By on July 14, 2015

used car dealership. Image: Shutterstock user LM Photos

TTAC commentator cwallace writes:


Here’s what’s probably an easy question for you: Is it ever worth the money to update wear items on a car before trading it in?

My trusty 2007 Accord EX V6 is suddenly about to cost me some real money. With 154,000 miles on it, the tires are about shot, it needs new struts, there’s a crack in the windshield, and the rear main seal is starting to make a mess of my driveway. Plus, my commute just got a lot longer, so the lack of creature comforts (like sound insulation, for heaven’s sake) make me think I’ve got my money’s worth from this car.

Other than those things, it looks good for its age, and everything else works just as it should. All that dealership service paid off, is what I tell myself.

Anyway, should I bother fixing the windshield and maybe putting a new set of tires on it before trading it in? If I were selling it to another person, I’d do that only because I am an ardent believer in karma, but I’m sure a dealer can do that work more cost effectively than I can — so should I bother?

(P.S., I’m taking over command of my wife’s Mazda CX-9 and she’s getting a Toyota Sienna, so it isn’t going back to a Honda store, if that makes a difference somehow.)

Sajeev answers:

Good question. Perhaps a Honda store likes new tires as part of reconditioning your trade into a Certified Pre-Owned vehicle, but not with your Honda’s age and mileage. Reconditioning for trade-in is a slippery slope. Dealers usually expect to recondition (or dump at auction) and your “value add” won’t mean as much to them as to you.

More to the point: Leave service records on the passenger seat and clean from bumper to bumper to get the most value on trade-in. Dirty, cluttered cars are both hard and/or time consuming to appraise and (more importantly) allude to overall vehicle neglect.

Why? Because it’s a sad reality of trading in a vehicle. Your car — unless Certified Pre-Owned, with the assumed quality from that asking price — will likely be sold to someone who doesn’t care about the quality of the reconditioning. New Michelin Pilot tires? The Kelly-Springfields look just as black and round to me. New glass? Nice, but the dealer probably gets it done for less.

Seeing a clean interior, fresh fluids, good (enough) tires, decent brakes, a solid Carfax and everything working on the test drive is a 99 percent guaranteed sale to someone.

While it’s possible to demand more for your trade-in because of reconditioning, you must include that in the negotiation. If not, you’ll get pennies on the dollar invested. Sell fully reconditioned cars for private party money on the open market for maximum profit. Otherwise, dump it as-is, and trade-in like everyone else yearning for a new ride.

[Image: Shutterstock user LM Photos]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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64 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Cons of Recon Before Trade-in?...”

  • avatar

    Spot on advice from Sajeev. Just clean it up within reason and be done with it!

    • 0 avatar

      Yep. The dealer rips you off either way, for relatively the same amount. It’s your decision to make if you’d rather spend $1000 to get an additional $120 out of them at trade time!

      • 0 avatar
        ah choo

        In 2011 I traded in a 2006 Buick Rainier CXL AWD V8 for a new Grand Cherokee. The dealer never even unlocked the car, much less inspected it. Same deal when I traded in the JGC for a 2014 model. They just gave me what I wanted for it and we moved on. I guess that means I wasn’t aggressive enough with my trade in price?

  • avatar

    Were the miles under 100k, I’d say replace the windshield for $120 so it shows well, and go to carmax. You’ll get a lot for a honda there, more than from a dealer trade in. But at 150k+, it’s going to auction and they’re going to notice the struts, oil leak, etc, and you’ll get the same $2,500 no matter who you sell it to. So don’t worry about it. Car wash only and move on.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on Carmax. For newer, lower mileage cars they’re probably not going to give you a great offer. But they seem to pay very well for decent condition, auction-worthy Hondas and Acuras. Just sold a 2002 Acura to them for much better than any of the other car buying services I got quotes from. I wasn’t replacing it, so trade-in wasn’t an option, and it was so vastly simpler and more time-efficient compared to a private sale.

  • avatar
    That guy

    You’ll never get the value back out of brand new tires if you’re trading the car in. However, if your tires are shot, you may find that rolling the dice on a set of matching used tires with decent tread could be a winning venture.

  • avatar

    Clean do little else. Spread the pain to the next owner and let the dealer get dragged through small claims for the rear seal. The next owner smirks you paid all the depreciation while the dealer wanted in your wallet.

  • avatar

    154,000 is a lot of miles to be worrying about trade in value. Yes I know there’s still life in it but I’m hoping you finished making payments on this car a long time ago. Dump it and don’t think twice about it – take it through the best carwash in your little corner of the world.

