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drive, she said

I host a local show in Toronto on RogersTV, live on Tuesday nights. The "live" part of The Lemon Aid Car Show is important: it's a call-in show, and phone calls are taken throughout the hour. While our topics cover the spectrum of all things car and driving related, most viewers wait until the final segment, where I have a mechanic who will diagnose problems or offer second opinions to callers facing automotive difficulties.

Recently, however, we had a topic that had the lines jammed from the opening minutes. The topic? How much is my car worth?

From people looking to sell privately, to those who had trade-in quotes in hand, everybody was uncertain about this side of the industry, the one that might be the most confusing of all. Some interesting pointers surfaced throughout the hour as my appraiser guest was bombarded with calls about cars of all years, makes and models.

Colour matters. Supplying the year and mileage were obvious, but the colour of your car absolutely affects its resale value. What sells best? You guessed it – the safe colours: black, silver, grey, white. You can push the hotter colours on some models, but you definitely narrow your market with standouts that will require like-minded outliers.

That manual transmission is another acquired taste. Twenty years ago, we had a higher number of drivers who could drive a stick, even if they chose to drive an automatic. Now, your market is about 10 per cent of drivers, meaning lower prices.

If you're getting low-balled on a trade-in, what makes you think you're being treated fairly on the other end of that deal? It's tempting to focus on the new car, and just unload the old one. You want to get the most for your money, but you also deserve to get the most for your car. While there are two values on your old car (wholesale and retail) and it's fair that a dealer has a profit margin to sell your car for you, any offer far below that wholesale price should wave a red flag on the whole transaction.

It's not fair to believe that a dealer should be giving you the top retail value for your trade-in. If you've ascertained that is your firm price, then you need to sell it privately.

Internet and phone appraisals all carry an asterisk. One person's definition of "babied" or "mint condition" can vary widely from that of another, or from the truth. An appraiser is looking at your car with a critical eye, and deducting value because you don't have power windows or a sunroof isn't personal, it's a marketplace reality.

You can't hide anything on the hoist. A mechanic is going to know if your car has been involved in a collision. He is going to know if there has been any repainting. This is also the time to face a nasty truth in the resale market: the lost value on a car that has been in a crash, even one that has been properly repaired, is a margin that you as the owner are stuck with. Your insurance company may fix your car, but they do not address the often significant loss in value that accompanies that crash. This is not fair and needs addressing, but you can't lie about it. A CarProof report (which any buyer should get) will reveal most flaws.

Old doesn't necessarily mean classic. Car history is your friend here, and you probably know your car better than anyone. But if you've inherited an older car from a parent or grandparent, the fact it's in remarkable shape isn't always enough to bolster its resale value. Things like limited production, first or last model years, and original paint can matter as much as low mileage and immaculate condition.

Classics are appraised case by case. Since a car (or anything, really) is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it, some of the huge auctions held around the country might be your best bet for finding a buyer. You pay a commission, but you also have access to a deeper, informed field of buyers.

Sometimes it's just better to keep it. That 13-year-old pickup is one of many. You may think its worth more than a grand, but with steeper repair bills just around the corner, buyers will stay away from a negative investment. If you like your car, if it's been good to you and doesn't owe you anything, consider just driving it into the ground.

Sell your convertible in April. If it's not gone by June, you've missed the window for top bucks. Hopefully you can store it till spring to maximize your price. While you can still trade it in, the dealer will be holding it in inventory – and subsequently reducing what he offers you – for the same reason.

If selling your current car is part of the equation of buying your next one, don't overlook any dollar on the table.

How about you, readers? Lots of experience out there – any suggestions? Leave your tips, advice and stories – good and bad – in the comments field of this story.



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