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Car Buying

Buying a Car: Can Dealerships Trade Cars?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro July 2014

If you're interested in buying a car -- whether new or used -- you may find yourself in a situation in which the right model is in another state at a faraway dealership. When that happens, you might consider asking your local dealership to trade with the other dealer to get the exact car that you want. So can your local dealership do that? In many cases, the answer is yes, but it depends on your exact circumstances.

It may be possible if the cars you want to trade are new models. The reason that most dealers will only trade new cars is that no two used cars are the same, and the process of trying to determine value differences can be sticky. For example, suppose you like a 2012 Camry with 20,000 miles at a faraway dealer and your local dealer only has a 2013 Camry with 15,000 miles to trade back. How do the dealers determine the difference in value? It could come down to trim levels, options and colors. Even then, one car may be in better mechanical condition than the other. This problem isn't relevant for new cars because they each carry suggested retail prices from the manufacturer.

Additionally, most dealers will only trade for the same model. What we mean is that your local Toyota dealer may be able to trade a new silver Camry for a new red Camry located elsewhere if you prefer the color or options of the red one. The dealer may not be able to do the deal if, for instance, you find a Toyota Tundra elsewhere and your local dealer doesn't have any Tundra units to trade.

As a result, we suggest only asking your dealership to trade new cars. Even then, trading might not be a good idea. The primary reason is cost: Usually the dealer who initiates the trade is stuck paying transportation costs for both vehicles, which makes the deal more costly for your dealership. Of course, when the time comes to sign the papers, the dealer is likely to pass along that cost to you.

We suggest that anyone interested in buying a car that requires a trade should first come to a written agreement on the sale price. The dealer may also ask you to sign an agreement confirming that you will buy the car, since they've gone to the trouble (and cost) of shipping it for you. You may not be able to back out of this agreement, so consider strongly whether you really want the car before initiating the trade.

In the end, trading cars is surprisingly common in the dealership world. Because the process can be a bit cumbersome, we suggest that you decide exactly what you want before asking your dealer to start the legwork. Still, don't consider a car lost if it's at another dealership in another state. In most cases, your local dealer will work hard to get it for you and keep you happy.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Buying a Car: Can Dealerships Trade Cars? - Autotrader