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Get the Best Trade-in Value for Your Old Car

By Philip Reed

These days, you can sit on your couch and get a pretty accurate answer to the age-old question: “What’s my trade-in worth?”

As online used car retailers streamline the buying process, they’re creating more convenient ways to handle car-buying’s Achilles’ heel, the trade-in. And, with the current used car shortage caused by the pandemic, you might get a surprisingly high price selling your car to them rather than trading it in.

You don’t have to sell, of course; you’re just finding out what your trade-in is worth in the most accurate way possible — the price someone will actually pay.

Here’s what the process looks like, and how you can use the results.

Places to Get a Quote Online

Although there may be other places in your area to trade in or sell your car, there are currently three companies dominating online used car sales: Carvana  (CVNA) – Get Report, Shift and Vroom  (VRM) – Get Report. These companies allow you to self-appraise your car and get a quote to either sell your car or trade it in for one of theirs. The transaction and paperwork are touchless.

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Not all these companies are nationwide, and your vehicle will be inspected by a company representative — and the offer possibly adjusted — before you get your money.

Another way to sell or trade your car is through CarMax  (KMX) – Get Report, a used-car superstore with outlets in 40 states and an in-person appraisal process that takes about 45 minutes. It may be easier to look up your car’s value on Edmunds.com, where you can get a CarMax quote without even having to go to one of its car lots.

A Real-World Comparison Test

Before starting the appraisal process, I checked pricing guide Kelley Blue Book, known as KBB, to get an idea of my cars’ trade-in values at a dealer, then collected online offers from CarMax, Carvana, Vroom and Shift.

On these sites, you can fill in information manually or supply your car’s license plate number or 17-digit vehicle identification number to fetch precise year, make, model and trim. They’ll ask you about options on the car, color, if the car has been smoked in, and any warning lights or body damage. You’ll typically get an offer in minutes.

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