By Anthony Santiago - Editor-in-Chief

June 16, 2023
How to Get Top Dollar for Your Trade-in

When it comes to selling anything in life, staging is so critical in getting the most money. I will share tips that will help maximize your car's trade value and potentially private party value. 

In case you didn't know, I am a pro-consumer detailer and car enthusiast. I've spent countless hours researching and testing products and techniques to help revitalize the condition of many cars. 

First, it takes little time or effort to raise the value of your vehicle after a solid wash, wax, and vacuum. You can enhance the look and the condition on the weekend and, if you are really short on time, in under an hour. 

Trading in a vehicle can make you nervous when it comes to the trade-in value.

Remember, dealerships still need to make money, but in this article, I will help you determine whether the trade-in value is fair. 

Before we get started, check out the TLDR section below if you need more time. 

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the actual market trade-in value of your vehicle is crucial. Trade-in value will impact your monthly payment if you are financing the price of the vehicle.
  • Negotiate trade-in value separately from the vehicle purchase to ensure you get the best possible deal. It's better to withhold the trade-in until after the agreed-upon OTD price. 
  • Using online appraisals, recent sales, and listings to help negotiate the deal. Especially since new car prices are so high.

Why Trade-in Value Matters

I understand what you might think about your car or vehicle's worth. You'd be surprised to know that car prices, especially in the used car market (Trucks, SUVs, and Vans included), have risen. 

The car you purchased a few years ago (Pre-Covid) might be worth more or less the same as a few years ago. 

Granted, it's not absolute on all makes and models, but it's safe to say that you would be in for a surprise on your vehicle's market value. 

Trade-in value is hugely important when it comes to making a car purchase. It influences the value of your old car and the financial decisions for buying a new one.

The better and bigger the trade-in value, the lower the cost of your new vehicle. 

My go-to website is to get the latest market value based on my mileage and condition. 

90% of car owners doing the research will be able to get an accurate estimation. The other 10% will be specialty vehicles that might have higher market value than what KBB lists.

Visit and click on My Car's Value. Then enter the details of your vehicle, including year, make, model, and, most importantly, miles or mileage. 


mileage odometer

Miles matter. I have tested firsthand the difference that 10,000 - 20,000 miles can add to the bottom line value. It can add hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars back to the trade-in value. 

Secondly, you will want to be accurate about the miles you enter. Always round up. If you have 86,320 miles, then enter 87,000 miles in KBB. This is very important since your miles will continue to rise while you are still using it. 


You will be presented with a trade-in value based on the condition. You can toggle through the options, but Very Good is a starting point. 

The trade-in value here is a realistic number you should use as a gauge when negotiating Trade In amount at a dealership. Some dealerships might lowball you, but that is ok if they are within $1k - $2k of what KBB gave. 

Trade-in Value is always less than the Private Party values. 

As a reminder, you should NOT use the Retail Prices when it comes to Private Parties or Trade-in value. This Retail price is padded because of the costs involved in reconditioning and repairing the vehicle for sale to the public. 

How Trade-in Value Affects Your Financial Decisions

Now you have the Trade-in Value of your vehicle; you will want to prepare and prep your vehicle to be on the higher range of Trade or Private Party Values. 

Dealerships can offer more on the trade-in to close the sale. They can adjust their reconditioning out-of-pocket costs to prepare the vehicle for sale. 

Remember that your Retail Number and your Trade-in Number, folks are the earning potential on the vehicle if it's offered for sale. 

Let's talk about how to maximize your Trade-in value. As mentioned, you will want to put the cards in your favor to present your trade-in in the best light possible. 

Checklist to Prepare Vehicle for Trade-in

We already covered the Trade-in value, and you now understand the price range. I will cover the things you need to do to prepare. 

Clean Car

First, I would get the vehicle cleaned at your local car wash. For about $25 or less, you can instantly increase your vehicle's "curb" appeal. 


Step 1 - Clean Interior

Remove all the trash from the interior and non-essential items that will clutter up the seats and floorboards. Use a coin-operated vacuum or at home to remove all the dirt from the mats and carpet.


Step 2 - Organize Trunk Area

Clean out or organize your trunk. There might be some old items in there that can produce foul odors. Your trunk area should be neat and tidy for the next owner. This will also be a good time to check your spare tire pressure or any accessories in case of a flat tire.


Step 3 - Shine the Exterior and Tires

Tire shine the tires. After washing it, you should buy yourself a can of tire shine to add the final touch to your vehicle. 

(Optional) This makes a HUGE difference when someone touches the paint. Get a spray wax to help provide the paint with additional gloss and slickness. A bottle of spray wax will only cost $10 at your local automotive shop.

