Quick, off the top of your head, what’s your current vehicle worth? What condition is it in? What condition do you think a dealer would say it is in? Which amenities does it possess that can actually up its value? How much could you get for it as a trade-in vs. being privately sold? If you can answer even half these questions confidently, you’re in a minority of vehicle owners. People lose thousands of dollars every year by not knowing the actual value of their vehicle. Before you drive your old clunker up to the dealership looking for a new model, take a look at these tips on judging the value of your trade-in – they could save you enough for that extra upgrade on your new vehicle.

1. Good/Fair/Poor

If you go to Kelley Blue Book’s website to find the value of your used car, they’re going to ask you about the condition of the vehicle. This comes in three selected grades that offer very broad descriptions: Good, Fair, and Poor. Knowing which category your particular model falls in can be challenging. When all else fails, go low. For example, if you’re not sure if your model is Good or Fair, choose Fair. It’s better to come in a little low and get more than you expected than to haggle over trade-in value that most sales managers won’t budge on. You can also finagle the bottom line a bit. If you choose Fair and you believe that certain areas of your vehicle come in above that, add a few hundred dollars to your bottom-line value and see what the dealer says. Make a list of what you feel are better qualities, or more well-kept than what they’re assuming. Bring maintenance records with you. If the dealer sees your work in research and maintenance proof, you’ll get top dollar on your trade. Don’t sell yourself short, but try to be fair.

2. Interior Matters

One of the first things people notice about a used vehicle is the interior. Does it have stains? Does it have cigarette burns in the upholstery? Is the carpeting mud-stained and worn? Does the interior smell like Ben-Gay and Baby Wipes? Keeping the inside of your vehicle in top condition will get you more money. If you have any interior blemishes, be prepared to be docked for them. Dealers look at these as trouble spots because they, obviously, want to resell the vehicle. If they can present a pristine cabin, they are presenting a vehicle that they can market as “being well taken care of.” You’ll have a much easier time as a private seller as well.

3. Under the Hood

Do yourself a favor and spend an afternoon with some engine degreaser, a bucket of soapy water and some rags. Clean underneath the hood of your vehicle. If you don’t know a lot about cars, just get the really nasty spots and the dusty spots, and steer clear of anything that looks electrical or like it would slice your finger off if you got too close. Also, remember to do this with the key out of the ignition. Better safe than sorry. If you notice any major fluid leaks, it may be wise to find out what it would take to fix them before trying to trade your vehicle in. Remember, a clean car is a well taken care of car in the eyes of the dealer and the consumer.

4. Under the Car

While we’re on the subject of cleanliness, let’s talk about the dirtiest part of your car, the underneath. This is where all the mud, dirt, rocks, snow, slush, salt, sand, muck, fluids, grease, and grime accumulate on your car. Welcome to a mechanic’s world. Before trading your car in, take it to a shop that you trust and ask them if they can put it up on a rack and have a look underneath. Check the tires (a major red flag for used-car purchasers) for uneven or excessive wear. Get a free brake inspection and ask if you can have a quick peak. Finding out what may be really wrong with your car before it gets into the dealer’s shop will save you from being surprised and letting the dealer knock your trade value down to basement level.

5. Add-ons

Wow, you’ve got the fully-fully-loaded-ultra-supreme model of your particular vehicle. It has to be worth more, right? Wrong. Not all amenities will up your trade-in or resale value. Yes, vehicles with more amenities will garner a higher price on the lot; but the trade-in value may not change much because your vehicle has things like a navigation system, upgraded stereo, or body decals. Several of these add-ons can actually drive purchasers away. Options like leather seating, additional cargo areas, and upgraded engines are the best to have for trade-in value.

Along with all of the above suggestions, there are some very basic rules to getting top-dollar for your vehicle trade. First, clean, clean, clean. Never take a dirty vehicle in for trade. The dealer cleans it to get more money, so can you. Second, make sure everything is there. If your vehicle came with a spare-tire jack, owner’s manual, CD changer, and removable ashtrays, it should leave the same way. Finally, don’t even mention to the salesperson that you have a trade-in until you’ve negotiated everything on your new vehicle. Get the model, amenities, and price all set before mentioning your trade. That will keep the dealer from running the total price of your new vehicle up to make up for the extra you’ll earn on your trade.

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