Selling your car without getting stung

And how you can get ahead in the part-exchange game

Gleaming in the showroom is the new car of your dreams. Parked outside is your old nightmare of a motor. In order to afford the new car you must sell the old one. Of course, the car salesman is all too willing to help out by inviting you to do a part exchange. That sounds like a sensible and simple solution to your problem, but have you ever stopped to consider what's in it for them? There really is more to the part-exchange game than just swapping old for new.

A car dealer only offers the trade value, nothing more, and sometimes less. This is effectively the wholesale price for a particular model. Adjustments are made for condition, age and mileage and there will be furtive glances into the car trade price bibles (Glass's Guide and CAP Black Book) to confirm that figure. However, that is rarely the amount which will be offered. In order to strike a deal on the spot a salesman uses the profit on the new car to inflate the trade-in value of the old car. But the customer loses out, because negotiating a discount on the new car is not on.

You can win at the part exchange game, though, by doing a little research and uttering the magic words "price to change". All you need to discover is the lowest retail price of the new car and the real trade value of the part exchange, the difference between the two is the price you want to pay. Firstly, buy a price guide from your newsagent, these are small format magazines (such as Parker's) which are the public's equivalent of the trade guides and accurate enough. It will reveal how much your car is worth to the car trade. To double check this figure and for a local perspective, ring up some car dealers and offer to sell them your car and see what they quote.

If the replacement car is secondhand, using the guide calculate the difference between trade and retail price to "guesstimate" their profit. That is the figure which you need to erode to get the best deal. If you are buying a new car then the best policy is to shop around and find out who offers the best "price to change", the difference between what you get for your old car and the price of the replacement.

One of the best tactics is to negotiate on the new car without mentioning a part exchange, secure a good discount, then at the last moment introduce your old car. As the salesman has invested lots of time he won't want to double back. Even better, breeze into the showroom without a car. By far the best way to get a decent motoring deal is to sell privately then go cash in hand to the dealer and negotiate from a position of strength.

Welcome to plan B: selling your car privately. This way you get more than the trade price, but also several times more hassle. Never mind, roll your sleeves up and clean that car; if you can't be bothered, get a valet company to do it for you at around pounds 30 to pounds 50. Dirty cars don't sell, or at least don't sell for as much as clean ones. Tidiness and shininess can add a couple of hundred to an otherwise ordinary pounds 2,000 car.

Next, gather together any information you have: handbooks, old MOTs, service history, warranties, receipts for any garage work and parts, then put them in a file. This always creates a good impression with buyers, because anyone who keeps paperwork this neat, must also have a neat car - well that's the theory anyway. Another way to attract buyers is to set a fat selling price. Look at local private advertisements to see what similar cars are being offered for.

Set a minimum figure which is financially acceptable to you, because no one pays the asking price these days and you will be expected to negotiate downwards. For instance: you need a minimum pounds 2,500 to put down as a deposit; cars similar to yours advertised for up to pounds 3000, then pounds 2,750 has to be attractive to buyers yet leave room for manoeuvre.

It is vitally important to advertise in the right medium. Cheap cars, hatches, saloons and estates up to pounds 3,000 sell better in a local paper, or free ads publications. Specialist cars like off-roaders and sports cars - as well as more expensive vehicles - ought to be sold in the relevant sections of the local Autotrader publication which feature thumb sized snaps and ads. Prestigious and expensive cars pounds 15,000-plus should find their way into up-market newspapers.

If your car is old enough to count as a classic, then choose any of the monthly publications, or the Classic Car Weekly newspaper. Write a brief ad, stating model, mileage, year, colour and price.

Now wait for the phone to ring. Most people are genuine, but some criminals can take advantage of an obliging seller so it is important to keep control of the situation. Make appointments to suit you and be strict about time keeping. Insist on identification, seeing a driving licence and insurance cover. Never let customers drive off on their own and never get into a car with the buyer and a couple of his burly mates.

Always have at least one friend or member of the family with you when a buyer calls. Be polite and honest, but make no representations about the condition of the car. Never hand over the keys unless you have the money in your hands. There are lots of stolen building society cheques and bank drafts around, so do not accept these unless you go with the buyer to the relevant bank or building society to confirm that the draft is genuine. Finally write a brief note giving basic details of the parties involved and a description of the car with the words "sold as seen", and get the buyer to sign it.

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