Prepping Your Car For Trade-in

By Sharon Naylor

August 23, 2011 5 min read

Trading in your old car can earn you a significant discount on your new or pre-owned car purchase, but only if you take some smart steps to present your vehicle in its best light.

First, have realistic expectations. A car dealer will inspect your car inside and out to assess its condition for resale -- and factor in its costs for detailing, advertising, transporting and selling the vehicle after you trade it in. So you should expect to get a bit less than your assumed value.

According to NADAGuides.com, an online vehicle information database, "Think clean. A dealer [will] appreciate (and will potentially pay more) for a car that looks good, one that's shiny and clean on the outside and one that smells good and looks good on the inside. Most importantly, a dealer will see that you care about the car and have kept it in good condition, a psychological element that's extremely important in any successful used car sale."

*Think Clean

--Wash and wax your car's exterior. To restore your car coat's shine, use top-quality cleaning and waxing products, or invest in a professional car detailing service. According to NADAGuides.com, a good waxing can increase trade-in value by hundreds of dollars.

--Clean your wheels thoroughly, and apply a wheel-shine product to give your tires a like-new appearance.

--Use a pressure hose to remove built-up dirt, debris, salt or winter road sand from your wheel wells.

--If your tires are bald or aged, look for clearance sales to buy a new set of tires.

--Windows impress when you clean all of them, including your sunroof glass window, with a top-quality window cleaning solution. Use a microfiber cloth to remove all particles. Clean on a cloudy day to achieve a streak-free finish.

--Jeff Ostroff of CarBuyingTips.com reminds you to remove bumper stickers carefully, using products specially designed for doing so.

--The engine is going to be a top priority for the dealership, so pop open the hood take a look. If the engine is dirty, spray on engine degreasing solution and use a hose to clean all portions of your engine.

--Change your oil. At the same time, top off your coolants, steering, brake and transmission fluids.

--The car's interior is just as important as the exterior. Wipe down all inside surfaces with a top-quality cleaner and surface-shine solution to remove dust and fingerprints.

--Vacuum all carpeting and upholstery, getting all crumbs that may have fallen into crevices, and use a lint roller to remove any hair on seat surfaces and carpets.

--Clean floor mats well, or replace them with inexpensive new ones.

--Freshen the interior by airing it out. Spray some air freshener to eliminate cigarette, pet and mildew smells.

--If upholstery is torn, burned or stained, take your car to a quality car detailing shop for a professional fix.

--Clean out and vacuum the trunk, including the section holding your spare tire. Leaves and dirt tend to accumulate there.

--Clean out your glove box and storage compartments fully, and spray and wipe them down.

*If Your Car Needs Repairs

NADAGuides.com advises making repairs to your car in order to earn the best trade-in amount. Invest in professional car maintenance to bring your car to code, enabling it to pass state emissions tests. Often, the costs of these repairs can be recouped in your trade-in value. Dealerships will knock your trade-in value way down if your car needs a lot of repairs.

*The Business End

Collect your car's service records, including proof of your car's tire rotations, body or engine repairs, fluid changes and more. Such documentation shows the dealer the care you've put into the auto. Also, provide a detailed vehicle history report based on the car's vehicle identification number number.

Next, research your car's trade-in value by using the free online tools at Kelley Blue Book (KBB.com), Edmunds.com and NADAGuides.com. Each tool will ask your car's make, model, year, features and condition, and show you the approximate trade-in values.

Be aware that local market conditions and rates will affect the actual amount offered by your dealership. The trade-in value figures you receive through these tools are simply meant to guide you in your expectations and negotiating strategies.

Experts say that cars earn better trade-in value if their odometers read less than 100,000 miles. Due to some state lemon laws, higher-mileage vehicles might not be accepted for trade-in.

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