My wife wanted to move on from her perfectly good 2008 4Runner, said the first 132000 miles were the best.
We go shopping for what she wants to get now (don’t ask…) and get a dealer’s trade quote. I am reminded why I have only ever traded in one car in my life. (I’ve been around for a while, not that we flip cars.)
The dealer trade calculation comes up with about $10,000, despite the vehicle having several very desirable options. I figure that’s below retail value by several thousand, and the dealer confirms it. Why wouldn’t it be? They want to make money selling it.
I tell my spouse that I can do better than that, and she humors me. We own the vehicle outright. It is in excellent condition with no accidents, no mechanical issues and clean inside and out, when she is not using it to move big bales of hay and so forth. Toyotas in general and 4Runners in particular have a very good reputation for reliability and hold value well, so it should sell readily.
We take pictures, and I put ads on autotrader.com and also craigslist. Autotrader is a big volume site, and craigslist is a necessary evil, perhaps. The listing costs $49 for Autotrader and $5 for craigslist. I price it at $13,000ish, which is at the high end of what the resale calculations claim is retail price, above even private party value. Then we wait. Always stressful, since we depend on what strangers do.
Not to worry. I get multiple inquiries / day. A few are just silly. “I’ll give $8000 in cash!” (I bet you would.) Some are earnest. “Have you changed the timing belt, and can you send pictures of the undercarriage?” All good. One guy is willing to fly up from Florida. It turns out that there are only a few of this model on the market in the country, and the ones under 150K miles are offered by dealers for thousands more than I am asking.
I ultimately get someone local who comes to look at the vehicle with bank check in hand; he’s a nice guy, everything checks out, he takes the car for a test drive, we call his bank to confirm he didn’t just forge some bank check, and everybody is happy. He gets the car and the title, we get a bank check for the asking price four days after listing the vehicle.
The personal finance lesson is not so much that you could expect this exact experience, since I’ve often had to wait longer, deal with more buyers, or take a discount to sell a different type of vehicle. It’s also not that I am some amazing car salesman, since I maybe could have got even more by asking more, but that wasn’t the goal here.
The lesson is: since you would (and should) shop around to find the best deal on the vehicle and on financing, don’t leave thousands of dollars on the table to save a few hours’ work selling your old vehicle.
Edit: yes, in many states you can save on sales tax with a trade, though that is not the case in Virginia. “Unlike some other states, in Virginia, they apply the sales tax to the full price of the car before any credits from trade-ins are applied.”
Edit again: Carvana online offer (based on actual VIN): $9868.
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