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Car Buying

Buying a New Car: Getting the Most Money for Your Trade-In

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author photo by Doug DeMuro August 2013

If you're buying a new car, it's likely you'll be trading in your old one. While many shoppers don't like this process because they think dealers don't offer enough money on trade-ins, we have a few tips that can help change that. Our list of trade-in tips will help you get the most money possible for your old car when you decide it's time to buy a new one.

1. Wash It

Any time you sell a car, you can increase the money you'll get by simply washing it. That even includes trade-ins. When it comes time to trade in your car, spend some time -- or a little money -- cleaning it up. That includes vacuuming the interior, washing the wheels, applying tire shine and doing anything else that makes certain it can present in the best shape possible.

2. But Don't Clean It Out

It's not a good idea to arrive at a dealer with your trade-in completely cleaned out of all papers, personal items and other belongings. Dealers will take your trade-in for a test drive -- and they'll see it's empty. That gives them the upper hand in negotiating, since it shows that you're ready to get rid of your old car and buy a new one. Our advice: Even if you want to buy right away, don't show that to dealers. Make sure your trade-in still has a few personal effects inside so you can say you're still considering your decision.

3. Fix Any Dents

Dealers can easily use dents and scratches as a way to explain a low offer price. To avoid this, it's best to get such items fixed before trading in your car. Dent repairs aren't as expensive as you might think: Many "paintless dent repair" companies can take out small dents for $50 or less, making it an easy way to improve trade-in value. Scratches can be more difficult and may require buffing or even repainting. In the latter case, it may not be worth the expense, as you won't see the money back. But if a simple buffing at a detailer is the only thing needed to take out a scratch, we recommend giving it a try.

4. Fix Small Problems

Although you may have learned to live with a window that doesn't roll down or a headliner that sags, new buyers won't want those items on their new cars. That means such small issues could affect trade-in value, since dealers will have to pay to fix them before re-selling your car. Our advice: Using a small budget, address repairs on your trade-in that are most obvious. A new key fob battery, for instance, may go a long way to convincing a dealer that your car has been well maintained.

5. Fix Wheel Curb Rash

It's happened to everyone: You pull up to a curb and your wheel scrapes the edge. This is called "curb rash," and it's a surprisingly cheap fix. In fact, businesses are devoted solely to fixing it. Most dealers won't sell a car with such curb rash, meaning they'll have to pay to fix it, but if you address curb rash before trading in your car, you may see an increase in value.

6. Consider Your Tires

While we don't generally suggest buying new tires before trading in your vehicle, it can be a good idea in certain cases. One is if the tires have absolutely no remaining tread. The dealer will use this as a negotiating point to offer a lower price. If this is the case with your car, we suggest springing for a set of inexpensive new tires before trading it in. It may be worth it when it comes time to negotiate the trade-in price of your vehicle.

Once you've ensured your car is ready to sell, consider using Autotrader's Trade-In Marketplace tool to make the trade-in process easy. Trade-In Marketplace lets you fill in vehicle information and get a free, instant cash offer from a dealer near you.

What it means to you: If you're buying a new car, remember not to neglect your trade-in. Our tips help ensure you'll get top dollar for your old car.

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 New Car: Getting the Most Money for Your Trade-In - Autotrader