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Selling Your Used Car: Trade-In Vs Private Sale


Unless you’re an eccentric living in the hills of Northeast Pennsylvania (I’m not mentioning names, it’s me) you will eventually want to get rid of your old car and move on to something newer if not brand new. There is the third option, which makes my wife crazy, and that is to keep it until it dies peacefully in it’s sleep. To be honest my wife gets a new car every few years, I don’t.

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The rest of you most likely like to have a fresh vehicle every so often and when the time comes you probably have a quiet inner debate about what to do with your old car. Let’s say it’s a 2009 Honda Accord sedan in excellent condition. If you bring it in to the dealer you’ll get about $9,414 for the trade-in according to Kelly Blue Book of course if you choose to sell it on your own you can expect to get about $11,000.

That’s a $1,600 difference or a Caribbean cruise for two in a nice cabin with a balcony. If that was all there was to the story there would be no such thing as trade-ins but trade-ins exist as an option for a reason. People like them; they’re hassle free, mostly. You don’t have to deal with all sorts of slimy strangers (a car salesman joke is just too easy) calling you at all hours of the night and there’s the haggling over price.

The Cost of a Profit

Selling your used car on your own is a guarantee you will get more money than any dealer will give you. Selling your car on your own comes has a cost and comes at a price. First the cost, a private sale means you have to let people know you are selling a car and that means advertising. Newspapers, fliers, the internet and signs on the car itself all work and with the exception of the last one cost money.

Getting top dollar for your car means making the tired old beast beautiful again which means detailing. If you’ve ever been to a used car lot you’ll notice that used car look almost as good as the new ones. That’s because as the old saying goes “eye appeal is buy appeal”. Your car may be used to you but it’s new to the person your trying to sell it to so it better look that way.

The cost side of the equation is your time an trouble in arranging the ads, getting the car ready to show prospective buyers and the thrill of making new friends and influencing strangers. All told you could be looking at 8 to 16 hours of your time to complete the sale. Splitting the difference at that’s 12 hours of your life you’re giving up. For the average person earning $45,000 a year your time to sell the car is worth $260.

Reality Rears it’s Ugly Head

I mentioned Kelly Blue Book as a place to determine the trade-in or retail value of your car but there are other sites such as and On the three sites there was a spread almost $2,000 on the trade-in value of the car. Which is part one of the reality story. Not all valuation sites and services are the same.

Second and more importantly the only person who can give you a definitive price that they will pay for your trade-in is the dealer. Many dealers will always quote prices that are lower than the trade-in value you found online and trade-in offers will vary from dealer to dealer even for the same manufacturer.

If trading is the option you are choosing be as careful about shopping trade-in values as you are about shopping prices for your new car. The trade-in price a dealer offers is just that an offer and is negotiable and should be negotiated just like you would negotiate the price of the car you plan to purchase.

Dollars and Sense

Even after you deduct your time and expense from the sale price of your 2009 Accord you are still walking away with better than $1,100 and that’s enough to send your wife on a cruise so you can stay home and work on the car you refuse to get rid of before it stops running.