Should You Trade In or Sell Your Used Car?

Car keys & cash

So, the time has come to part with your used car. You’re moving on to a different vehicle, but what should you do with the one that has served you so well? Do you trade it in or sell it privately? What should you consider before you take the next step either way?

Let’s take a moment to look at trading in your used car first. This is the simplest step to take, because you let the dealer handle all the hassles. It’s popular with most used car owners.

The used car chain CarMax has done well for itself with its no-hassle trade-in policy. Basically, you can bring a used car in for appraisal. Typically within 30 minutes you will have an offer that’s good for 7 days—even if you’re not buying a used car from CarMax.

Before you trade in your used car, though, make sure you do your homework. CarGurus has a simple-to-use Instant Market Value tool that’s going to show what your car is worth as both a trade-in and a private sale. Punch in the make, model, year, trim level, and mileage, and you’ll get a pretty accurate reflection of what the used car market is willing to pay for your vehicle.

Just because I happen to own one, I punched in a 2008 Mazda5 with a 5-speed manual transmission. My mileage is lower, but I used 100,000 miles as a nice round number. It came back instantly with a value of $5,885 for trade-in and a $1,056 estimate of how much profit I could make selling it privately.

That 18 percent profit is about in line with the 20 to 30 percent profit most people can expect over a dealer trade-in. It’s actually on the low side, which makes it a more honest price, because profit is based on the CarGurus’ “great deal price.” You might be able to sell your used car for a little bit more.

What’s the easiest way to go about selling your used car? Again, CarGurus has you covered with a free Sell My Car page that helps you reach over 15 million shoppers a month. It walks you through the steps and allows you to add photos.

Wondering what you need to do to prepare your used car for private sale? It helps if it’s clean—but you don’t need to have it detailed, unless it’s a high-end vehicle you’re trying to sell.

Make sure any mechanical problems potentially affecting its performance are fixed ahead of time. Frankly, you’re not going to recoup all of the cost, most likely, but you should be able to sell your used car faster if its runs well.

Also, compile your maintenance records if you have them. It will show potential buyers how well the car has been cared for over the years as well as any recent work that’s been done. Has it had no mechanical issues? Do you have your oil-change receipts? That’s going to show at the least that the car was not neglected.

The decision to trade-in versus selling your used car yourself comes down to the time you have to invest. It’s always going to be more profitable to sell your car on your own, but you do have to factor how much your time is worth.

-Keith Griffin

Find Certified Pre-Owned Cars and Used Cars in your area at CarGurus.

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Used Mazda Mazda5

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