car may be worth to the dealership

You’ll negotiate from a much stronger and more confident position if you have a realistic idea of the market value of your vehicle before presenting it to the dealership. Factors that will determine its value include make and model, year, trim level and/or style, mileage, condition, options, color, and vehicle maintenance and repair history. Current demand for the specific type of car you own and where you live will also come into play.

As Kelley Blue Book points out, dealerships generally won’t offer to pay you resale value even if your vehicle is in mint condition, since this prevents them from making a profit on your car. So, look for an estimate based on the car’s trade-in value, as opposed to the retail or the private party value. Consumer Reports explains that trade-in value is similar to the auction wholesale value, or the price a car may sell for at an auction. However, the dealership may actually pay more for your vehicle than the auction price if your car is in high demand, since they won’t have to pay auction and transport fees.

car trade in

Compare trade-in values from various sites and shop around for quotes

Trade-in values will vary, so it can be helpful to check multiple sites to get a useful range for your vehicle. Some examples of these include Consumer Reports’ Car Value Estimator, Kelley Blue BlookNADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) and Certain sites will request greater details about your vehicle for a more in-depth assessment or potential offer, like and After you have an estimated range, it can also be a good idea to take your vehicle to a few local dealers and ask them to tell you what they might pay for it. For some perspective, a quick internet search on a seven-year-old, five-door, five passenger compact minivan revealed trade-in values varied by thousands of dollars.

signing papers to buy a car

Consider the best timing

In terms of the ideal time to sell, the law of supply and demand holds sway. You’re more likely to get a higher trade-in value for a convertible in the summer, and more for an SUV or truck in winter. The personal finance tech company SmartAsset also points to gas prices and fuel efficiency as factors to take into account. For instance, a dealer may be willing to pay more for a vehicle with good fuel economy or an alternative powertrain when prices at the pump are rising.

As Consumer Reports explains, both cars and trucks that are three years old are in high demand at dealerships, especially since they can be sold as a certified pre-owned vehicle. However, CR also cautions that since cars depreciate so much in the first year, you’ll want to ensure that you don’t sell the car when you actually owe more money on it than it is worth (e.g., if you made a smaller down payment). Depreciation generally slows after three years, so you likely won’t be losing as much value on the vehicle each year after this time. CR notes that the five-to-seven-year timeframe before maintenance costs have started rising significantly can be a good time to sell your vehicle.

fixing car

Spruce up your vehicle

A well-maintained, clean car is a selling point for dealerships that won’t have to spend as much on reconditioning costs to get the car ready for sale. Clean both the exterior and interior thoroughly yourself to save money, or have it detailed. Be sure that the engine compartment is cleaned as well as the carpets, upholstery and floor mats. Order new mats if yours are worn (ordering online is usually the most cost-effective way to go), make any minor repairs, replace missing items and get an oil change or engine tune up if necessary. Consumer Reports recommends that you fix inexpensive items such as a knob or foggy headlights, but to think twice about expensive work like major dents and wheel damage, which a dealership can usually do much more cheaply than you. Their detailed guide on “How to Maximize Your Used Car’s Curb Appeal” offers excellent tips.

trade in value picture

Negotiate your car’s trade-in value separately from the rest of the deal

When negotiating at a dealership, you’ll want to carefully consider every component separately, from the vehicle’s price and its various options, to financing and the value of your trade-in. Otherwise, it’s more difficult to discern where the dealership may agree to something that seems advantageous to you, only to make up the difference in another aspect of the deal.

A good plan of action is to negotiate your trade-in value first, before discussing the price you want to pay for the new vehicle itself. Many dealers will buy your car without an obligation to use it as credit toward another car.  In these cases, you can actually arrange a trade-in first, and then decide if you want to buy your next car from that dealership.

Despite the quirky name, The explains the psychology of this strategy helpfully, “...when you use your trade-in as a bargaining chip, you may get the dealer to agree to your terms, but you don’t know when they might turn around and recoup their costs when selling you the new vehicle.” For instance, the dealership might offer less favorable financing terms or hold to a higher price for the new vehicle.

shopping around for cars

Slow your roll

Unless you’re in a major hurry to unload your vehicle, it generally pays off to shop around and get a few quotes from different dealerships before agreeing to an offer. And by subtly communicating to the dealership that you’ve done your research and are willing to walk away, you’ll be less likely to field numerous low-ball offers. As odd-sounding as it may be, you’re more apt to get closer to the price you want faster if you don’t appear to be rushed.

Like the idea of a terrific deal on a low-mileage, recent-model vehicle that has been meticulously maintained and inspected— and the assurance that you’re getting a great value for your trade-in without having to haggle over prices? Then visit any of our four Enterprise Used Car Sale locations between Feb. 12-21, and when you finance your new vehicle with The Police Credit Union, you’ll receive a 1.25% APR rate discount! What’s more, Enterprise will appraise your vehicle using Kelley Blue Book values and add $1,000 in credit toward your purchase!

In addition to car loan rates as low as 1.14% APR* for qualified buyers, The Police Credit Union offers flexible repayment terms and 90 days of no payments. Plus, if you finance an Enterprise vehicle at the sale, you'll get a $50 gift card as our gift to you.** Find details at

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Example rate of 1.14% APR with 36 monthly payments = $28.27 per $1,000 borrowed, assumes .25% discount for enrollment in automatic payments, a 1.00% off current The Police Credit Union rate with a max loan term of 60 months, and .25% discount for members who purchase a vehicle at an Enterprise Car Sales location on February 12-February 21, 2021 (fully indexed rate of 2.64%). APR is based on evaluation of credit history, so your rate may differ. Rates, fees and terms are subject to change at any time, visit our website for current rates at **$50 Gift card will be emailed to members who finance a vehicle with The Police Credit Union through Enterprise Car Sales on February 12-February 21, 2021 two weeks after the car sale has ended.

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APR = "Annual Percentage Rate". Actual APR is based on your credit profile and may be higher than the lowest rate available. Posted rates may include promotional discounts and other terms and conditions. APY = "Annual Percentage Yield". Rates are subject to change without notice.

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