Check for Stains and Remove

You should want to remove any stains on the seats, floor mats, or in the carpet area. The can of Tuff Stuff works great at breaking up stains and helping lift them off. 

Otherwise, try an all-purpose cleaner like Simple Green to help remove stains. Be sure to check in an inconspicuous area for any color bleeding. 

Broken Taillights or Bulbs

In addition, you can spruce up the exterior of your vehicle by replacing any cracked or broken lens. Also, if you have any bulb light-out warning, you can replace the bulb for a few dollars.

Engine Trouble: Check Engine Light

check engine on used car

Now we have come to a commonly asked question about trading in a car or vehicle with a check engine light. I HIGHLY recommend that you get this fixed if this is within your budget. If the repair costs $500-$1,000, it might be worth investing this as this will help retain the vehicle's value. 

Having a check engine light will push the condition of your car in the Fair to Good Condition Range, provided that everything else is good. 

However, if the cost of the repair is already ¼ the cost of the vehicle, then I would consider selling as a private party. I will get into this later in the article. 

Dealerships do encounter trade-ins with engine codes and will adjust their offer accordingly. You could get an estimate on the repair and subtract it from the KBB trade-in value.

Most importantly, you will want to trade in your vehicle at a fair market value based on any necessary repairs. 

Tips for Negotiating Trade-in Value

Negotiating your car's trade-in value is essential when buying a new one. To save money, it's important to get the best price. 

Here are tips:

  • Research value before talking to a dealer.
  • Make sure the car is in great condition before going to a dealer.
  • Be ready to walk away if an offer doesn't meet expectations.
  • If you are more satisfied, consider selling privately.
  • Negotiate trade-in value separately from the purchase of the new car.

It's important to treat negotiating trade-in value as a separate transaction from buying a new car. Research and be prepared to get the best deal. Dealerships look for used cars to add to inventory. They may offer higher trade-in values at certain times or when they don't have enough used cars.

Kelley Blue Book says different makes and models depreciate differently.

This means considering resale value when buying a new car is important. 

Why Negotiating Trade-in Value Separately is Important

Negotiating the trade-in value of your car separately is a must. 

This prevents dealers from manipulating prices. Combining both can lead to hidden fees and interest rates, making it hard to understand how much money you're making or losing. To be transparent, it's best to discuss each aspect separately.

Researching comparable vehicles is key. Use online pricing guides such as Kelley Blue Book. This can show you what similar cars are selling for, which can help when negotiating.

Separating costs between cars and exchanges is beneficial. This makes each transaction more transparent. Experts suggest focusing on trade-ins rather than shop prices. Businesses usually take losses when trying to sell new cars.

When buying a new car, negotiate the trade-in value separately. This ensures you get the best possible price. Keep these points in mind when negotiating. Doing this helps reach an acceptable amount for both parties.

Tricks to Outsmart Car Salesmen

Car sales associates can be tricky when getting top dollar for your trade-in. This section gives you the inside scoop on outsmarting them and getting the best price for your trade-in. 

You'll also learn some tips and tricks on keeping cash in your pocket during the negotiation process. So fasten your seatbelts and get ready to drive away with the best deal.

How to Get the Best Price for Your Trade-in

Here are six steps to getting the most out of your trade-in:

  1. Research: Use online pricing guides like Kelley Blue Book to estimate your car's value before negotiating.
  2. Prepare Your Car: Ensure your car is clean and in good condition before selling. This can increase the value.
  3. Negotiate Separately: Negotiate the trade-in value of your car away from the price of the new car.
  4. Be Realistic: Accept compromises and be realistic about your car's value. Consider any wear and tear or repairs.
  5. Consider Multiple Offers: Get quotes from multiple dealerships and online retailers.
  6. Close The Deal: Accept an offer that meets your predetermined appraisal value.

Look for dealerships that are actively looking for used cars. You may avoid time-consuming advertising and unreliable buyers. You could also qualify for incentives when buying a car from the same dealership.

Checking Online Pricing For Instant Offers

When trading in your car, you want to ensure you're getting top dollar. One way to ensure this is by checking online pricing guides. In this section, we'll look at how to use Kelley Blue Book for accurate pricing and explore other online pricing guides worth considering. With these tools, you'll be well-equipped to negotiate a fair trade-in value for your vehicle.

How to Use Kelley Blue Book for Accurate Pricing

Kelley Blue Book is a great online pricing guide. To make the most of it, follow these steps to get an accurate value for your car. 

  1. Select the "Car Values" tab on the Kelley Blue Book website.
  2. Enter the make, model, year, mileage, and condition details.
  3. Review the estimated values for trade-in and private sale.

