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5 Ways to Get the Best Trade-In Value for Your Car

So you've got your heart set on a new car, and you're ready to get rid of your current wheels. If you head to the dealership, they'll take care of every detail – from a thorough cleaning to repairs – and its sale, but you'll also get less money working through a dealer than if you were to sell it privately. If you have extra time, and would like to sell it independently, but don't know where to start, here's a quick guide to get the most money for your vehicle.

1. Assess the Value of Your Vehicle Now

Pull together some basic information, like your car's exact make, model, options and mileage. Glance over it to see the kind of shape it's in – look at the body and check for rust and blemishes large and small, then do the same for the interior. Also consider how it's running, as well as any car repair or maintenance it needs.

Take all that information and head to over to the industry-standard website, Kelley Blue Book, or KBB.com to find your vehicle's "Blue Book" value. The site will ask you for the basic information on your car, and it will then generate an estimate for your vehicle. The price will vary, depending on its condition. Be honest about the kind of shape your car or truck is in, which will help you set an accurate price.

2. Look to Add Value

If there are four main categories of vehicle condition – Fair, Good, Very Good and Excellent – let's say your vehicle is in 'good' condition. Consider what it would take to bring your car into the next category, and look up the vehicle's value based on the improvements you intend to make. If you're lucky, investing in $400 worth of improvements before listing it for sale might earn you $700 more for the car, which would net you an extra $300.

Don't make any significant investment without first confirming that the effort will have paid for itself. Revisit the value-assessment tool again, assuming you've made the improvements. And some critical advice – be sure you're working with an honest mechanic who's giving you a fair price, so you aren't losing money on car repairs when your goal is to actually make money.

With luck, you might be able to shampoo stains out of the interior, do some some minor dent-and-scratch repair on the exterior, replace the one non-matching tire to make it a perfect set, and schedule the wheel alignment you've been putting off for so long. Those items might just push your vehicle's price assessment from "good" to "very good," earning you some extra money to put toward your next car. If you're looking to finance it, this can also mean a lower monthly payment.

3. Take Some Photos

Few people take thoughtful photos of their cars before posting them for sale. In the age of people taking 100 selfies before posting the best shot on social media, it's astonishing how few people think to effectively stage their cars (and their houses) when they're looking to sell them. This is well worth your effort.

As you get your vehicle ready for its close-up, consider prepping it the way a real estate agent would recommend staging a home before a photo shoot or an open house. Remove all your tchotchkes, and by that, we mean anything that didn't come with the car. If you use an air freshener and have your gym bag and some water bottles in the shots, clean it out again so there's nothing but your vehicle in the frame. Once the junk is all out, take it through a car wash, and give it some extra love – the wheels should be bright and void of brake dust; windows free of smudges, and run some Armor All across the dash but not on your steering wheel, as you'd risk slippery handling on the way home. Run a vacuum through the interior and get every possible bit of dust out of there.

Next: location, location, location. Don't take your photo in your driveway if yours and your neighbors' houses are within sight. Try to head to a simple location – near some lush, green trees, a clean parking lot, or even a simple white building. If you're willing to wait for the weather, the best day isn't a sunny one, which could result in a good deal of glare. Take some snaps on a cloudy day, or during dusk or dawn – all will act as a giant light diffuser in the sky, serving to even out extremes for a cleaner finish. If you like, use a photo filter, but hold the finished shot up next to your vehicle to be sure the color is accurate.

Capture the good and the bad – if your bumper and wheels are pristine from years of garage parking, capture that. But did your kids' crayons melt in the backseat one summer? Snap that, too, to include in the posting. Potential buyers will appreciate your honesty.

4. Time to Write

Allow time when you sit down at your computer to write a listing; you don't want to rush through it. Don't assume the seller knows anything, even if there are standard elements of the vehicle. Is it a convertible, sedan or coupe? Does it have a sunroof, a manual or automatic transmission; are the seats and windows electric or manually operated? Get into the details. If you're non-smoker, mention it. Is it a single-owner vehicle? That's a plus, too.

If you've got your service records scattered between filing cabinets and your glove compartment, and some might have been lost, look to collect the ones you have. Call your mechanic to ask for old copies, which they should be able to retrieve for you. If you've got all your service records in one spot, or better yet, if you have your all your vehicle's repairs logged online, that's a testament to how you cared for your vehicle, and it should be noted in your listing.

Now for the less-than-ideal bits – you've got to list those, too. It's better to be up-front about it than to waste your, and the potential buyer's, time if your vehicle's condition will send them packing. Whether you fear bad karma or legal action, it's in your best interest to be transparent about your vehicle's notable shortcomings in the for-sale listing. Everyone can relate, and unless it's brand new, chances are the car is not completely perfect. Has your bumper taken its fair share of city-parking dings? Be open about that, and list it, along with a photo. Same can be said for any obvious visual blemishes or mechanical issues.

Consider adding some humanity – do you love the sound system? Has this car helped you move two kids in and out of college over the years? Have you been able to fit in items from every trip to Ikea without an issue? Are you the kind of person whose OCD means you wash your car every week? Say so. You'll help the future buyer envision himself or herself behind the wheel. Even better – are you selling this car because of an interesting reason, say because you no longer need all-wheel drive because you've stopped skiing, or that you're getting another of the same vehicle because you've loved this one so much? Those are all great reasons to get rid of a car, so share them.

Don't forget the added perks: Has your car recently had its oil changed, its beach-parking sticker renewed or an inspection last month? Those things only add up to a few bucks here and there, but they're a hassle to book, so your potential buyer will delight in those details. Same goes for the big perks – do you have an extra set of winter tires and wheels in the garage, along with a custom-fitted car cover, that come with the deal? Major score. Write that down, too.

5. Be Sure You're Ready, Then Post It

Put your vehicle's listing and beautiful photos online, along with its accurate price, noting that's its Blue-Book value. Don't post it before you have alternate wheels lined up, or before you've had a chance to track down your vehicle's title. And don't post it the week before you're leaving the state for your annual family reunion. You'll want to be available that weekend, and perhaps the following one, to show it to prospective buyers and to do test drives. In today's world of instant gratification, the one who has the fastest response often wins, so have your phone and email at the ready. Get your selling face on, and give it your best shot.

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