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Should I trade in my car?

By Anna Kantilaftas and Tom Fraser, 03 Jul 2019 Car Advice

Should I trade in my car?

A value vs effort debacle, should you sell your used car privately or put it on the market yourself?

Buying a new car is an exciting proposition for myriad reasons, often eclipsing the dreary selling process of the one you've already got. Selling a car can be a real nightmare and car dealers are happy to take away that pain by offering a trade in, but you might get burnt in the process. 

We're forever being told that a car dealer will offer you the lowest possible amount if you trade in your vehicle, but is it really worth your time and effort to go-it-alone and sell it yourself?

Pros and cons: Should you buy a new or used car?


Selling your car to the dealer is certainly the path of least resistance. But are you prepared to take a cost cut? Often dealers will offer you a price that is thousands of dollars less than what you could get by selling your car privately.

But while you can expect less money for the car, you have the convenience of not lifting a finger. You’re also essentially selling your car on the spot, which is a pretty good deal if you’re in a rush for your new car or need the cash.

There are two options here, though. You can either trade your car in for a newer car, which will give you the most value if you intend on buying something newer. Or sell it to a used car dealer for cash.

Read: Confessions of a car dealer: Five top tips for getting the best deal

Top tip: You don’t need a roadworthy certificate when selling your car to a dealer, which is an added benefit. Additionally, they’ll take on any major repairs.


Selling your car privately can be time consuming, but it can work in favour of your wallet.

You’ll need to prepare the car, set the price, advertise it, show people through and process the sale. It’s not hard, but it does take time.

Ensuring your car is in good condition is your first step. That may mean investing some money to fix any issues, especially mechanical ones, and ensure it’s clean and roadworthy. It’s a good idea to get it detailed as well, and make sure any photos used to advertise your car for sale are a true representation of the car.

RELATED: How to write an effective used car sale ad

Once you’ve settled on an appropriate price, and decided where you’re going to advertise it, make sure you’re available to answer any questions about the car and find time for inspections. Be prepared to negotiate.

MORE Tax time tips for car owners 

Your time investment is what’s going to get you the extra dollars, so if the money means more to you than convenience, private sale is the way to go.

Top tip: cars with low mileage and that have been looked after will sell quicker.

So, what should you do?

Generally if you're just looking for a means to an end, we'd recommend at least hearing a car dealer out on their offer. It's not in a car dealer's best interest to insult you with an offensive offer, so generally they'll try help the changeover cost - that is, the cost you have to pay for a new car on top of your trade in offer - to be as palatable as possible in order to get the sale.

It's worth getting an understanding of the price a car dealer will pay, then checking similar car listings to see if you can beat it by selling privately. 

MORE How to handle the hard sell at a car dealership

That said, if you know what you've got and think you can make more money than a car dealer will offer for a trade in, go right ahead and sell your car privately. Generally you'll find it easier if you're selling a near-new car that is desirable, hasn't travelled too far and in-demand.

You might have to endure some finicky details by getting the car ready and you'll have to show potential buyers in your spare time, but generally you can make more money if you stick it out. 

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