5 Cars to Trade-In Now for Maximum Return

By Lauren Kelly , last updated January 20, 2012

Housing prices may have taken a dive from the lingering recession, but in the automotive industry, it’s a seller’s world. With inventories depleted after holiday sales, dealers are desperate to replenish their auto offerings, and pre-owned vehicles are in especially high demand. Buyers have largely shunned new cards in favor of more affordable used cars, and this trend, combined with the shortage of used vehicles produced by the Cash for Clunkers program, has led to a scarcity of pre-owned vehicles on selling lots. A dealer’s anxiety is now the cause for your gain, but not all cars are created equal in the trade-in universe. Forbes Magazine, in partnership with NADA Guides, set out to study resale trends, discovering the most profitable models. Here are their picks for the five cars that provide maximum return on trade-in today.

The Jeep Wrangler came out on top of Forbes’s rankings, in part due to the continued popularity of SUV models. Both two-door and four-door designs brought in high values, with a like-new condition 2008 model with under 50,000 miles netting 90% of original retail for the former version and over 91% for the latter. Falling significantly behind in percentage but still strong in the financial comparison, the Mini Cooper, a James Bond-like small vehicle scaled perfectly for city streets, averages a 77% return on its MSRP. Of course, these statistics belong to a vehicle in good condition with 46,000 miles, so it stands to reason that an older or more heavily-used model would command less.
In stark aesthetic contrast to the Mini Cooper is the Toyota Tacoma, a smaller pickup truck with standard cab and double cab options. The surveyed base model with standard cab achieved a 72 percent return, while a V6 engine DoubleCab scored a whopping 87 percent value. Another sporty design nabs a top spot on the list: the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, a square-shaped riff on an SUV silhouette, retains its value better than any other of its brand’s fleet, holding on to 78 percent of original retail. Tying up the competition is the Honda CR-V, a perennial bestseller, whether new or old. This midsize SUV that Honda terms a “crossover” is expected to make 77 percent of original retail at trade-in, with demand even greater this year due to manufacturing shortages as a result of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
Kelley Blue Book, a leading resource for estimating car values, estimates that a vehicle purchased from one to three years ago has jumped in price from a value of $15,000 in 2008 to a value of $23,000 in 2011. Since older model cars are a more reliable profit source for car dealers than their brand new counterparts, industry sellers are eager to possess a full arsenal of pre-owned vehicles. With the top five cars netting above 70% of original sticker price upon trade-in, selling your used vehicle can be a tempting idea.
If you’re considering selling your used car, you can more accurately determine its value by visiting Kelley Blue Book or NADA Guides online.
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