You'll get a better deal by evaluating your trade-in vehicle yourself before the dealer has a chance to

Multi-Level Car Park / How to Buy a New Car: Evaluate Your Trade-In before the Dealer Does
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Updated: February 14, 2017

When you're buying a new car, chances are that you want to do everything you can to avoid paying more than you absolutely have to. One way to do this is to evaluate your trade-in vehicle before you go to the dealership so you'll already have a general idea of what it's worth. If you don't know what it's worth, you may accept less than you should.

  1. Appraise the Car's Trade-In Value
  2. According to, your first step should be to appraise your car. This involves noting all the vehicle's options as well as its condition. Keep in mind that, realistically, very few cars will be in genuinely "outstanding" condition; most well-maintained vehicles will be in "clean" condition. If you have any doubts about your car's condition, err on the side of caution.

    There are a few ways you can appraise the vehicle's value yourself. Edmunds offers its own car appraisal tool, and you can also check the Kelley Blue Book value.

  3. Get a CarMax Estimate or Dealership Quote
  4. The next step is to get an estimate from a third party. CarMax provides detailed inspection services in addition to a written appraisal that will be good for up to seven days. If you arrive early, you can often be in and out in roughly 30 minutes.

    You have a choice at this point. You can either take CarMax's offer or try your luck at other dealerships. CarMax will often offer more for trade-ins, but if you owe more on your car loan than the vehicle is worth, you'll have to pay CarMax the difference. If this isn't something you're willing to do, it might be best to try a dealership.

    If there is no CarMax close by, call your local dealership's used-car manager to schedule an appointment to get your car appraised, and try to schedule it for a weekday morning. Most dealerships have only one person appraising potential trade-ins, and weekend afternoons are often hectic. Don't tell them which vehicle you're looking to buy. Instead, say that you aren't sure yet or that you want to sell outright. (Yes! You can do that!) While you're there, make it your business to only get an appraisal. Don't do any new car shopping yet.

    Wherever you go, the trade-in price you're offered will vary depending on a variety of factors, including the vehicle's condition, the dealer's current inventory, and the likelihood that the vehicle will sell. Keep in mind that there may also be special promotions for trade-in cars.

    CarMax appraisals have the advantage of giving you a reference point to compare with any offer made by the dealer. If there isn't a CarMax where you live, try to get appraisals from more than one dealer. A good strategy is to take your trade-in to a dealer that doesn't sell your vehicle's brand so that your vehicle won't have to compete with other models. For instance, if you take your Honda to a Chevrolet dealer, that dealer might offer you more than a Honda dealer would because it doesn't have any other Honda Accords on the lot.

  5. Avoid These Common Trade-In Mistakes
  6. Even if you follow these steps to the letter, there are still some common trade-in mistakes that could result in you paying more than you have to. Below are some of these mistakes and ways to avoid them.

    Bring In a Freshly-Cleaned Car

    A former car salesman told Edmunds that there is no better way to figure out who will be buying a car that day than to look for customers who drive in a sparkling-clean car.

    This might not make sense at first. Many people think that their cars won't make a good first impression if they aren't spick and span. In reality, the car's value won't be changed by a bit of dirt. This is not to say that it's okay to bring in a muddy vehicle with lots of fast food bags strewn around, but don't worry about getting it detailed beforehand. This will allow you to remain noncommittal regarding whether or not you intend to make a purchase that day.


    If there are repairs that the car absolutely must have in order to run, by all means, get them done. However, don't try to fix dents or buy a brand-new set of tires in an attempt to up your trade-in's value. It rarely works. The fact is that the dealer is generally able to repair flaws and put on new tires at a significantly lower cost than you can.

    Overestimating Value

    Sometimes people get sentimentally attached to their vehicles and think they're worth more than they actually are. They find the highest value on appraisal sites and refuse to budge from it. In reality, an appraisal is an average, which means that some people are offered more and some are offered less. It may be a better use of your time and energy negotiating on the price of your new car than fighting over the value of your old one.

    Hiding Information

    Sometimes people will fib about a trade-in offer they've gotten so that the dealer will try to beat the offer. Like making unnecessary repairs, this rarely works. Experienced appraisers either see right through the "offer" or request to see the estimate in writing.

Remember these tips to keep the trade-in process smooth. The keys are knowing what your vehicle is worth, shopping around, and being realistic about offers.

References:, Kelley Blue Book