Flipping your car isn’t often an enjoyable experience. If you’ve owned your vehicle for several years, the thought of getting minimal value for your past investment can sound exhausting.
However, there are times when it’s strategic to consider selling your car, whether it’s to capitalize on a good deal or maximize your trade-in potential. At the time of publication, the used car market is booming in favor of sellers. Dealerships are pressured to match or beat trade-in offers in hopes of motivating drivers to buy newer models.
If you’re looking to set yourself up for success when trading in your car, we’ve got some tips to keep in mind before heading into the dealership.
How Do I Get the Most Trade Value for My Car?
When the time comes to consider trading in your car, your top goal should be to make it as presentable as possible. Put yourself in the shoes of a salesperson at the dealership. What about your car would make it easy, or a challenge, to sell to another driver?
Salespeople and vehicle appraisers are eager to poke holes in the perceived value of your car because it’s their job to maximize the dealership’s bottom line. As a result, you need to provide them with as little ammunition as possible. The best way to do so is by getting ahead of any service issues and making your car look as new as possible.
Car wash and interior detail
The first thing that a dealership sees when assessing a potential trade-in is the exterior. If your car is routinely parked outside under trees, then you may have some sap or other blemishes on the paint. These imperfections aren’t difficult for the dealer to fix before putting the vehicle up for sale. However, leaving your exterior looking filthy is an easy way to knock off some value during the trade-in process.
Just like the exterior, the inside of your vehicle can boost or deflate your trade-in value. Take note of any seat or carpet stains and have them removed, if possible. If you’re a tobacco smoker, it’s crucial to remove any residual odors from your car’s interior. A 2008 study conducted by San Diego State University found that “the value of a car decreased by 7.7% if it had been smoked in compared to a car that was smoke-free.”
With enough people trying to get the most value out of their used cars, it’s worth making your vehicle the most appealing of its kind in the local area.
Some vehicles have paint that’s been damaged beyond repair. The most common source is typically UV damage, but scratches, paint haze, and water spots fall into this category as well. If you’re looking to address the damage before a trade-in, then paint restoration is your best bet.
If you’ve noticed any of these imperfections on your paint, then it’s worth looking into nearby paint restoration services. A quality wax service can correct paint haze, but scratches and water spots are vital to address as soon as possible.
Next, take a careful look at your tires. Analyze their tread. Use the Penny Test, if necessary, and consider whether or not you need to replace the tires entirely. If you’re on your first set of tires and haven’t rotated or replaced them in several years, odds are that you’ll be better off replacing them before getting a trade-in estimate.
Even if you swap them out for a cheap set of tires, it’s essential to avoid giving the dealership more reasons to give out a lower offer than you deserve.
Replace cracked windshield
Another area to inspect is your windshield. As sturdy as one can be, there are countless chances for a small rock or random debris to damage your windshield, even if it’s just a tiny crack. Generally, it’s worth repairing the windshield before bringing it in for a trade-in appraisal.
If you have a small chip or crack, your insurance likely covers the total cost of the repair service. You will need to replace the windshield entirely in the event of cracks larger than six inches or multiple cracks.
Lastly, let’s turn our attention to the vehicle’s engine. Has it had a recent oil change? Have you been ignoring the annoying “Check Engine” light for a while? If there are any obvious signs of mechanical issues, then be sure to save yourself the trouble by getting them taken care of immediately.
The same mentality applies to recalls. Not all recalls are focused on potentially hazardous issues; sometimes, they can include required updates to your car’s computer systems. In either case, it’s worth getting a recall handled before letting a dealership appraise the vehicle. It all adds up to keep your trade-in value as high as possible.
Why Are Used Cars in High Demand?
You may be wondering, “Why is the used car market surging so aggressively? Why now?” After a low period for used car values during the pandemic, the market has significantly rebounded in favor of sellers. A large part of the equation is the ongoing microchip shortage, which has affected multiple industries, including automotive manufacturers.
The result is a shortage of new cars at dealerships, which have sent used car values soaring by spending big to add inventory.
Since the microchip shortage has wide-reaching effects, the booming used car market is expected to remain for the foreseeable future. In an article from Consumer Reports, TrueCar analyst Nick Woolard said, “Experts are expecting this to drag on to the fall, and as far as where consumers can go for alternatives, there aren’t a whole lot of options. Anyone who’s waiting for prices to come down might be waiting for a while.”
Add onto that the fact that most American adults have received one or more stimulus checks - totaling more than $218.4 billion - and you have a recipe for our current seller’s market. Not only do car owners see high values for their older models, but they likely have extra income that can go towards a newer model.
Strategies for Trading In Your Car
When starting your trade-in journey, there are several steps to take, from deciding to sell your car to getting into a new one.
- Get your trade-in value. First, start by understanding your budget for a new car. Check out the appraisal tools offered by Kelley Blue Book, Carvana, or Edmunds. Keep your expectations grounded, especially in a seller’s market. These tools are designed to give you an idea of your car’s value, but it can be entirely different in the dealership’s eyes, which is trying to minimize the purchase cost as much as possible.
- Find a car you want. With your budget in mind, look around your local dealerships for makes and models that interest you. Ideally, find a handful of specific cars that you could afford to purchase or finance. The most important thing is to ensure that the vehicle you want is actively in stock. By equipping yourself with a trade-in estimate and a targeted vehicle, you can gain more leverage during the negotiation process.
- Find a date that works for you. How many times have you seen or heard a dealership advertising a weekend of big deals? Generally, these line up with the end of the month or significant holidays, such as Independence Day or Memorial Day. These dates are great opportunities for dealerships to push out old inventory. Typically, dealers are incentivized to hit specific sales targets to hit manufacturer bonuses. A strategic date to start negotiating puts more power in your hands.
- Bring your offer (and a friend). Buying or selling a car is an exhausting process, which can be made more palatable with a friend or significant other by your side. Come into the dealership with your trade-in estimate and start the actual appraisal process. Your salesperson may try to lead you towards a model that’s been on their lot for a while. Stick with the vehicle that you settled on beforehand.
- Be firm. If you don’t need a new car, then you have all the leverage imaginable. Don’t waver from it, and don’t be afraid to walk away. Dealerships are masters of patiently waiting and dragging on the negotiation process for hours. But as long as you’re willing to leave, they can’t have power over you.
- Get a better offer, if possible. If you do need a new car or are simply looking to take advantage of a higher than usual trade-in value, then you’ll benefit from the long game. Once you get an offer from a dealership, don’t stop there. Bring it and your original estimate to another dealer who also has a vehicle you desire in stock. In some cases, the second dealership may pounce on your car. Worst case scenario is you get another offer to put towards the vehicle you want the most.
- Know what’s too good to be true. When you’re spending hours at a dealership, there’s a natural tendency to stop it from dragging on any longer by just taking the deal. You may get a trade-in offer that’s higher than you expected, or they may have a conditional boost to your vehicle’s value if you consider a different model or trim level. As tempting as it can be to say yes and end the agony, don’t lose sight of what works for your budget by playing into their hands. A salesperson’s job is to sell, and in their domain, they have plenty of options to tempt you away from your ideal trade-in scenario. Don’t let them.
Let Spiffy Boost Your Trade-In Value
Are you ready to make your car look beautiful before trading it in for a new model? Our team of professionals at Spiffy is on call to handle whatever your vehicle needs so you can focus on maximizing your trade-in value.
Take a look at our service menu and get $20 off your first appointment, just for giving us a try!