Is It Better to Sell a Car or Trade It In?

March 31, 2021
Written by: Ray Shefska

It’s time to buy a new car. What should you do with your current car? You have two primary options:  Trade it in at a dealership or sell it privately. Deciding whether you should trade or sell a car requires careful consideration.

Today, we’re going to discuss some of the pros and cons of each option so that you can get the most out of the sale of your car, whichever option you may choose.

Should I Trade in My Car or Sell It?

Presumably, everyone has the same goal:  To get the most out of their existing car. When you’re asking whether you should trade in or sell a car, the decision will likely depend on your situation and your priorities.

If you’re looking for a streamlined, simple experience, consider trading in your car. You can trade in your car at any dealership, and it’s much simpler than selling it to a private party. When it comes to ease, nothing can beat trading in a car.

Another benefit of trading in your car is that your total taxable price for your new car will be lower. Depending on the numbers, this has the potential to make trading it in much more lucrative. Of course, this benefit only applies to places that charge sales tax.

The biggest con in the battle of trade in vs. private sale is that a trade-in will have a dramatically lower price. You’ll get more direct cash with a private sale almost every time. However, you may need to spend a lot of time to get this higher dollar amount. You’ll spend time on marketing your vehicle, meeting up with people who may not end up buying it, and may have to haggle over terms for a while.

Should I trade in my car or sell it? That depends on the time you’re willing to wait. You might discover that it’s nice to have an instant payment when you trade in your old car. However, for most people, as they consider the difference between a trade-in and a resale value, they decide that it’s worth the extra time to sell the vehicle privately.

Trade In or Sell a Car:  How To Get the Most Value for Your Car

Whether you trade in or sell a car, you’re going to want to make sure you get as much value out of your car as you possibly can. Here are a few things that can help.

Repair Mechanical Issues

Nobody will buy a car when the check engine light is on. Having audible sounds when the engine is starting or idling is also a bad sign. 

Since there’s a high probability that someone will want to take a test drive before they buy it, you should make sure that the vehicle is able to accelerate smoothly. 

Repair any basic issues that your car might have. You should also consider fixing cosmetic issues. When you’re weighing the options to trade in vs. sell, this will matter.

Stay on Top of Maintenance and Keep Records

Follow the maintenance schedule and keep records of everything done to the car as you own it. Anything from new tires to a new engine should be documented. This will boost your value, whether you sell it or you trade it in.

Trade In vs. Sell:  Pick the Right Price

When you’re pricing your vehicle, research is key. Pricing it too high will mean that you’ll likely be stuck waiting for a buyer, while pricing it too low can mean that you’ll miss out on potential income. Use the Kelley Blue Book and our Market Price Report to gain a thorough understanding of how much you deserve for your car.

Trade-in vs. Private Sale:  Consider the Perspectives

You’re probably going to have to negotiate, whether you sell your vehicle privately or use it as a trade-in. 

Think about the buyer’s perspective. A private seller is most likely buying the car for personal use. They’ll want a reliable car that still has plenty of years left on it. 

In contrast, a dealership will be looking to sell your car to another customer or sell it at an auction. Either way, they’re looking to turn a profit. 

Keep these perspectives in mind when it comes time to negotiate.

Should I Trade In or Sell a Car?

Should I trade in or sell a car? It depends. Do you want to spend the time to show your car to various private parties and go on a dozen test drives with them? Is it worth it to have an easy transition directly from your old car to your new car? Whatever you decide, make sure to get a good deal by fixing issues upfront, keeping the car maintained, and researching the right price.

Not sure where to begin?

Take a look at our curated 'Start Here' resources or explore and ask questions in the community forum

1 Comment

  1. Kia Uddin

    Hi guys!! I love watching your videos. So I have a used 2015 Nissan Sentra SV with 96,000 miles. I’m still saving up money to buy a new car. I also still owe about 8,000 on my Sentra. As a woman I feel as if I will get taken advantage of at a dealership and I want to know the best way to go about trading in my car or selling my car to caravan and paying the difference. The car I’m looking at is a 21 RAV4.
    Thanks for your time!!

    Reply

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