Search Cars for Sale

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

There are a lot of moving parts when buying a new car. One such part is what do you do with the used car you currently drive? You can flat-out sell it to a dealer. You can sell it to another person in a private sale, or you can trade it in toward the downpayment on a new car. No matter which avenue you pick, you want to maximize your car’s value. We’ve put together a few trade-in tips to help you get the most for your current ride when buying a new car.

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

Trade-in evaluators at the dealership expect your used car to have a few minor dings and scratches. Your trade-in value shouldn’t be significantly affected by them. But, if some of those dings aren’t minor or there are a lot of them, then they can affect the trade-in value. It’s the same with scratches. Having a dent repaired is cheaper than you probably think. If you look, you can find companies specializing in small-dent repair that will fix them for $50-$100. Most nicks and scratches in the paint, you can fix yourself on a Saturday afternoon. There are online sites like AutomotiveTouchup that can match more than 60,000 paint colors. They have all the appropriate supplies, as well as instructional videos.

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.


Our editors are here to make car buying easier. We’ve driven, reviewed and compared thousands of cars. We’ve bought and sold more than our fair share, too. And as part of the sprawling Cox Automotive group of companies, we have exclusive access to a range of valuable data and insights. Whether you’re looking for the best car, the best deal or the best buying advice, you can trust... Read More about Autotrader

Sign up for Autotrader newsletters

The best cars and best deals delivered to your inbox

Email Address 

By subscribing, you agree to our privacy policy

Where You Can Buy

Loading dealers...


  1. I agree with all but #2! The strongest tool you have is that if they meet your numbers, you will buy today! Having your car cleaned out, even low on fuel shows them you are ready to act if they will meet your price!

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles

2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: First Look

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid jumps to the head of the hybrid class.

Best Truck Deals: June 2022

These are the best deals on trucks for the month of June 2022.

Here Are 5 Great 1980s Performance Cars for Sale on Autotrader

Looking for a fun 1980s car? Look no further.

Search By Style

More Articles Like This