Car Dealership Trade in Process Tips and Secrets

I will always recommend selling your trade-in on your own over trading it in at a dealership. When selling a vehicle on your own, you can ask for more money (retail prices) than what a dealer will ever offer you. I understand some people must trade because they don't have the time or patience. This section will teach you some basic tips and tricks to help you navigate a dealers trade in process.

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There are two things a dealer will do when you trade your car in, offer you wholesale or less for your vehicle, and attempt to "hold money on your trade". This means they will start the negotiations on your trades value way less than what your vehicle is really worth. The do this to see if they're able to "steal your trade," or buy your vehicle for a lot less than it's really worth.

Dealers make a lot of money when people trade in their cars. Before trading in a vehicle with a dealership, make sure you to read this chapter of AutoCheatSheet.com and all the tabs within to increase your chances on getting the most money possible for your vehicle and avoid any car dealer scams.

If You Must Trade Your Vehicle In

It's understandable most people don't want to worry about strangers coming to their house or have the time to sell their current car privately. These people prefer to just get it over with by trading it in at the dealership they're buying another car from..

Use this Car Payment Estimator to calculate the payment on your next vehicle.

Trading your car at a dealership is a lot easier than trying to sell it privately. Some states will even give you a sales tax break by only making you pay sales tax on the "trade difference." If a dealer gives you $8,000 for your vehicle and your state sales tax rate is 8.25%, you will save $660 off your taxes. However, if you sold it on your own for retail, you may get $11,000 or more.

Should I Tell the Dealer I Have a Trade-in?

Do not tell the dealer early in the car buying process you want to trade your car in. If a salesperson asks you if you're trading in a vehicle, tell them "no" or "not at this time." The reason you tell them you're not trading early in the process is to keep the dealer honest. You still have the right to change your mind later in the process.

If you tell a dealer you're trading a vehicle to soon. They may use this information against you during the negotiation process by giving you a very low purchase price on the car you want to buy and then make up the lost profit by holding on your trade. Read our chapter on how the trade in value scam works here.

What Not to Say About Your Trade

Most car dealers will come right out and ask you what you want for your trade-in as soon as possible. What the dealer is trying to do is find out if you've educated yourself on your vehicle.

I don't know how many times I would hear, "I think my car is worth $XX,XXX." My next question to the customer was, "where did you come up with that number?" The customer would then say, "I just think it's worth that."

Making a statement like this to a car dealer puts you at a huge disadvantage. You just let the dealer know you haven't done your homework and they'll most likely hit you with a very low value for your trade-in.

What to Say if Asked How Much You Want for Your Trade

As stated above, a dealer will ask early in the sales process if you're trading a car. As harmless as this question sounds it's a big part of the salesperson's agenda. The dealer will use this information against you later during the negotiating stage. They will also ask you how much you want for your trade.

When you decide to bring up your trade. This is exactly what you should say if the salesperson or manager that asks you how much you want for your trade:

"I have no idea, you tell me what it's worth"

A dealer does not like the above answer and will most likely keep prying to get a number out of you on what you think your vehicle's worth. Hold your ground and act oblivious on how much your car's worth. Whatever you do, don't give them a figure, make them give you a figure first.

How to Estimate the Value of Your Trade

The last thing you want to do is let a dealer tell you how much your trade is worth. I guarantee you they will attempt to "steal" your vehicle from you by offering you less than what the vehicle is really worth.

How to avoid a dealer low-balling you is by determining an estimated value of your trade before contacting a car dealership. This will keep the dealer from having the opportunity to take advantage of you when negotiating the value of your trade vehicle.

A Vehicle Appraisal is Just One Person's Opinion

If you tell 10 used car managers to appraise the same car, you will get 10 different values of what they believe the car is truly worth.

I know I'm going to hurt some readers feelings out there but SENTIMENTAL value does not add to the true value of your trade. What a vehicles worth is what it's worth. Even though it's your first car or you've never had any problems with it, it's only going to be worth so much money.

So how do you find out the value of your trade? It's not an exact science however there are some steps you can take to get a good idea of what your car is worth. Read our chapter on how to estimate your trade's value here.

Get the Most Money for Your Trade-in

When you trade your car to a dealership you're actually selling your car to the dealer. Your goal is to get as much money as you can for your trade-in.

how to increase trade value trade-in sitting on cash | AutoCheatSheet.com

As a dealer myself, I've appraised thousands of vehicles. I can tell you I'd personally deduct money if the car I was appraising was filthy dirty or full of trash.

Why would you make me get in and drive your nasty car around the block? I wouldn't even want to sit in it! I promise you there are other dealers out there that feel the same way and will deduct money from the value of your trade.

On the other hand when I appraised a clean car that looked and drove like it was taken care of. I would be more inclined to value the vehicle higher than if it was filthy.

I've put together a list of some very effective tips to increase the value of your trade with little or no cost to you. These little tips will increase your chances on getting more money from a used car appraiser when he looks at your car. Read more in our chapter on how to get the most money out of your trade-in.

How the Used Car Appraisal Process Works

The appraisal or trade-in process is when you turn your keys over to the dealership and let them value your vehicle.

The used car manager or appraiser will look at your car, inspect it, test drive it, check the current market for your car and then put a wholesale value on your car. They will then present the value to you. At this time you either accept it or not.

When trading a vehicle you turn into the "Seller"
and the car dealer becomes the "Buyer."

During the appraisal or trade-in process is when car dealers have an opportunity to enhance their profit. If you're not educated about this process you can become a victim quickly. Continue to learn how the used car appraisal process works.

How to Sell an Old Junk Car

A dealer may tell you they are giving you an unbelievable amount for an old junk car but I promise you they're going to attempt to make it up on your somewhere else during the car sale.

If you have a car that doesn't run or it doesn't have much value. You may want to look into an alternative other than trading it in with a car dealership.

There are many other ways to dispose of an old junk car and turning it into quick cash. Read our chapter on how to sell an old junk car.

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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 used car trade in tips 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?


You will not make as much money if you trade your vehicle in at a dealership. You should always attempt to sell your vehicle privately or on your own.

Buying a car and trading a car should be looked at like two separate transactions.

When you buy a car you are the "buyer." When you trade a car you're actually selling it to the dealer, so you become the "seller."

Always agree to a purchase price on the vehicle you want to buy before you bring up you want to trade a vehicle.

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