Piston Slap: The Cons of Recon Before Trade-in?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap the cons of recon before trade in

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 sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.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.

Join the conversation
2 of 64 comments
  • Madanthony Madanthony on Jul 14, 2015

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

  • Jimbob457 Jimbob457 on Jul 15, 2015

    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, et.al. 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, et.al. 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.

  • Cprescott I remember when Fords were affordable.
  • Cprescott As a once very LOYAL FORD buyer, I had to replace my 22 year old Ford (bought new in 1997) once it finally started to have problems at 180k miles. I would have gladly purchased something like this from Ford but they abandoned me as a car buyer. Oddly, Hyundai still builds cars in a variety of flavors so I became a customer of theirs and am very happy. Likely will consider another once this one gets up in mileage.
  • SCE to AUX A friend once struck a mounted tire that was laying flat in the middle of her lane on the PA Turnpike. She was in a low late-90s Grand Prix, and the impact destroyed the facia, core support, radiators, oil pan, transmission, subframe, and suspension. They fixed it all.
  • Dukeisduke Lol, it's not exactly a Chevrolet SS with Holden badging.
  • Dukeisduke Years ago, I was driving southbound along North Central Expressway (south of Mockingbird Lane, for locals), and watched a tire and wheel fall out of the bed of a pickup (no tailgate), bounce along, then centerpunch the front end of a Honda Accord. It wasn't pretty.