    Plus doing all those things you talked about will just make you MORE disappointed in whatever the dealer’s offer is.

    • 0 avatar

      “Plus doing all those things you talked about will just make you MORE disappointed in whatever the dealer’s offer is.”

      Most percipient, PD. And the owner should leave the Jayne hat and karma buttons at home. They’re just targets for Klingons. Fortunately, it’s summer.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, that car had long since been paid off. This is the first car I’ve been able to own long enough that a new set of tires could be a poor investment!

      Anyway, the dealer gave me Kelly Blue Book’s “Good” value, which is a fair bit of coin down in Houston.

  • avatar

    Good advice. With that kind of mileage it is very likely going to the auction and the spread between an average and below average Accord of that vintage and those miles is about $800-1000 at the auction so putting in $500 for tires and windshield will not get you any more for the car as the dealer will notice the other issues. Getting the car to an average condition and fixing the other issues won’t get you any more money either as you will be in that $800-1000 range with the cost of the repairs.

  • avatar

    Anyone remember Justin Wilson’s Cajun cooking show?

    When he emptied a bottle of wine he’d kiss it and say “Bye-bye, Boy”… then he’d toss it. “Dead soldier”.

    That’s this Honda.

  • avatar

    I’d just like to point out that if the OP had, say, a VW with 154k, there would be all sorts of remarks about how they just aren’t built to last, how cheaply built they are, etc. But since it’s a Honda, a leaking RMS and trashed suspension at this age are A-OK. (I’d say that it would be just fine for these parts to be going in any car, but for any European car it would be considered a flaw and spawn discussions about never owning a Euro car after the warranty is out, as opposed to perfectly normal wear.)

    • 0 avatar

      “a VW with 154k”

      The implied datum is “trouble free miles”. Does that VW still qualify?

    • 0 avatar

      Same thing for GM cars, too.

      There was a string last week on here, a guy mentioned his Toyota Echo needed a bunch of things that I was surprised to see go bad, even though it was a 10 or so year old car. Entire exhaust, new starter, a few other things I don’t recall right now. I noted that I had a (rust bucket but mechanically fine) Chevy that didn’t have the same repair history and the equivocating was in full session.

      Did my old Chevy need any major repairs? Not like the Toyota did. Also, I never implied that my 18 year old car which has been operated it’s entire service life in the upper midwest was anything near showroom quality. It’s a 18 year old car with 265,000 miles on it! It’s a rolling tetanus hazard! But mechanically, it has never given me any major fits.

      Oh well, if it doesn’t fit the narrative then it can’t be true.

      • 0 avatar

        You guys are just as bad but equally in the opposite direction. You imply that since your cars haven’t had issues, your anecdote means that all the others must have been OK, too, and everyone else is just out to get you.

        My wife’s decade old MINI has had exactly 2 repairs that weren’t routine maintenance. By and large, though, those MINIs are nightmares. Our’s happens to live a charmed life of driven in nice weather, on nice roads, garage kept, female driven, 6MT (so no AT issues). Our experience is not statistically significant, though.

        • 0 avatar

          I’ve often though my old Chevy was a statistical outlier.

          But the posts weren’t about that. It was about the *perception* that German cars will be expensive to maintain out of warranty, and that US cars are all junk.

          Many times when I’ve questioned people about their experiences, I’ve found that there are more issues than I’ve been lead to believe.

        • 0 avatar

          This is the internet. There’s no place for your common sense here.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m not saying any of those things. I’m simply saying that if the exact same list of unremarkable parts that need replacing on this Honda instead needed replacing on a European car, there would be no comments about how the owner had extracted years of faithful service from the vehicle; instead there would be comments about the sad inevitability of the breakdown of the vehicle.

          Same list of repairs, but there would be a totally different reaction to it.

          • 0 avatar

            By 154k? I’m not so sure. I think if a European car got that far with just basic maintenance and needed new struts and a new RMS but drove fine, everyone would think it was a good example.

            My experience suggests that any car, from any country, is going to have a number of issues by then.

      • 0 avatar

        I’d love to drive this magical Cavalier of yours Geozinger, my suspicion is that it is a bag of bolts that still manages to start and drive. I forget, is it one of the older 2.2L OHV engines? The old adage of GM cars running poorly longer than other cars run at all holds true, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that a similar age/mileage Corolla would drive like a much less worn out car. I’m talking about suspension tightness, body/interior integrity, etc. That your Cavalier made it this far without a slew of replacement engine accessories/auxiliary equipment and trim pieces is more of a miracle than anything else.

