Trading in Your Old Car

(Page 2 of 2 of Buying a New Car )

Before trading in your old car, find out its value by looking at the Kelley Blue Book (, also available in libraries and bookstores) or Edmunds Car Buying Guide ( You can also order a used car price report from Consumer Reports ( or 800-258-1169). Most dealers will offer you the low Kelley Blue Book value, at best. Check classified ads and price reports. Often, you can get a better deal by selling it yourself.

And whatever you do, don't discuss a possible trade-in before you've agreed on a price for your new car.

If you let the dealer examine your trade-in, be sure to keep a set of keys and the original registration. Unscrupulous dealers have been known to hold customers "hostage" by refusing to return their trade-in, keys, registration, or driver's license until they are so worn down that they agree to make a purchase.

When the Car Is Delivered

When your new car arrives, your vigilance must continue. Before signing a receipt and paying for your new car, make sure you:

  • Check the car against your order, item by item. Make sure all features are included.
  • Inspect the car for damage. Some new cars are damaged during manufacturing or in transit.
  • Test drive the car. Pay attention to odd noises, smells, or vibrations.  
  • Make sure the warranty matches what the dealer agreed to. (To learn more about warranties and service contracts, and the difference between the two, see Car Warranties: The Basics and Automobile Service Contracts: Are They Worth it?)

Buyer's Remorse

Make absolutely sure you are buying the car you want at the price you want before you sign the contract. There is no "cooling off" or cancellation period for most car sales. If you change your mind about the car a few days later, the dealer doesn't have to take it back from you.

If, however, the car has a serious defect or is a lemon, or if there was fraud in the sales transaction, you may be able to cancel the contract. To learn about what qualifies as a "lemon" and what to do if you have a lemon, see Nolo's article Lemon Law for Used Cars.

For Further Information

To learn more about buying a new car, see Nolo's Encyclopedia of Everyday Law, by Shae Irving and the editors of Nolo, a handy guide that contains information about cars and driving, as well as other legal topics affecting the average American.

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