Get a Good Deal on Your Trade In Car

When shopping for a new car, your first order of business should be maximizing the value of your trade in. Things like your car's mileage and age are out of your control, but there is plenty you can do to enhance your car's value and impress the dealership. At a minimum, you should clean your car and replace broken bulbs. You also must prepare to bargain effectively.


Boosting Your Car’s Value

  1. Clean your car. Wash your car’s exterior and vacuum the inside. Haul out your junk and clean the trunk. The shinier your car, the more money you can get for it, so think about putting on a coat of wax.[1]
    • Be careful when vacuuming. Depending on your car’s age, the vacuum could pull fabric away from the seats and the interior ceiling.
  2. Have your car detailed. Detailing goes beyond merely washing your car. Instead, someone will thoroughly clean your car, inside and out, using a variety of products and tools. When you have a car detailed, you are returning it to show-quality cleanliness.
    • Shop around to get a good deal. Detailing typically costs around $150.[2]
    • You probably don’t need to do this if your car is a clunker. In that situation, it’s probably best to simply drive it to the dealership and take your chances.
  3. Fix dents and scratches. You want to remove dents without painting them, which would reduce your car’s value. Get dents removed by taking the car to a shop. It might only cost around $100.[3]
    • Have your car buffered to eliminate small scratches. If the scratches are larger, it’s probably not worth it to get an entirely new paint job for the car.[4]
  4. Replace any broken bulbs. New bolds are cheap to buy. You can easily replace burnt out bulbs with a screwdriver. Changing your bulbs is a cheap way to increase your car’s trade in value.[5]
  5. Remove bad smells. Did you smoke in your car? Store trash in the trunk? If so, you need to clean out these smells. Get an ozone generator to remove gag-inducing odours.[6]
  6. Consider replacing the tires. Generally, you shouldn’t spend the money to replace your tires. However, it’s a good deal to buy used tires if your current set has absolutely no tread left.[7]

Getting Ready to Make a Deal

  1. Estimate your car’s condition. Most guides require that you estimate the condition of your car—excellent, good, fair, or poor. Very few cars are in good condition and almost none are in excellent. Be honest with yourself and examine your car critically. Consider the following:[8]
    • Excellent. The car should be brand new and not have had any paint jobs or bodywork. Both the interior and the engine should be clean.
    • Good. The car should be rust-free or have minimal rust. The paint job should be shiny, and the interior and exterior should have few apparent defects, such as scratches or dings.
    • Fair. Your car probably has rust and other defects, though the defects should be repairable. The tires probably also need to be replaced.
    • Poor. The car has mechanical issues which can’t be repaired, and it probably also has severe rust.
  2. Research your car’s value. You need to know the car’s value before going into negotiations. There are many websites you can search for the car’s value. Popular websites include,, and Kelley Blue Book.[9]
    • Remember to find the car’s “trade” value. This is what you are likely to get from a dealer.[10]
  3. Find your maintenance records. You might be able to get a better deal if you have a complete set of maintenance records.[11] Go through your paperwork and see if you can find everything.
  4. Get financing ahead of time. To really get a good deal, you need to separate the trade-in from the purchase of your new car. For example, you might want $10,000 for your car, but the dealer offers only $8,000. To make you happy, they can give you $10,000 but then increase the interest rate on your loan.[12] Prevent this from happening by shopping for a car loan before you go to the dealership.
    • Visit your bank or credit union and ask whether you qualify for a car loan. They will need to pull your credit score and credit history.
    • Take your approval with you when you go to the dealership.[13]
  5. Make a copy of your registration. Unscrupulous salespeople like to play games. They’ll hold onto your registration and license to try to get you to buy a car. Before heading out, make a copy of your license and registration to give the salesperson, but don’t part with the real things.[14]
  6. Put a few personal items back in the car. If you show up at the lot with a completely empty car, you’re sending a signal that you’re ready to buy.[15] Leave some larger personal items in the car.
    • For example, a student can put some books and notepads in the back seat.
    • If you’re a parent, you can put the child seat in the back along with blankets and toys.

Negotiating Effectively

  1. Bring a friend with you. You might not like to negotiate, so ask a friend who isn’t afraid to negotiate to come along with you. You can say they are your partner or sibling and let them negotiate on your behalf. At a minimum, they can offer moral support.
  2. Call ahead, if necessary. Negotiating can be emotional, and you might be better off calling ahead of time.[16] Describe your car briefly and ask the salesperson for their best quote. Who knows—someone might offer you the amount you are hoping to get.
    • Avoid setting up appointments to meet with someone. This is simply an invitation to come negotiate in person.
  3. Negotiate the price of your new car first. When you go to the dealership, you should avoid negotiating the price of your trade-in until you nail down the price of your new car. The salesperson might give you a good deal on your trade-in, but they’ll simply increase the amount you pay for the new car.[17]
    • If the dealer asks if you have a trade in, you can insist you don’t. Then you can change your mind.[18]
    • For example, you can say, “You know what? Maybe I do want to trade in my car.” Smile and shrug your shoulders.
  4. Show the dealer your research. You want the dealer to know that you aren’t a pushover. Instead, let them know you’ve done some basic research by saying, “I saw my car was listed as having a $10,000 trade-in value on”[19]
    • The number you quote should be the highest you think you can get. Realize that you might have to go lower in order to close the deal.
  5. Reject the first offer for your trade-in. You can expect the salesperson to make a lowball initial offer. Don’t be offended—and don’t be afraid to negotiate. A good idea is to ask them to explain why they think the car isn’t worth much.
    • For example, you can say, “I think $6,000 is a little low. Why don’t you think it’s worth $10,000?” Expect the salesperson to point out the flaws in your car.
  6. Make a counteroffer. Try not to budge too much from the amount you quoted. Instead, point out why your car is worth the amount you want. For example, the dealership might offer $6,000. You can say, “I agree the car is scratched on its bumper, but that can be fixed. It’s still in great condition, so I’d like close to $10,000.”
    • At this point you can pull out your service records and show what great condition the car is in.
  7. Mention you’ll be shopping around. Your strongest bargaining chip is your ability to walk away. The dealer will lose out on selling you a new car. Also, used cars are profit centers, and the dealer will lose out on your trade-in as well. Let the dealer know you’ll be showing the car to other people.
    • For example, you can say, “Is that your best offer? I’ve got to write it down so I remember it when I drive over to other dealer across town.”
  8. Embrace silence. Don’t fell rushed to fill up silence by lowering how much you’re willing to accept for your trade-in. Instead, let the silence just sit there. Pretend to polish your car or look toward other cars on the lot and wait for the salesperson to say something.
  9. Walk away. At some point, you and the dealership will reach a stalemate. They’ll make their best offer for the trade-in. At that point, you should feel free to say, “I need to go shopping around. I’ll be in contact with you later.”
    • Remain polite and don’t let the salesperson bully you. If the salesperson pushes back, say, “I’ve got a meeting I need to be at.”
  10. Visit different dealers. See how much they are willing to give you for the car. You’ll have to go through the negotiations all over again, which can take time. However, if you want the best deal available, then shopping around is definitely worth your time. Ideally, you should visit at least three dealers.[20]
    • The amount a dealer offers depends in part on their inventory on the lot. For example, you might get a low offer if a dealer has several same-model used cars already on their lot.



  • It’s likely you’ll get less on your trade-in than you will if you sell your car on your own.[21] If you want to max out the car’s value, then consider selling your car online.