How to Negotiate a Good Trade-In for Your Car

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If you don't want to deal with the hassle and risk of selling your car on your own, trading it in may be the answer. You might not get as much money from a trade-in as you would selling to a private party, but the convenience and ease of doing so may be worth it. How much of a price you pay depends on how good a negotiator you are.

Know The Trade-In Value

Nothing gives you more confidence in a car negotiation than knowledge. Know the Kelley Blue Book trade-in value of your old car. You can peek at the private party value, but don't even think about that number at the dealership, because you won't get it. The dealer buys at wholesale to sell at retail. He won't pay retail. If he did, he wouldn't make any money on the deal. Be honest with your assessment regarding whether the car's in excellent, very good, good or fair shape. Most trade-ins -- 54 percent, according to Kelley Blue Book qualifications -- are in good condition. The better the condition of your car, the more you could get for it.

Read Reviews

Read everything you can about the car you're trading in. Look up reviews on your car from sites such as,, "Car and Driver" or "U.S. News & World Report's" used car rankings to see what the critics said about your car. If the reviews were good, use that in your favor to ask for a higher price. If the reviews were not so good, and the dealer brings this up, come up with a positive spin. For example, you might say that, although your Land Rover might not give people as smooth as ride as a Lexus RX, it's a stable and weighty car, which appeals to many people.

Give Your Car a Makeover

Remove all your personal items from the car. You want it to look as good as the other used cars for sale on the dealer's lot. Unless you are an expert car detailer, pay to have your car professionally cleaned. You might be used to wet dog or cigarette smell, but the dealer won't be impressed. Tell the detail shop that, besides wanting the car cleaned completely inside and out, you want all odors removed.

Show the Maintenance Records

If you were wise and responsible, you saved all the maintenance records for your car. Bring those to show the dealer. If you have proof you took good care of your car, you might negotiate a better trade.

Consider Selling to a Dealer

You don't have to trade-in your car at the same dealership you plan to buy your new car. If you want to buy a different model car, you might want to sell your car to a different dealer. A Mini Cooper dealer is not particularly interested in your Nissan, for example. You might get a better deal by selling your used Nissan to a Nissan dealer, and then going to the Mini Cooper dealer with the money you received.

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