Trade Secrets

Buying a Car
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Back in Step 6 and Step 7 we told you to hand over the keys to your current ride, and to ask the dealership to provide you with a quote for your trade-in at the end of your new vehicle test drive. If you're still wondering why we suggested that you take two sets of keys, it is to overcome one of those infamous dealer scams which can be visited on an unwitting consumer.

To get a good shot at converting you into a buyer today, a dealership may "misplace" the keys to your current ride. This enables them to have a few more minutes with you in a negotiating room. If this should happen to you, pull out the second set of keys, inform your salesperson that you are taking your car, and mention that you are concerned enough to go to the police. The "missing" keys will suddenly reappear.

The trade-in price you are going to obtain from the dealership on this kind of market test is probably not a single cent over wholesale value, but nothing says that you have to trade in your vehicle to a new car dealership. There are several ways you can sell your used car -- a new car dealership is just an easy place to start to get a price-target for your old ride.

Another excellent place to start honing in on your used car's market value is the used car superstore. It isn't as bad as it sounds. Many of these establishments offer "no pressure" market-value quotes on used cars, with no obligation to buy or sell. Again, you may be able to work a better deal on your own with regard to price, but this sort of sale can take a lot of the used car selling hassles out of your life with only a few signatures required.

Before you test the market with your current sled, make sure the vehicle is detailed. Forget the $10 special at the local brushless car wash. Spring for the $150 all day top-to-bottom spit shine. Of course, don't put a penny more into the vehicle than you have a chance of getting out in the end, but from an overall standpoint a top-notch detail job may serve you well.

Why go to the trouble of cleaning up a car you're about to sell? Any professional used vehicle appraiser will see right through a "no thought" market test. If your car has a pack of smashed graham crackers strewn across the back seat, they'll give you a lowball price because they realize that you're not serious about selling the car. The appraiser won't waste his time on it. If, on the other hand, the car is in near-showroom condition, they know that they'll have to put less into it in order to sell it. This means a quicker profit, and they may reward you with a higher price.

Also, remove all your personal effects from the vehicle. Get those tire warranties out of the glove box and your latest Visa statement out from under the front seat. You don't want to give the appraiser any advantages. The two most important, never-leave-behind items are the Title, and your Service Documentation.

The title is self-explanatory. But what's wrong with leaving the service records behind, particularly if they are a stack of documents which show almost perfect preventive maintenance? Impeccable maintenance records can earn you a premium on a vehicle, but to do more than fan them in front of the appraiser while you say something like, "I have oil change and general maintenance records back to mile one, all at manufacturer-recommended intervals" could be a grave mistake.

Why? Well, sure, that stack of papers you're waving can boost the price a few bucks. But once you allow the appraiser to assess the records in detail, he'll knock the price back down, because he'll find a slip-up someplace along the line. So, do your little fan dance, make your statement, and put the records away in your own briefcase -- that's the only place they will make you money at this point. Of course, if you've recently added new equipment, make sure you point it out to the appraiser. Exhaust systems, brakes, tires (and everything else that wears out over time) could change the appraised price of the vehicle. The more detailed you are on the mileage and the retail value of the work, the more it will help you. You should set aside these specific work order receipts to show the appraiser.

Don't just stand there and watch the used car manager do his appraiser jig around your vehicle. Most of these appraisers have a well-rehearsed act that they are more than happy to put on for you. They love to have you watch as they walk ever so slowly around a vehicle, saying not a word, mumbling occasionally, curiously looking and pointing to each and every defect or blemish. Why the act? Well, each finger point, "that's too bad" mutter, is worth 100 bucks or so -- to them! Truth of the matter is, they know cars, they buy them every day. On auction days they may buy a dozen or more. They make their living from knowing the market and most have computer-like recall. They probably don't even need to spend 10 seconds looking at your car before they have a price in mind. Heck, they were in the ballpark when they heard the make, model, year and mileage the new car salesperson blurted out across the showroom floor.

That is the quick way to get a fix on your old ride's value. You can, of course, supplement this method with others. Use the Internet buyer's guides (like Edmund's or Kelly Blue Book) to get a price on your old vehicle (check to see if the prices listed are retail or wholesale). Scan the classifieds and see what similar models are going for. Even used car lots can be a source of valuable information.

The used vehicle market is highly unique. Prices can vary widely between regions, and between specific option accessories. So make sure you are getting a price value for your specific market and particular vehicle as it is optioned out.

The decision on how you sell your old vehicle is up to you. The sales channels range from giving it away (some can take a tax deduction, like the Kidney Foundation Donate a Car) to selling it through the classifieds, at auction, to a friend or relative, a business associate, etc. Consider all the options and find one that best suits your needs.

We have finished our quick tips on used cars. Next, it's on to Step 11 and more Financial Preparations. Until then be Foolish, and remember to be cautious when using that cellular phone when driving; insurance studies have shown phone use increases the likelihood of an accident by a factor of four!

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