Whether you sell or trade in your current vehicle, it’s important to know its current cash value. (See “How much is the car worth?” for a description of a vehicle’s retail value and wholesale prices, as well as how to determine the market value for a specific vehicle.)
If you decide to trade in your current car, expect to get something close to its wholesale value after taking all variables (options, mileage, condition, and so on) into consideration. Some dealerships will try to give you less money for it so they can make more profit when they resell it.
Selling the vehicle yourself will often mean getting more than the wholesale price, but you may not be able to get what a car dealer would.
In addition to finding your car’s book value and researching what other people are asking for their cars, it’s a good idea to get quotes from some dealerships. This lets you find an easily obtainable, trade-in price before you begin negotiating.
Start by making your car presentable (see “Maximizing your car’s curb appeal”) and take it to the used-car department of several local dealerships. Ask what they would give you in a straight-out sale. That will be the minimum to expect if you trade your car in. There’s another advantage to having this information: If you’re being low-balled on your trade-in, you can always simply refuse the offer and sell your vehicle to the dealer who gave you a better quote.
If you sell your car, your final price will probably be above what the used-car departments offered but below the highest asking prices you found. Once you’re armed with the minimum realistic value, you can negotiate with confidence instead of unknowingly accepting less.