1978 Datsun 280z

Is Your Car Too Old to Trade In? You Might Be Surprised:

We all know that most car dealerships would be happy to take your 1-year-old car on a trade-in. What happens if your car is older though? Will anyone want it or did you miss your chance to trade it in for a new one?

Most car dealerships will accept nearly any vehicle as a trade-in, despite its age or condition. There’s a catch though – they’re going to make sure it’s worth their while by paying you a very low amount for it. They’ll likely pass it off to a wholesaler or auction rather than put it on their lot.


Can you trade in an older car?

Experts in the automotive sales industry have been working diligently for the last century to maximize pain and suffering to the consumer. One of the keys to their success is the trade-in negotiation process and don’t worry- everyone is allowed to participate in this torturous ceremony, even owners of older vehicles!

Alright, joking aside, there are lots of valid reasons for trading in your car instead of selling it yourself. It allows you to knock out the selling and buying in one transaction, saves you time, and may have tax benefits depending on where you live. This also keeps the tire kickers out of your driveway and avoids the never-ending stream of “is it available?” texts and emails.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a dealership that will totally reject a car for a trade-in, but you’ll need to do a little more research to find the right place to work with when unloading something that’s had a bit more experience.


The downside of trading in an old car

Dealerships love having an ample supply of used cars to sell as they tend to make more money on those than on new vehicles. That said, they each have their own class of cars they like to have on the lot.

For example, let’s say you inherit grandma’s mint 2010 Chevy Cruze with only 30k miles on it. Now that’s not really your style, so you decide to trade it in on a new Volvo XC40. They might only offer you $1,000 because honestly, they just don’t want to be bothered with it. New luxury car dealerships tend to only want slightly used, low mileage luxury vehicles.

You’d likely have a similar experience trading in a 1-year-old Corvette at a “buy here, pay here” lot. The businesses know what their normal clientele is coming to the lot to look for and if it doesn’t fit the criteria, it’s usually getting sent to auction.

Speaking of auctions, you’ll often hear them mention auction prices when you’re negotiating the value of your car. This is where things tend to get difficult. These auction values are not easily accessible to the public the way Kelly Blue Book or NADA values are.

I’ve never had a salesperson show me what sort of information they get when looking up these auction values. They’ll just show up with a number scribbled on a piece of paper and you’re supposed to accept it. You’re more likely to be offended by a low value though if you take your car to the wrong type of dealership where their only intention is to ship it off to the auction immediately.

2012 Toyota Camry V6

Trading in a high mileage or damaged car

Buying and selling used cars is risky business. Modern cars have become incredibly complex and there are thousands of parts to wear out or break. Dealerships can be held liable for selling an unsafe vehicle to an unsuspecting customer, so they need to budget for fixing any issues that could prevent it from passing a safety inspection.

Normally, these aren’t going to be disclosed by the person trading in the vehicle, so it’s up to them to assess the vehicle with a quick walk around and test drive. Every dealership has their own refurbishment process before making the vehicle available for sale.

Some will go to the level of fixing curb rash on wheels and pulling out door dings, but for others, some fresh Armor-All on the tires and an unearned inspection sticker will do.

It’s best practice when taking any vehicle for appraisal to remove any junk from the interior and give it a good cleaning. A cluttered car gives the impression that it has probably been neglected in general. If you really want to go the extra mile and wow them, a thorough wash including in the door jambs, around the trunk/hatch, and under the hood could score you major points.

If you have a higher mileage vehicle, it always helps if you have receipts and records to document repairs and maintenance that have already been done.

Honestly, this is helpful when selling any vehicle because it gives the potential buyer more confidence in the purchase. More confidence means more money in your pocket. Uncertainty will result in a much lower value to allow for potentially needed repairs.


Trading in a classic car- should you do it?

As noted above, dealerships have a certain type of vehicle they like to keep on their lot. There are places out there that only deal in classic vehicles, so trading in your antique there would be the easiest way to go.

Of course, the usual pros and cons of selling privately versus trading in would apply. Trading in a classic on a new car will be trickier though. I have come across dealerships that will put one on their showroom floor to draw some extra attention, but that’s not the norm. They’re probably not equipped to accurately assess the value of such a vehicle.

The service department may not be able to work on the vehicle and then it’s a different ball game for the salespeople too.

Not every place conforms to these rules though! There’s a used car dealership near me whose inventory is mostly made up of cars that are less than ten years old, but their showroom usually has one or two muscle cars from the ‘60s along with a ‘30s hot rod.

I also bought a used motorcycle from a Ford dealership which is a bit odd. The stranger part though was that the pictures they used in the ad showed it sitting among a bunch of classic Mustangs and Cougars! I imagine in these oddball scenarios; you have an owner who is genuinely a car enthusiast and not strictly a businessman.

I would recommend spending some time scoping out a dealership’s inventory online first. If your classic seems like it would stick out like a misfit toy among their other cars, don’t bother trying to take yours there.



Trading in your vehicle is a convenient way to expedite the process of getting into a different vehicle. This convenience comes at a cost, especially for owners of something a little bit older and worn, but this can be minimized by targeting the right places to offload your old ride. 

For a complete breakdown of the pros and cons of trading your car in to a dealership, check out this article.

So, if you bought your daily driver off Fred Flintstone, fear not the headaches of Facebook Marketplace- the simplicity of trading it in on a 21st century ride is still an option for you.

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