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Moving? Trade in Your Car Before You Leave

If you’re packing your bags and heading for a new city, you may also realize the car you drove in your current city may not be ideal for your upcoming relocation.

Some cars will be poor fits for dramatic lifestyle changes. That roadster you’ve enjoyed in summery Miami won’t cut it in wintry Milwaukee. Similarly, that big pickup that hauled you around in Tucson won’t fit down some of the streets of San Francisco.

Is it better to sell your car before you move? Let’s explore.

Why Trade in Your Car Before Moving?

There are many good reasons to leave your car in your old city, and many of them are easy enough to justify financially.

1. Consider the Cost Of Shipping

Shipping a car can get expensive, especially if you’re traveling a long distance or between two cities that see limited shipping traffic.

Car transport companies charge by the mile but finding a truck going between two destinations can be challenging. For instance, truckers often stick to the middle of the country, where they can pick up and drop off multiple vehicles on the same route. For example, San Diego is the end of the line for a truck route, leaving the driver nothing to do but turn around.

Mileage rates vary based mainly on the current cost of fuel. As of this writing, fuel prices have dramatically increased due in part to the Russia and Ukraine war, so you can expect even higher costs for shipping a vehicle.

If you’re looking at several thousand dollars to move your car across the country, it may be a big money saver to skip that and buy a new vehicle instead if you need one.

2. Your Car May Be Worth More Here Than There

A 2-wheel-drive SUV that worked well in Southern California will be tough to sell in a wintry climate. It’s worth it to sell before you go in this case.

Additionally, buyers in some markets will expect certain features. While a luxury car without heated seats may not matter in San Antonio, it may command a surprisingly different price in Minneapolis simply because it lacks that “must-have” option.

We’ll talk about comparing your trade-in value a few paragraphs down, so hang on.

3. Registration Fees Can Add Up

If you were thinking about upgrading to a new ride anyway, why bother paying to license your car in another state only to sell it soon after arrival?

You’ll need to pay something to register your car in a new state, and at the very least, even a trip to the most efficient motor vehicle services office will take time.

4. Your Car May Not Even Be Legal In Your New State

Finding out your vehicle may not be legal where you’re moving happens more often than you think, especially with older models. A patchwork of emissions requirements across the country means that cars sold in California must meet stricter standards than those sold in Georgia.

If manufacturers did not build a car to California standards and you try to pass a mandatory emissions test in that state, they may fail it before they even hook up their equipment. Specific emissions requirements like evaporative canisters or unique catalytic converters exist in California and a handful of other states that follow its standards. A California inspector will automatically fail the car if they don’t spot the right equipment.

Even if you’re not moving to one of those states, you may find yourself relocating to somewhere with emissions testing after years of living somewhere without that requirement. If your car is older, it may need costly repairs before it passes those tests. According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines, most major metropolitan areas require emissions testing.

5. How To Find The Value of Your Trade-In

Before placing that “for sale” sign on your car or heading to a dealership, check out the valuation tool from our sister site Kelley Blue Book.

The tool will ask for basic information such as the car’s mileage, features, color, and condition, which may significantly affect its value. Be sure to read through the features section carefully, and don’t ignore scratches, dents, or mechanical flaws. A prospective buyer won’t ignore them, whether a dealer or a private party.

Now enter that information using the ZIP code where you’re moving. You can compare these two values and consider the level of difficulty involved in selling a vehicle that may be less desirable in your new home.

Armed with this information, you can make an informed decision when you get to the dealership.

What You Need Before Trading in Your Car

You can’t simply hand over your keys and expect a dealership to cut you a check. They’ll need the following before you trade in the vehicle:

  • The title, if the car is paid off
  • Payoff information if there is still a loan
  • Your driver’s license
  • All keys
  • The owner’s manual
  • Any accessories such as floor mats or roof rack parts

You’ll also want to make sure to remove your personal effects, so dig through the glove box and any hidden storage bins in the vehicle.

The car should be clean when you visit a dealership. A shiny car will help the dealership determine the best possible price for it. If your car’s tires look worn out or the vehicle needs repairs, you may also want to address these.

What to Look for in Your New Car

Now comes the fun part!

Like those sweaters you traded for swimsuits (or vice-versa, depending on where you move to), you may find that the features you prioritized in your current car are not essential for your new one.

Do you need a heated steering wheel in Las Vegas? Probably not. But cooled seats and tinted windows may be great add-ons.

Similarly, summer-only tires aren’t going to cut it if the temperature routinely drops below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, so budget accordingly. Likewise, you don’t necessarily need all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive just because your new place gets some snow. A set of good winter tires will go a long way, perhaps even farther than all-wheel drive with all-season tires.

What about if your new place offers a smaller garage than your old one or if you move to a more congested area? Your big SUV that worked well in the suburbs of Dallas might be a constant hassle on the narrow streets of urban Chicago, for instance.

If you need a car to drive in the new location and decide to trade your vehicle, it can be a challenge to locate a new ride. You’ll want to do additional research to purchase a new or used car and use our guide on car buying during the chip shortage.

Related Stories on Selling and Buying Vehicles:


Should you sell your car before moving?

You’ll at least want to explore the option. Your car may be worth more where you currently live. Additionally, the cost of transporting it may be too high to justify moving it. Older models may also not pass emissions testing in more stringent places.

Should I sell my car in a different state?

That depends on whether the car will be worth more in that state than it is in your current state. If you plan to keep the car in your new state for more than a few weeks, you’ll likely need to register it there, too.

Can I trade-in my car in a different state?

Yes, you can, but the dealership may not offer you as much in your new state as they would have in the old one. 

Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz is an author specializing in helping in-market consumers get the most bang for their buck -- and the best car, while they're at it. When not virtually shopping for new and used cars, Andrew can probably be found under the hood of a vintage classic that's rapidly losing fluids.

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