There are numerous tips online for how to get the best deal for your trade. Some are good practices, some downright counter-productive. I wanted to talk about a few that I frequently see.
Get a CarMax Appraisal: Always a good idea. If you do one thing to research your trade value this is it. CarMax will simultaneously give you a very accurate trade value, and a great negotiation tool because you can always fall back on their offer.
Do not hide the fact that you have a trade. Let the dealership know upfront. There are two key reasons: a) manufacturers sometimes have rebates for customers with trade and b) if you hide the fact that you have a trade it just means you have to negotiate all over again. I have seen people lose out on money by doing this, a customer will negotiate an out the door sales price, then bring up their trade. Now the dealership can just add the tax savings from the trade back to the sales price, and the customer is paying a higher price.
You can negotiate trade and sales price at the same time: Nothing is stopping you from doing that, just make sure you address the sales price and the trade price separately and clearly know what each number is.
Do not try and demand all the answers over the phone. If you are unwilling to show the dealership your vehicle but want information you will get either lowball numbers, or an inflated number just to get you in the building. Then you will end up paying more for the new car, paying a higher interest rate, or just not getting what you were told over the phone. There is nothing wrong with calling around, but think about it this way: understanding the process is much better than trying to bully people who professionally do this every day.
No need to detail your vehicle: you can clean it up and give it a quick wash, but don’t pay for a detailing or to fix small dents. Dealerships have departments ready to fix dents, scratches and detail the vehicle for much less than what you would pay.
Don’t worry about your trade making you appear too eager: I read comments like this all the time, “Do not go to the dealership with an empty gas tank, it shows you are desperate to trade!” or “Do not detail your vehicle then the dealer knows you want to sell it!” If you are talking to a dealership they know you want to trade your vehicle in. This isn’t an exercise people just do for fun. You won’t appear eager if you know how the process works, and have done your research. (Read the rest of the how2car trade blogs to understand how it all works)
Do not put too much hope in the “private party market” buying your trade for more than a dealership unless would unless your trade is worth less than $5000. If you have a friend or family member that wants to buy your car that is a different matter: in that case read up on the “In and Out” technique.