Kelley Blue Book can give you fair and accurate pricing info. Don't just rely on one source of info. It can help you determine cash incentives from trading in an old car for a new one. Additionally, KBB can help you negotiate a better deal when buying or selling a car.

Other Online Pricing Guides to Check Out

Use online price guides, like Edmunds, NADA Guides,, TrueCar, CarGurus, and Kelley Blue Book. These are great for sellers when figuring out the value of their trade-in car.

These platforms offer free car valuations based on mileage, age, condition, and location. Each platform has its technique and formulas, so estimates may vary.

Check other price guides for reference. That way, you can see what other cars like yours have sold for. This helps determine if you're getting a fair value.

How to Get Instant Cash Offers Online

Try getting instant cash offers online. This approach gives you an estimated value for your car and saves time.

I did try this recently but ended up being lower than the Trade-in Value listed. 

instant offer KBB example

Regarding the Instant Cash Offers, it was as expected but perhaps my vehicle is already too old since it is over 20 years old.

However, I was able to sell this vehicle privately for $7,200 on Facebook Marketplace. (I'll share my tips on selling on Facebook in another article)

Follow this 5-steps below for getting instant cash offers online:

  1. Gather Details - Make, model, year, and mileage.
  2. Visit Reputable Sites- Kelley Blue Book or Carvana.
  3. Fill Out Online Forms- Fill out the provided form with the details.
  4. Receive Instant Cash Offers- Wait a few minutes to get the offer.
  5. Compare Offers- Choose the highest one reasonably.

NOTE: Be ready for your phone to ring immediately. I got (3) calls from local dealers that will honor the Instant Cash price. 

Remember to check if the offer fits special categories like "excellent" or "fair" condition of your car. This helps get an accurate appraisal for trade-in allowance, giving you an edge during negotiations.

Now, you know how to get instant cash offers online. Follow these steps, and your trade-in car will be appraised quickly and accurately.

Benefits of Getting Quotes from Online Retailers

Getting Quotes from Online Retailers has many benefits and is popular with smart buyers. An advantage is the ability to get instant offers, which is quick and easy. Also, online retailers are usually fair with their pricing.

Another bonus is to consider many options without a commitment. This lets you look around and find the best deal. It is also easy to compare quotes from different sites.

Getting quotes from online retailers has good points, but accuracy is important. You must be precise when giving your vehicle's info.

When selling your car, these steps will help you get more money than if you just traded it in. The advantages of getting quotes make it an attractive and efficient way to buy and sell cars today.

Take Advantage of Dealers Looking for Used Cars

With dealerships struggling to keep up with the high demand for used cars, now is the perfect time to take advantage of the opportunity and sell your old car to a dealer. 

Be aware that dealerships always try to get the lowest price. Know what you want for your car before selling it. Ensure that the dealership has the proper documents. Negotiate not just on price but also on service options and payment methods. This will help avoid future issues.

Final Thoughts

Maximizing the car's value when trading it in is achievable:

  1. Clean it, service it, and make repairs. This will ensure the car's in good condition and get better prices.
  2. Do research and compare similar cars' prices. This will give an understanding of the car's worth and help in negotiation.
  3. Stay firm on the car's value, be patient and have research ready to give an edge in the conversation.

To maximize trade-in value, follow these guidelines. A clean and well-maintained car, research, and negotiation for a fair price are the 3 things to focus on. Staying firm while negotiating and being prepared with research can increase the value. A successful negotiation means one will get a higher value for their car.


When is the best time of the week to buy a new car?

The best time of the week to buy a new car is usually near the end of the month, as car sales associates are more willing to negotiate to meet their quotas. Additionally, weekdays are better than weekends, as dealerships are less busy, and sales associates have more time to negotiate with you.

How do car sales associates determine the value of my trade-in?

Car sales associates have wiggle room on trade-in values and may lie to make more money. They may consider the vehicle's age, mileage, condition, and resale value. However, it is important to negotiate the trade-in value separately from the price of the new car to ensure you get the best deal possible.

How can I get the maximum value for my trade-in car?

To get the maximum value for your trade-in car, find its price by checking online pricing guides like Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds and getting quotes from online retailers like Carvana, Vroom, and Shift. You can also get a cash offer from CarMax and visit sites like,, and to see what dealers are asking for cars like yours. With online appraisals in hand, you can negotiate a fair price for your trade-in and get the best deal possible.

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Anthony Santiago - Editor-in-Chief

About the author

I am a passionate car enthusiast who likes to help people save money and avoid headaches when it comes to cars. I believe that everyone can find the right car at the right price. I share my tips and experience so you can learn quickly and maximize your next SUV, truck or car purchase.

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