Why a trade-in might become an offer I can't refuse

DETROIT -- When it comes to trade-ins, make me an offer I can’t refuse.

I believe there’s a sweet spot for consumers to sell their cars.

They should keep the cars long enough to have equity in them, but not so long that they have to make pricey repairs to keep the cars running.

I am in that sweet spot. Yet I just can’t bring myself to trade in my car.

Here’s what it might take: a great new vehicle that I really want with a payment that’s the same as or lower than my current payment. Perhaps the manufacturer or dealer can also throw in a bonus such as a year or two of free maintenance.

I’ve talked to dealers and it seems that plenty of consumers are like me, reluctant to be unseated from their rides without a killer deal.

And savvy used-car managers realize that if they’re going to get those late-model, low-mileage vehicles onto their lots, the dealerships must make offers that the owners of those vehicles can’t refuse.

“You have to serve up some type of an option to customers” to get them out of their cars, says Cary Donovan, director of used-vehicle operations at Swope Automotive Group in Louisville, Ky.

Donovan says he willingly pays a premium for a trade-in if the vehicle is:

  • Still owned by the original owner.
  • Has low-to-mid mileage.
  • Has never been in an accident.

Donovan encourages salespeople to try to get customers into new vehicles for lower payments than the consumers are paying.

The tight used-vehicle supply is driving these aggressive measures. And it’s putting consumers, such as me, in the driver’s seat with our trade-ins. When I told Donovan the specifics of my car, he said without hesitation: “I’d pay a premium for that car.”

While it’s tempting to trade it in, I still love my car. And I would like to be without a car payment someday soon.

Yet, here I am right in the middle of a sweet spot.

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