If you’re going to trade in your used car at a dealership, you shouldn’t just drive it into the lot and say, “here!” Instead, you should take a few steps to ensure the dealership offers you what’s fair and that there are no kinks in the trade-in process.

1)      Find out how much your car is truly worth.

Doing your homework on how much your vehicle should sell for lets you to haggle a bit to get the best deal. Look up your car on reputable sites such as Edmunds.com, NADAguides.com, Cars.com or, perhaps the most trusted and well-known resource, kbb.com, which provides estimates based on the Kelley Blue Book. You also can have an independent mechanic or insurance agent provide appraisals for the vehicle. Regardless of how you obtain your values, keep in mind that, based on factors such as individual mileage, wear and tear and appearance, your vehicle might not be worth the same amount compared to someone else’s vehicle that’s the exact same year, make and model.

2)      Collect your documentation.

You’ll need basic documents such as your title and registration to prove to the dealership that you legally have the authority to release the vehicle. You’ll also want to get paperwork detailing the maintenance history of the vehicle, such as repairs, fluid changes or tire rotations. These documents show how well you’ve treated your car and, therefore, directly influence what the dealer is willing to offer you for it. Typically, you’ll get a better offer if you can show everything is in tip-top shape and that the dealership isn’t going to be assuming much, if any, liability in the resale. Other documents to provide include repair manuals and brochures specific to your car.

3)      Make any needed repairs.

Dealerships don’t like to take used cars that are going to be expensive or hard to resell, and vehicles that aren’t in great working order or that look bad fall into that category. For this reason, as long as you know that the repairs will increase the value of the vehicle when you trade it in and that you can recoup the cost of the fix, you should take care of any significant or distracting issues the car has. Your biggest consideration here needs to be ensuring that the vehicle meets all current safety and road-worthiness requirements your state has.

4)     Clean, clean, clean.

The last task before trading in your car is to detail it. A wash and wax for the exterior is basic, but you also might want to consider touching up the paint. Don’t forget to shine the wheels! Wipe down and vacuum the entire interior, including the inside of the windows. Do what you can to fix minor rips to the fabric of the seats and remove stains. Deodorize, especially if you are a smoker. Lastly, pop the hood and clean any grime or residue off the engine, topping off or changing out fluids.


Getting your car ready to trade in takes time. Even so, it can increase the amount you get for the vehicle and smooth the ownership transition significantly. Most people see this preparation effort as well worth it as a result.


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