        Certainly there is a owner demographics thing at play, where generally speaking J bodys are owned by lower income people without as many resources to devote to maintenance, and that needs to be taken into account. Corollas are oftentimes bought by frugal but financially stable people that run them for 10+ years as commuters. No data to support my claim, all anecdotal evidence to be sure. But I still contend that in the period of the late 90s-early 2000s, a Corolla is a much more durable, better built vehicle than what the General was cranking out.

    • 0 avatar

      At sirwire:

      Good point on general perception, imo suspension and seal longevity vary more on climate and age than brand.

      Example, looking at the 10+ years of records for my Volvo, it didn’t need much suspension work until it made its way to the awful roads of St. Louis. Not because its an unreliable overengineered European money sucker, because stuff just wears out.

  • avatar

    I recently traded in a 2005 Accord coupe ex-l with the 2.4. 93k miles, 2 owner, clean record and very well maintained. The only issue at the time of trade in were the front rotors that needed to be resurfaced.

    In the year leading up to the trade, I had a new set of Pirelli P7s installed, new pads at all four wheels and transmission + brake fluid changed. These were all things that were due to be done but if I knew I was going to trade in the car when I did- I absolutely wouldn’t have done them.

    Fact is- like mentioned in the article- whoever is taking your trade really doesn’t care. If it looks good, drives well and checks out clean, that’s plenty. You can tell a dealer all about the new Pirellis and fluid swaps, but it really doesn’t matter at all.

    The dealer took my Accord, resurfaced the front rotors, slathered on their usual gallon of plastic shine to anything that looked black and sold the car within 2 weeks.

  • avatar

    Detail it, wash it, wax it, trade it in or sell it. You won’t get your money out of putting new tires on it. And the new owner may just decide to drive it with the worn out struts and cracked windshield. If a dealer fixes it, they will do those items for much cheaper then you would ever be able to.

    A clean nice looking car does wonders to help people overlook things that will need to be repaired.

  • avatar

    Do you still have glass coverage on your insurance? Replace the windshield, clean it and do nothing else.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    A used Accord with 150k is prime craigslist fodder.

    Clean it up, post to CL with a time and date in a local parking lot, say 9:30 Saturday morning at such and such location.

    Post pictures of all the good, and all the bad, pics of maintenance records.

    First $3900 takes it, or whatever you can determine is slightly above wholesale but less than clean retail.

    Takes about two hours to clean up the car, maybe three if you have a buffer and plan to make the paint shine.

    • 0 avatar

      This is a much better bet if you’re willing to take the time and hassle. The average buyer on the street can’t size a car up as well as a dealer and you will be more likely to find a buyer who will pay more.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on Craigslist. This is the perfect car to list on CL: moderate mileage Honda’s are used car catnip. Get it detailed, post great pictures, and schedule some Saturday appointments. There is a good chance you will get 2x the trade in value, if not more. Not bad for less than a days work.

      • 0 avatar

        They gave him KBB Good value though! I’m so surprised they were that generous. I feel like this is a rare occurrence. Normally, even at this level of used trade in, isn’t there a price difference of -thousands- between what the dealer will give you and what you can get from a CL?

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          CoreyDL, the guys I know will pay all the dough for a clean Accord, high miles or not. With light recon this car can be front line ready in a matter of days ussually.
          And due to the fact that it is an Accord, will bring right side of retail on the lot, and quickly.I am assuming the one in question is NOT the one pictured though. Selling an ashtray for 5k is a bit difficult these days.

          Salesman love them, they sell easy and they can make a couple of bucks, the delivery consists of here’s your key, nice to meet you and have a great day. No two hour affair teaching the new owner how to work the radio and navigation system….

  • avatar

    From the Red Green Show:

    Harold: “What do you do with a car that’s too wrecked to fix?”
    Dalton: “Well, obviously you gotta sell the pig.”
    Harold: “That sound kind of unethical, Mr. Humphrey. Selling a car that’s unsafe and worthless.”
    Red: “Well, you wouldn’t sell it to anyone you know – would you, Dalton?”
    Dalton: “Yeah, I would.”

  • avatar

    Don’t bother. Their cost of reconditioning is lower than your cost. So if they see any value in these things, it will be much less than what you paid for them.

    If it’s being traded at a new car dealer, it’ll get a wash and be sent to auction, so they won’t be interested in making it front line ready.

  • avatar

    A new car dealer is going to give you less than wholesale book for the car.

