auto

8 tips for negotiating a car trade-in

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Highlights
  • Research the value of your car online before going to the dealership.
  • Spruce up your car so the dealer can visualize your used car on his lot.
  • Negotiate the new car deal and your trade-in value separately.

You've decided on a car trade-in. Although you realize selling your car yourself will net you the best deal, the one-stop shopping convenience of buying a new car and trading in the old at the dealership appeals to you.

The trouble is, dealers have experience on their side, and extracting the best deal takes research, savvy and a bold approach. Below are the eight best ways to navigate a car trade-in:

1. Research the value. There are numerous Web sites where this information is available, including Edmunds.com, says Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, Calif. You also can visit Kelley Blue Book, AutoTrader, and the National Automobile Dealers Association, or check for similar cars being auctioned on eBay. If you have a CarMax store nearby, take your car there for a free appraisal.

Karla Emerson, an auto deal negotiator in Washington state, suggests taking your car to three or four used car lots currently selling vehicles similar to yours and see what they will give you for the car.

After you've checked these resources, you'll be armed with the high-end and low-end sale values for your car. When the dealer asks what you want for your car, hit them with the high end of a realistic price, says Reed.

2. Make sure the time is right. Convertibles don't sell well during Seattle's gray, winter months, but four-wheel drive vehicles do, Emerson says. Likewise, if you owe more on your car trade-in than you think you'll get from a dealer, you're in a very weak bargaining position, according to Reed.

"Follow the news and trends," says Mark Scott, spokesman for Autotrader.com in Atlanta. "When gas prices go up, people demand more fuel-efficient cars and the values of trucks and SUVs go down."

3. Spruce up the car. Give the car the equivalent of "curb appeal" so the potential buyer's initial reaction is positive.

Emerson, who was a car saleswoman for 13 years, says you should rid the car of any pet or smoke odors. If needed, take it to a dealer or a detail shop and ask for an ozone generator to remove unpleasant smells.

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"Remove all your personal items, wash it and vacuum the inside," says Reed. "There should be nothing to stand in the way of the car dealer visualizing your car on his lot."

4. Show your records. If you've kept all the maintenance records on your car, take them with you and ask the dealer if you can get more for your car because of them, says Scott.

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