How to Get the Most Money for Your Trade-in

In today’s automotive marketplace, used cars are king. Not only do auto dealerships want them, but more than ever people are looking to buy into “seasoned” vehicles that won’t depreciate in value as quickly as new cars will. If you’re intent on taking advantage of this trade-in fever, there are a few things you can do to make your trade-in sparkle, and give you the kind of trade-in value that your old car really has, rather than just what the dealer wants to give you for it.

Begin by cleaning the car thoroughly inside and out. Use a dry toothbrush to work crumbs and other debris out from the edges between panels and the car’s carpeting, and then use a vacuum to clean out all the crumbs. A full vehicle detailing is critical in making the car look like it has been well taken care of, even if the back seat just last week was home to four years’ worth of stale french fries. While you’re doing your detailing work, it’s important that you clean the engine bay, as well. Even if you’ve never raised the hood of the car yourself, you can bet that the dealership who wants your trade-in will. Spray the engine with a good-quality kitchen degreaser after covering the air intake and the alternator with plastic shopping bags. Give the engine a good soak, and you’ll see the grease begin to loosen from the engine block. The degreaser will also clean the hoses and lines inside the engine compartment.

Agitate the degreaser with a brush similar to the kind of brush you would use to clean your tires. This will loosen the harder-to-remove portions of grease from the engine and provide a cleaner look for your trade-in. After the degreaser has worked into the grease and oil on the engine for approximately ten minutes, wash off the degreaser with a garden hose set with a moderately harsh spray. Be careful that you don’t spray yourself with washed-off degreaser while doing this. With the degreaser removed, take the plastic bag off of the air intake and the alternator, and then run the engine until the water evaporates away. You can also use a leaf blower to remove excess water from the engine compartment.

Spray the plastic components in both the engine compartment and the passenger compartment with silicon-based preservative. Products such as Armor-all and Turtle Wax are ideal for this work.

Next, determine what on the car needs to be repaired in order to improve its appearance. The most common problems you’ll find include yellowed headlights, scuffed trim moldings and broken wheel covers. Yellowed headlights can be repaired by applying polishing compound to the lens and buffing it with an orbital buffer. Scuffed trim moldings can be painted with a product called “trim black,” which is available at auto parts stores. This is a type of durable semi-gloss spraypaint that mimics the look of standard black automotive trim. To replace wheel covers, contact a local salvage yard to see if they have any that you can use. While you might spend five dollars per wheel cover, you’ll realize a greater trade-in value for your vehicle, as well.

Check to see if the paint on your vehicle has faded noticeably. This can be done by opening the door or the trunk lid and looking at the paint on the door or lid jambs. If the paint seems lighter on the outside of the car, use a clay-based polishing compound with an orbital buffer to bring out the paint’s original luster.

Once you’re ready to go, check the value of your car against rating services such as Kelly Blue Book to determine how much you should expect to receive for the car. Be prepared to negotiate, however, as car dealers will want to get your trade-in for the lowest price possible, and will try to tell you that your car is worth less than it actually is. In truth, though, it’s important to remember that used cars are the most profitable vehicles on a car dealer’s lot. Many times, they can expect to reasonably sell a used car at a $2000 profit while a new car may only net them a $500 profit. In essence, the less they pay you, the more they’ll make on the deal. If necessary, consider selling the car privately yourself. You may have to hold off on the new car you’ve been wanting to buy for a week or two, but then, isn’t two weeks of your time worth $2,000?

Kelly Blue
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