Selling your car to a dealership can be an intimidating experience. Compared to car dealerships, who buy and sell cars by the truckload, the average person is a novice at the car trade.
But there is no reason to be afraid. Armed with a little knowledge and a little bit of guts, you can win the transaction and get the most money for your car.
Know What It’s Worth
This will require more than punching a make, model and year into Kelley Blue Book. Outlets like KBB and the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) are helpful in a general sense, but the valuations on those sites tend to run a little high. Most car dealerships won’t take them into consideration at all.
The only real way to know what your car is worth is to do what insurance adjusters do, and compare it to similar vehicles that have sold recently in your area. Obviously, make, model and year are the high points, but you also need to account for trim level, mileage and the condition of the interior and body. If you have comprehensive maintenance records, that could help your case, especially if you’ve had major scheduled maintenance done, such as a timing belt replacement.
It is also important to check your vehicle’s used-vehicle history report. This can be done through resources like Carfax and AutoCheck. If you have been the only one to own your vehicle, you will already have a good understanding of the vehicle’s history. However, if your vehicle has had multiple owners, a vehicle history report will reveal the number of previous owners, recall checks, title history, accident history, and more. A dealership will most definitely check this information, so knowing the details of the history report can be helpful in negotiating the most money for your car.
Fix What You Can
A dealer buying your car will inspect it for flaws and use those against you in the negotiation. A failing transmission may not be worth the money to repair, but if you’ve got an oil leak coming from a valve cover gasket, have that repaired. If a tail light is out, replace it. If you have a scratch on the door, find a bottle of color-matched touch-up paint.
Generally speaking, cars are unlike houses in that you can’t expect to recover the money invested in them -- a $5,000 paint job will be wasted in this context. But you don’t want a dealer to be able to knock $1,000 off their offer because of an oil leak that could be fixed with a $20 part and an hour’s labor.
This may seem obvious, but car dealers say you’d be surprised how many people try to sell them dirty cars. Clean cars look like well-maintained cars, and well-maintained cars sell for more money. Pay particular attention to the seats, carpeting, glass, and dashboard -- and make sure it doesn’t smell like smoke, or anything else for that matter. A steam cleaning can make all the difference there.
Play Dealers Against Each Other
This advice applies whether you’re selling or buying. When you get a number from one dealership, get an offer from a second one too. You’re essentially setting up a miniature auction, allowing you to leverage competing offers.
The advantage of selling a vehicle to a dealership, rather than a private seller, is that a dealership is a lot more likely to want your car and have cash on hand to buy it. Know what your car is worth, and don’t be afraid to negotiate, but keep in mind the dealership has to make money on the transaction as well.