    The new car dealer who takes it in trade is not going to resell your car. A car with that kind of mileage is going straight to auction. The new car dealer will put zero into it and may not even make any money on it — it will end up on some BHPH lot.

    Fix the windshield, then sell it yourself. If the leaking seal can be repaired cheaply, then consider doing that, too. Don’t bother with the tires.

  • avatar

    Love the photo!!!

  • avatar
    Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

    Not applicable for the OP, but sometimes it’s worthwhile to put money into the car and drive it another 5 years. My LS430 was a mess last year, and required new brakes, new tires, engine service to fix a VVT-i issue, a disabled traction control and cruise control system. And the car was worth $6k tops, maybe $4k if I sold it as-is.

    $1200 for brakes, $1200 for tires, and $600 to fix the last 3 issues. I spent 50% of the car’s value to bring it back to par. Drives like the day I bought it, and ought to last me another 5-7 years. I understand some call it privilege, I just call it stewardship.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    I’ve had good luck with the used vehicles I’ve purchased by looking at the interiors first. Those are usually the first to go bad when owned by slobs. If the interior has been trashed, even a cleanup will leave telltale traces.

    And….if they won’t maintain that…the chances of good maintenance on the mechanics go down measurably.

    Heck, virtually all of my purchased used vehicles greatly exceeded the quality of ANY of my new GM vehicles (my two “vettes excepted).

  • avatar

    I think people are underestimating what Hondas with 154,000 miles sell for these days. Autonation 2007 Honda Accord EXL 154k miles, $9974 asking price.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Not sure of other jurisdictions as I have only bought/operated/licensed vehicles in Ontario.

    Here in order to get the car plated it needs to be certified. That requires having a licensed mechanic sign-off on its safety. Bald tires, worn out brake pads and a cracked windshield would preclude certification.

    Many vehicles are sold ‘as is’ with the onus on the purchaser to perform the work required to have the vehicle certified.

    And we have the cash grab of ’emissions testing’ which is required on a set timeline. With the new guidelines, I have been told that having your ‘check engine’ light on is basically a guaranteed fail of this test.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    I recently had to deal with this question as I just sold my 1998 LS400 (guess I need a new nickname and avatar). It needed new tires and brakes, had a cracked windshield, and some broken power window switches. I thought about fixing stuff then said, nawww, if I was going to put the money into fixing those things I’d keep it and enjoy them.

    I ended up spending an hour cleaning it, taking some nice pictures, and putting it on craigslist for KBB private party value and honestly listing all the faults as well as the pluses (second owner, all records, engine and trans still running great). It sold less than 4 hours after the craigslist ad went live, for cash, for halfway between the KBB and Edmunds private party values which is what I was shooting for anyway.

    I have no complaints. Take the consensus advice… just clean it and dump it.

  • avatar

    …Seeing a clean interior, fresh fluids, good (enough) tires, decent brakes, a solid Carfax and everything working on the test drive is a 99 percent guaranteed sale to someone…

    This. If for some reason you do go to private sell, be open in your add about needing a windshield. There was a great piece on TTAC on how to, and not to, sell your own car from an advertising stand point.

    Great advice on cleaning the car from end to end – and don’t forget the engine bay. A good cheap way of cleaning the engine bay.

    * Start car, let engine warm up about 10 minutes
    * Take a garden hose with a sprayer, set it to MIST – that part is very important. Lightly mist the engine bay. You won’t harm anything unless you fire hose the engine or you have really rotten corroded exposed wiring. It would get that much water in there driving in a pouring rain storm with standing water anyway.
    * Get Simple Green. Spray the engine bay down – I’ve never had this harm any of the stickers for emissions or raised writing on caps
    * Don’t close the hood until it latches, but close the hood, let idle for about 5 to 10 minutes. You don’t want to bake the Simple Green onto the engine bay but you want to get some steam going
    * Open up hood again – lightly mist the engine bay again until you generally don’t smell cooking Simple Green anymore
    * Shut off engine, allow engine bay to cool
    * Wipe down the bay with a rag – clean the battery terminals if you need to with some baking soda past and a toothbrush. You may need to use a tooth brush in the raised lettering on spots like your master cylinder and steering fluid reservoir to get the bits of black dirt out.
    * Get 5 minute detailer and wipe down the inside metal on the outer edges of the hood around the fire blanket, along the top of the radiator support and radiator cover. You can also use five minute detailer on the larger black plastic surfaces.

    Your engine bay now looks like it was professionally steam cleaned.

