Typically, a person shopping for a new, or newer, car is currently driving something he or she is planning to use as a trade-in. This brings up the big question: What's it worth?
This often becomes a very tricky issue. Everyone, naturally, wants as much as possible. For the moment, let's put aside any concerns of what you may owe on your used car. You may, in fact, owe more than it's worth, which would not necessarily put you among the minority of car owners. Let's look, for now, at simply assessing the vehicle's value.
One place to start is the auto trader-type magazines, available at any convenience store. The information in these publications should be considered as very, very rough outlines only. Most of the vehicles are privately owned, which means most of them are being advertised for sale by people who are amateurs in the car trading business. This means, when we're researching these vehicles and prices, what we're really dealing with is vehicles of unknown background, with asking prices set by a lot of people who may not know what they're talking about. In other words, we're dealing with a lot of hopes and dreams, misconceptions, old baggage and sometimes flat-out lies.
Remember, these are asking prices only. If you use these numbers as guidelines to set the price of your own used car, we now have a multiplicity of misinformation. Yet, it's amazing how many folks will walk onto a dealership lot with such a number in mind as to what they want for their used car in trade—and they're not going to budge an inch.
Or you could look in the Sunday paper classified ad section. These prices tend to be somewhat lower than the auto trader-type publications. Or you could get onto the Internet, which can be just one more place where somebody will kid himself about the value of the vehicle he's been driving. Typically, these sources will first ask for an assessment of the car's condition. For example: Is it Excellent, Good, Fair or Poor? Almost everyone will overrate his or her car. So, here's a tip: If you describe it as excellent, it better be really, really excellent. No excuses, no little problems, no dents, no dings, no scrapes, nothing missing, everything works. It better be clean as a whistle. It had better be washed, scrubbed and neat as a pin. No dirty carpets, no junk in the trunk, no doughnut crumbs in the seats. Otherwise, it's not "excellent."
In appraising a used car, which had over 40,000 miles on the odometer and had been described by its owner as excellent, for a potential trade-in, a used-car manager once remarked, "There's no such thing as a car with 40,000 miles on it in excellent condition." It was obvious the car in question hadn't had a vacuum cleaner inside it in about six months, there was evidence of body repair, the tires were worn out.
Retail Vs. Trade.
Also, on these Internet sources, you should find categories for Retail or Trade-in. Retail is what you might expect to get on the free, open market. Trade-in is what the dealership might give you for it. These numbers are probably not exactly current, because the used-car market, based as it is on the natural law of supply and demand, is in constant flux. In fact, the numbers may be high, because with each passing day the value of any given used car naturally goes down. And do not, ever, expect to trade-in the car and get retail value. It's not going to happen.
A sales manager at a luxury-car dealership had a standard reply for any customer who would whine that, according to the Internet, his car should be worth more than the dealership was offering. "Fine," he'd say, "sell it to the Internet."
The significant thing to remember here is that you do yourself a huge disservice by overrating the value of your trade-in. You will not be able to convince the dealership to give you more than it's worth, unless you want to play paper games and add it all to the price of the new car. When trying to determine the true value of your old car, be honest about it and save yourself a lot of grief.
What's the best way to stay out of this quagmire and get the most for your used car? Buy a popular model car that has a proven track record of retained value and being easy to sell. Get it with at least a medium level of equipment. Don't modify it. Take good care of it.