How to Estimate Your Used Car's Trade-In Value?

Estimating your used car trade-in's value before visiting a dealership will save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, and help you avoid dealer scams. There are several tricks-of-the-trade a dealer may use to avoid giving you the full amount of what your trade's worth.

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You will get more money for selling your current car privately instead of trading it in at a car dealership.

It's understandable that some people don't have the time or patience to sell their car privately. If you decide to trade your current car in. There are several factors such as the used car market, mileage, overall condition, and popularity of the vehicle that determines its overall value.

The used car market fluctuates pretty much on a daily basis. This makes determining exactly what a used car trades worth almost impossible.

What can you do? With a little research you can get a good estimate of what your trade is worth, so you can have an idea of what a dealer should offer you.

Actual Cash Value (ACV) Definition

This term originated in the insurance industry, it's used loosely in the car business. Basically a car's actual cash value is also known as the fair market value (FMV). The definition of Fair market value is: The total amount someone is willing to pay for the vehicle, in the condition it's in, at the time of sale.

After buying a new or used car, the moment you drive it off the lot, it begins to depreciate in value. Even if you only put 50 miles on it and try to trade it, depending on what you paid, will be much less than the original purchase price. To make matters worse, the longer you've had the vehicle, the more it depreciates in value.

Other factors that determine the ACV of a vehicle:

  • The vehicles age
  • Seasonal timing (Convertibles in the winter)
  • Average wear and tear
  • Mileage on the car
  • Previous accidents
  • Major discrepancies on vehicle
  • Current market for the vehicle (4x4 in a metropolitan area)
  • Reconditioning needed

All of this information is taken into consideration when determining the actual cash value of the vehicle at the time of appraisal.

Why You Should Estimate Your Trade Value

By getting an estimate of what your vehicle's worth will keep a car dealer from attempting to "steal" your trade. A dealer is only going to offer you roughly wholesale value for your vehicle minus any reconditioning costs they must pay to get the vehicle ready for sale.

It's common for a dealer to lowball the value of a vehicle when a customer trades in a car. If you already have an estimate of your vehicle's value you will be able to avoid this common car dealer scam. Read our chapter on the trade-in value scam here.

How to Estimate the Value of Your Trade

We recommend using the Black Book appraisal tool. Their appraisal tool is free and provides you with the closest estimate to what a dealer will actually give you when trading in a vehicle. I've provided you with a direct link that opens in a separate window here - Appraise Your Trade Here.

Black Book's appraisal tool will give you a good estimate of what your trade is worth at a dealership, privately selling it on your own and even what a dealer will retail it for. Keep in mind, an appraisal is just sombody's opinion. It is good practice to get several professional "opinions" of what your trade is worth.

The reason I like Black Book's appraisal tool over a tool like Kelley Blue Book (KBB) is because KBB is a California publication and most dealers don't use them when appraising a vehicle.

Their appraisal values can sometimes run a couple thousand dollars or more higher than what a dealer will give you. For people in California KBB is the way to go but using KBB in other parts of the country will give you false hope and unrealistic values when trying to figure a realistic number.

When entering information into a site such as or Edmunds make sure you're being as honest and fair as possible. You do not want to cheat the system for example: Don't state your car only has 50k miles on it and it really has 59,867 miles or state your vehicle is in excellent condition and it really is in rough condition.

The Internet Will Not Write a Check For Your Trade-in

A car dealer will give you any money for your car until someone actually appraises it. Your goal is to get as close to the true Actual Cash Value (ACV) of what your car is worth. If you don't tell the truth about the condition of your vehicle, you're only hurting yourself in the long run. Keep in mind, a live person will eventually appraise your vehicle and these professionals will catch any deceptiveness on your part.

Follow this link to appraise your current vehicle for free: Appraise and Value Your Car Now.

You will also be asked to select the overall condition of your vehicle. Your choices will be outstanding, clean, average, rough, or damaged.

Car dealers have their own sources to value used cars when appraising them. The public doesn't have access to this industry information and these values tend to run a lot lower than the values on most of the online appraisal tools. As I stated earlier, the Black Book appraisal tool is about as close to actual appraisal values as possible.

If your car does not fall under damaged or rough, always select its current condition as AVERAGE. You may want to print the pages out for the ROUGH values also, just to have for your records.

If the car is in like new condition with just a few thousand miles on it, you can select CLEAN, but you should still select AVERAGE also to keep on file in case you need to revert back to it.

After seeing these amounts you will see why we STRONGLY suggest selling your current vehicle privately or on your own.

Determining the value of your car is not an easy task, however there are some steps you can take to get a very good estimate.

The used car market raises and lowers on a daily basis. Remember an appraisal is just someone's opinion. The more opinions you can get the better idea you'll have of what your vehicle is worth.

Alternate Ways to Calculate Trade Value

Online companies such as CarClearanceDeals, CarsDirect, and Automotive.com use current market values such as Kelley Blue Book and Black Book to figure the value of cars. You can visit these websites, find their trade-in or used car sections, enter your trades information, and get a good idea what your vehicle is worth.

You can also call around to several local dealerships and ask to speak with the used car manager. Describe your vehicle to him and ask what he believes your cars value would be. It may be tough to get answers because manager's don't like to give sight unseen appraisals. If you're trading in a Chevy, you may want to call a Chevrolet dealer to get the best bids.

Get a minimum of three or four bids, average them out, and it will give you an idea of what your vehicle is worth.

Contrary to popular belief, after making a car ready for sale, most car dealers only mark-up their cars somewhere between $1,000 to $2,500 over wholesale value. There's not a huge 300% mark-up like in other retail industries.

With that in mind you can go to the used car sections of sites like CarClearanceDeals, CarsDirect, and Automotive.com to search for your current car. Whatever the list price is, discount the car about $2,500 and that will be a pretty good estimate on your vehicles value BEFORE any reconditioning or repair costs.

There are several conditions other than the actual vehicle that may affect a trade-in's value such as the vehicle's popularity, quality, history, and the overall used car market.

In conclusion, the best way to determine the value of your trade is to get several honest opinions of the vehicle you're wanting to trade. Gathering different appraisals online and offline will give you a good idea of what your vehicle is truly worth.

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My Recommended Sites for Car Shopping

CarClearanceDeals and CarsDirect are the quickest way to check used car prices in your local area. These online sites will provide you with free, no-obligation quotes and the prices you're quoted are normally very good. You can also use this free information to negotiate a better price between dealers.

Share Your Tips - If you have any tips on how to estimate your vehilcle's trade in value that will help other car buyers save money. Please tell us about it in the comments below, so we can share it with everyone.

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Did You Know?


Keep in mind, a used car appraisal is just one person's opinion.

If you have 10 professional appraisers look at the exact same vehicle, you'll end up with 10 different values.

This is why you should gather a few "opinions" to get a good estimate of what your trade vehicle is worth.

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