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How to Maximize the Trade-in Value of your Vehicle

Updated on February 25, 2008
Don't be scared...Be Prepared!
Don't be scared...Be Prepared!
A clean car is worth more than a dirty car
A clean car is worth more than a dirty car
Fresh oil is a must!
Fresh oil is a must!

You're ready to trade your old jalopy for a newer vehicle...Great! As a Used Car Dealer, here are some things you can do to maximize the offer from the dealer.

I'm not going to tell you how to lie, cheat, and steal, so if you're waiting for me to give you the name of that gas treatment that will slip you past a State Inspection or the oil additive that will stop the engine from'll be waiting a long time. I know this may sound like an oxymoron coming from a Used Car Dealer, but I'm an ethical individual whose integrity is above reproach. I intend to keep it that way.

Notwithstanding, there are some things you can do that will elevate the value of your vehicle in the eyes of almost any Used Car Manager.

Interior: The first thing I look at is the interior. If the interior is clean and well-maintained, I assume the car has probably had the maintenance done as well. I know it's an assumption, but it's one that is more likely to be true than not.

Don't have your vehicle appraised with last-nights dinner left-over's on the floorboard or your morning coffee pooling in the center console. Nothing degrades a trade more than sitting down on a half-eaten Big Mac. You might think this is an exaggeration, but more often than you know, people bring vehicles to a Used Car Manager that haven't seen soap and water in months. The carpets are stained and filthy. There's trash and uneaten food everywhere. This is not an exaggeration. It is an amazing fact that I still have difficulty believing. Why anyone would bring anything to be appraised without putting their best foot forward is beyond me. I can only assume that these people don't brush their teeth before going to the dentist either.

The interior is a reflection of how well the vehicle has been maintained...if you want to increase the value of your trade, make sure it's clean. You can have a car professionally detailed inside and out for less than $100. I promise you, a clean car is worth at least $500 more than a dirty one. Note: If you're going to have the car detailed, do so a few days or even a week before you take it in to the Used Car Manager and then just vacuum it before you take it in for the appraisal. A freshly detailed car could make some Used Car Manager's think you're trying to hide something. It's like a haircut...the best haircut is one that doesn't look like you just got a haircut.

Exterior: Ditto for the exterior. You don't have to have a detail, but at least wash the car. I get very suspicious when I see a dirty car, it makes me wonder what the owner is trying to hide; or again, that the car probably hasn't been maintained. I look very closely at dirty cars, or I just dismiss them altogether and put a real low value on them. If I can see what's wrong (dents, dings, scratches, etc.) I can estimate how much it's going to cost to fix. If I can't see what's wrong, the repair estimate is usually high to allow for things I probably missed.

As far as dings, dents and scratches: it's not expensive to have minor cosmetic work done to a vehicle. For a couple hundred dollars you can generally get the door dings removed and the scratches touched-up. Does it make a difference? The first thing a Used Car Manager looks at is condition. A good first impression is a sets the tone for the whole appraisal.

A car is generally rated Poor, Average, Clean, or Extra Clean...these terms are not indicative of whether the car has been washed and vacuumed, but psychologically a "dirty" car can't be a "clean" car and certainly not an "extra-clean" car. A dirty dinged-up vehicle means money will need to be spent. If you want "clean" or "extra-clean" for your car...make sure it's "clean".

Fluids: Make sure the fluid levels are full and the fluids are clean. Fluids are the life-blood of the car and you should check them regularly and make sure they are full and clean. If you haven't changed the oil in a while, change it. Most Used Car Manager's will pull the dipstick to check for water and sludge. It doesn't make a very good impression if the oil is filthy...clean oil covers a multitude of sins. If the transmission fluid smells burnt, it would be a good idea to have it changed as well. Make sure the anti-freeze is current and at the proper level...and yes, fill up the windshield washer fluid. These are little things that don't cost very much (and should have been done anyway) but most Used Car Manager's will check the fluids so make sure they are full and clean. If they aren't, the Used Car Manager will assume that the vehicle has not been maintained and could have minor or major problems, which may or may not be true, but experience teaches that an improperly maintained vehicle is doomed to have or later.

