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6 Tips: Get the Most for Your Trade-in

The money a dealership offers for a particular trade-in can vary a great deal from month to month, or even day to day. The fact is that there's no precise science to appraising a used car. Compounding this problem is the fact that some appraisers may try to lowball you while you're vulnerable, when you're excited about getting into your new vehicle. Here are some tips to help you out.

Find Its Value

You should never trade in a vehicle without having an idea of what its value is. Do a quick search and find some similar cars for sale. Make sure they are the same trim and year as yours. That is, if you have a 2011 Ford Focus SE, don't use a Ford 2010 Focus S to estimate its market value. You can find the value your model has sold for recently by searching its "true market value," which should be close to the amount you can receive for trading it in.

Sell Instead of Trade

This isn't really a trade-in tip; it's more of an alternative to trading in. When you sell your car on your own, you're able to get a feel for the market by reviewing offers. You can make the call when it's time to act on a good offer. Giving your car to a dealership in exchange for cash value doesn't give you this kind of control.

Consider the Timing

Let's say you have an AWD vehicle to trade in. It will probably sell better in the winter, when the first snow is falling. Drivers who don't have an AWD vehicle will be looking for one at that time. Dealers know this and will adjust their offer accordingly.

Here's another scenario. Imagine that gas prices jump to $7 a gallon and you have a Toyota Prius. If that were to happen, drivers would look for efficient cars like your Prius. Dealerships might even give you a special discount just to get your trade-in.

Clean it Up

Several sources say that spending money for cosmetic repairs before trading isn't a great idea. However, setting a few hours aside to wash, vacuum and wax your trade-in is a good idea. You should make the car look as good as you can because a better condition means a better value. Think of cleaning and waxing as revealing your car's true condition, not hiding its flaws.

Gather Your Records

If you have any maintenance records, bring them when you negotiate your car's value. A couple of oil change receipts won't go very far but receipts for all of your oil changes will be advantageous. Even better would be receipts for transmission fluid changes or timing belt replacements. If you usually go to the same auto shop, the service department may be able to print old receipts for you.

Separate the Negotiations

This is a big one. All of the experts will give you this tip if they're on their game. You shouldn't bundle your trade-in's value and the purchase price of your next vehicle into one negotiation. Negotiate the trade in value before you look at any numbers pertaining to your new vehicle. Then you can think of the trade-in value as a coupon for your purchase. If everything is jumbled together, it becomes confusing and you might lose money in the process.

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