    • 0 avatar

      When I go for a wash, I always just wipe my engine bay down with the towel, after I’m done drying the car. It’s the last thing I do, takes a quick twenty seconds, and keeps everything clean under there!

      Selling an old Impreza once, a man who looked at it was actually suspicious because the engine bay was clean, per my method. He eyed me, and said “It’s clean in there, why?” I said, “Because I cleaned it.” And he said, “How’d you do that?” I said, “With a wet cloth.”

      He didn’t trust me then, and didn’t buy the car.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m surprised he never asked about the headgaskets, he was probably hoping your Subby had a cone filter and all that.

        • 0 avatar

          Nobody did on that one – I don’t think they were concerned because it was a 2.2. From what I’ve read a headgasket problem on the 2.2 is very unusual.

          But oh boy did it need a new CV boot or two. I didn’t give AF, because it was $2500 with 87K miles, and very limited rust (almost none!).

          • 0 avatar

            He missed out then, a clean low miles Imprezza without tasteless mods.

            How was it living with an old Subby? They look like decent cars to me if rare.

  • avatar

    Keep the Honda, Hondas NEVER have anything go wrong! They have owners that sabotage them to soil Hondas reputation!

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Humph. I mentioned several months ago that I had bought an 07 accord coupe with 77k miles. My first Honda. I have had it for about 90 days.

      The cruise control switch broke a week ago. Not sure I sabatoged it..I am not happy that the fix requires removal of the airbag and steering wheel. I too thought they never broke….turns out they do.

      • 0 avatar

        Obvously you were racing your Accord and accidentally hit the switch!

        On a more serious note that is kinda dumb, a good cruise control unit will last the lifetime of a car. You can still get old, “cheap American garbage”, with working cruise controls.

        I’ll have to find your older post, Honda fans can come up with some great explanations for other peoples Honda problems.

        • 0 avatar

          Admittedly, I’m a Honda “fanboi,” who acknowledges that some generations of them have been known for troubles — early ’00s V6 transmissions, igniters and head gaskets on 1988-1991 Civics, several problems on the 8th-Gen (2006-2011) Civics with brakes and suspension, VCM problems on 8th-Gen Accords (2008-2012) and other V6s with “6-4-3” cylinder-deactivation. Cost-cutting started with the 1994 Accords, and hit the nadir with the 2008-2010 Accords. (Even my 9th-Gen in the avatar, a 2013 Accord Touring, ain’t perefect, with carpet the consistency of felt (though it’s moot with the WeatherTech FloorLiners I installed), no ski pass-through, noisy cable-reel for the driver airbag, no light in the glovebox, no coin box.)

          However, an RMS problem is rare.

          This is my fourth Honda, and despite its niggles, I’d buy the car again; it’ll be interesting to see what the mid-cycle refresh has in store for this fall. (And I pray to God that Honda won’t omit the V6 from the next-Generation Accord and throw in a turdocharged engine!)

  • avatar

    Can you do it yourself? or do you have to pay someone labor to do it.

    I know a lot of mechanics that buy cars needing reconditioning so they have something to work on at spare hours, or enough work so the people they hire are not sitting around doing nothing.

    Also don’t forget, many used cars are exported and then reconditioned in 3rd world, at 3rd world labor rate.

    Who needs new tires when you can pull decent enough used tires from junkyard?

    Who needs new struts when you can get good enough used struts from low mileage totaled cars?

    See “idle labor” above, because a real main seal is only $10 in parts and $120 in labor.

    So in a nut shell, don’t bother with it but do bargain hard for the trade in value. Tell the dealer that you will sell somewhere else if the price is not right.

  • avatar

    What if your car has a giant fire-hydrant shaped hole in the bumper? Should I get that fixed?

  • avatar

    Your obvious choice is to do what Sajeev advises. Check out the Blue Book and other sources to get a feel for the trade in value in rough condition. Most likely the dealership will send it to auction without a second thought.

    Your alternative is to sell it yourself. In that case, you need to fix the problems you mention, esp. the windshield. This can be a pain, and you may not want to fool with it. With most cars it would be iffy, but an eight year old Honda Accord V-6 is a choice candidate.

    You need access to low cost mechanics, Try to negotiate the price for the windshield – they are used to insurance company reimbursement rates, but you need to find the least they will do it for – shop around. Buy used tires. Then put it on E-Bay and Craigs List, Put a for sale sign in the window.

    It really boils down to what your spare time is worth. The sell it yourself route figures to make a grand or fifteen hundred extra on a good day.

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