Tires & Brakes: One of the biggest expenses for a Used Car Manager is tires and brakes. If your car needs tires and brakes, it's an easy $500 - $1,000 deduct.

Used Car Manager's (I'm referring to Used Car Manager's at New Car Dealerships) are generally "forced" to have all service work done in the dealership's service department. While you can run down to "Joe's Tire Shop" and slap on a set of "Speedies" for a couple hundred dollars, the Used Car Manager's going to pay six, seven, eight hundred or more for a set of tires. The same with brakes...for about a hundred dollars you can have all four wheels re-lined, a Used Car Manager will spend a hundred per wheel.

If your car needs tires and brakes (the tires are mis-matched or at the wear-bar and the brake pedal goes to the floor) investing two or three hundred dollars in a new set of tires and brakes will pay off handsomely at the appraisal. Remember, tires and brakes are an easy thousand dollar deduct.

If you're trading a "certifiable" vehicle, don't put non-OEM tires on the car if you're going to be trading, let me explain. In order to pass certification, most Factory Certification programs require OEM tires (Original Equipment) with at least 50% tread-life and brakes with at least 50% pads.

This is a major expense for Used Car Manager's, so when a Used Car Manager looks at your tires he is looking to see if the tires will pass certification. If they won't, he factors it in to the appraisal. If you have a set of new non-OEM tires, he will still deduct for the tires, just not as much. If he's smart, he knows he can use the tires on a vehicle he's not going to certify. So while new non-OEM tires won't get the Used Car Manager as excited as new OEM tires, he won't deduct as much (and in some cases, won't deduct at all). Same goes for brakes.

Service Records: There's an old adage that states, "The average trade-in is not an average vehicle". Which means: For the most part, people trade cars because there's something wrong with them. They usually need mechanical or maintenance work. They are being traded to avoid the expense of the work, so most Used Car Manager's assume there is something wrong with the vehicle even if they can't find it. That's why it's so important to keep accurate service records. Service records increase the value of a vehicle, because the Used Car Manager doesn't have to spend money to bring the services up-to-date and those same records can be used to show the prospective buyer that the vehicle has been well-maintained. It's important to do the maintenance on several levels, but keeping accurate records will add value to your trade. If you have accurate up-to-date service records, make sure the Used Car Manager knows it.

Mechanical: If your car needs obvious mechanical work, have the work done. It costs a lot less for you to replace or repair a Power Steering Pump than it does the Used Car Manager. If the repair is obvious, the Used Car Manager is going to deduct for the repair and he's going to deduct a lot more than the repair would cost you. A $200 repair will be a $500 deduct. If the repairs aren't obvious, it's a real possibility that the Used Car Manager will miss it, especially if you take the vehicle in on a Saturday or at night when business is hurried and the light is low.

I'm not telling you this so you can take your old beater in on Saturday night in hopes that the Used Car Manager will miss the hail damage and the leaking Rear Main Seal...most Used Car Manager's are good at what they do, they don't miss much. I'm telling you this because you can generally have repairs done for considerably less money than the Used Car Manager and you can use those repairs to increase the value of your trade by letting the Used Car Manager know that the repairs have been made.

Remember, the primary thing a Used Car Manager is doing during an appraisal is determining the amount of reconditioning he has to do in order to sell the vehicle. If he doesn't have to repair or replace anything, he can give you more money for your trade...and since it costs less for you to repair or replace; you will most likely see a handsome return on your repair/replace "investment".

For all practical purposes these are things you should be doing anyway. A well-maintained vehicle is a rarity. Most people do not do the regular maintenance and only repair when it's absolutely necessary for transportation.

A little soap and water, elbow grease, and a few hundred dollars will make any vehicle look like a clean well-maintained vehicle. Yes, its perception...but perception is reality for most people. If the Used Car Manager "perceives" the vehicle to be a clean, well-maintained vehicle, he will be anxious to put it on the lot for sale and thus give top-dollar to get it. If he "perceives" it to be a dirty poorly maintained vehicle that he is going to have to spend a fortune to recondition, the value goes down...way down.

You don't get a second chance to make a good first impression, so make sure the first impression is good.

Ray Evans


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