When to Sell Your Car

Here’s what to consider before you retire your ride.

If you’re like most people, an automobile is the biggest purchase you’ll make after a home. It’s no surprise then that a recent AAA Living survey found 64% of respondents are planning to keep their car for 100,000 miles or more. But sooner or later, you’ll have to decide whether it’s time to trade in your old car for a newer one.

Sam DiLiberto, manager of AAA Approved Auto Repair Network and Strategy, identifies a few points that should inform your decision about when to sell your car and some tips to get the most use and trade-in value out of your current vehicle.

How long could your vehicle last?

Many modern cars are built to reach 200,000 miles. If you drive an average of 15,000 miles a year, you’ll hit 195,000 miles in about 13 years. But for your car to get there, says DiLiberto, “You’ve got to ask yourself some key questions: How well am I maintaining my car? Do I have my oil changed at the appropriate time? Am I paying attention to things like leaks or even little noises?” Consistent maintenance is critical for your vehicle.

How can you extend the life of your vehicle?

DiLiberto recommends having a trusted mechanic give you a walk around the car to identify problems while it’s up on a lift. Ask to be shown things that may be future concerns, too, because addressing them early is cheaper than waiting until they break.

You can also monitor the car yourself, even if you’re not mechanically inclined. Pop the hood once a month and look in. You don’t need special training to spot a fluid leak or smell burning oil. If something doesn’t seem right while you’re driving your car—maybe it veers to the left or the steering wheel vibrates when you brake—don’t ignore it. Those are typical indicators of a problem.

What advantages are there to getting a new vehicle?

“New safety features and new technology are the major reasons people want new cars,” says DiLiberto. “That 11- or 12-year-old car you have now might have front air bags, but it might not have side air bags; it definitely won’t have driver-assistance aids like forward collision warning. It might come with a CD player, but the car won’t have Bluetooth connectivity.” So familiarize yourself with new features to learn what you want.

What other things should you take into account?

If you’re considering when to sell your car and buy a new vehicle, think about how you use your current car. Is it for cross-country drives or just a short commute to work? The more critical a car is to you, the more dependable it has to be.

Know what your car is worth, says DiLiberto. “Kelley Blue Book is a great resource—consumers can go on and enter the year, make and model of their car [and answer a few questions], and they can find the trade-in value and even what it could fetch in a private-party sale.” If the car needs major repairs, ask yourself: Is it worth spending $4,000 or $5,000 on a vehicle that’s worth only $6,000 or $7,000, or is it time to trade?

The biggest expense of buying a new car is the depreciation that happens when you drive it off the dealer lot. That’s why certified preowned cars can be a great option. For these cars, the dealership conducts an extensive 160- to 180-point vehicle inspection. Also, these cars may come with a warranty, which can add to your peace of mind.

DiLiberto’s final advice on when to sell your car: Don’t let a fear of expensive repairs keep you from having an honest talk with your mechanic. It can be a hard conversation to have, but it’s the best way to make a wise decision about keeping or replacing your car.

Maintain Your Car or Trade: AAA Can Help

AAA Car Repair Estimator
The specialty website provides a cost breakdown of parts, labor and your member discount. Just enter basic information about your car and pick the service you want from the list. Then take the estimate to your AAA Approved Auto Repair facility and receive a free maintenance inspection (upon request), a 24-month/24,000-mile guarantee on parts and a 10% discount on labor charges (save up to $50).

AAA Auto Buying Program
At AAA.com/AutoBuying, search top brands and get up-front, member pricing on new and used cars from the comfort of home. Look for the Buy From Home badge to see which dealers offer vehicle delivery and remote paperwork processing.

AAA Auto Loans
AAA can finance your purchase and offers great rates for AAA Members. Apply for financing in as little as five minutes at AAA.com/AutoLoans.

2020 AAA Car Guide
The 2020 AAA Car Guide at AAA.com/CarGuide reviews vehicles with the latest technology and advanced safety features. The guide not only helps you understand the latest automotive topics and trends, but also provides the tools you need to decide on the car, SUV or truck that best suits your driving needs.

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