Ask LH: Should I Be Honest With Dealers When Trading In My Car?

Ask LH: Should I Be Honest With Dealers When Trading In My Car?
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Dear Lifehacker, The air conditioning on my car recently broke down, and the quote for replacing it is around $3000. So I am considering trading in my broken car and getting a new one. The car still drives fine and the A/C button still lights up, but no cold air comes out. If I am trading in my car, do I have to tell the dealer about the broken air conditioner? Is it a case of “only tell them if they ask” or do I have to tell them from the start? Thanks, Cold Comfort

Dear CC,

They say honesty is the best policy, but it’s Evil Week here at Lifehacker, so screw that. While it’s probably not a good idea to flat-out lie, we’d go with the “only tell if they ask” approach.

If the issue isn’t recorded in your log book, there’s obviously nothing to gain by volunteering information that will reduce the value of your car. If they ask broad questions like “is there anything else I should know about?” just reply “not that I can think of.”

Of course, there’s a pretty good chance that the dealer will find out about the issue before the sale is completed. If so, they’re unlikely to give you much grief for “lying” about it (they still want your business, after all). Just be aware that if the car is old and has lots of mileage, you’re probably going to get a very low offer regardless.

You can usually get more money by selling privately, although in this case it’s definitely better to be honest. That said, there’s nothing wrong with embellishing the truth a little. Tarmac Rally champion Samantha Stevens offers the following advice on creative car listings:

Above all else, it’s important to be honest in your car listing, but you can also have a bit of fun and appeal to the buyer’s sense of humour. There was a guy who sold a Subaru Brumby and he basically made a very funny listing, like, he said the bumper bar was made by Thor and weird stuff like that. He ended up getting massive money for this awful old car and something like 300,000 hits for his listing.

You can read more of Samantha’s car-selling tips here

Ask LH: How Can I Determine The Real Value Of My Car?

Dear Lifehacker, I'm hardly a savvy sales person, and I need to sell my car. I know how much I paid for it and how long I've had it, but I don't know how to translate that into a selling price. How can I figure out how much my car is worth? Thanks, Sticker Shock

Read more

Cheers Lifehacker


  • No. Don’t volunteer what’s broken. the cars on dealership forecourts are interchangeable commodities, insured and (generally) reinsured. Dealers factor in issues in the (pretty big) margin between the trade in price and the private sale price. If the dealer has to fix up and detail the car anyway, and they have a bunch of scrappers of the same model on hand, it doesn’t really affect their bottom line beyond a half-hour of labour to swap out the affected bit of electronics – whereas it gives them leverage to give you a worse offer if you volunteer the info. Play dumb.

  • Being in the area where I have a car that’s still under warranty, I’m one to sit at the honest end of the court, in fact I’m probably too honest. I’m actually in the midst of heading back to the car maker I brought from to either sell back or trade for another make completely.

    Sadly I was one of the few idiots who brought a car the maker was trying to introduce into the country. Only to later find they have terrible after sale service and breaks A LOT (recent service found oil line clamp issues and a cracked engine mount, cars less than 2yrs old) . And just found out last weeks some insurers won’t even touch it, due to problem in obtaining parts.

    I had tried selling privately only to get some real tyre kickers and dealers interested right up until I dropped the brand name.

    Strangely even after the raft of issues I’ve had with it I’m still one to go down the honesty is the best policy track. As I’d prefer to have the buyer know what they are getting into rather than have them find out later and share the same frustrations I have with it now.

  • No, Car dealers are the worst.
    (1 of many car dealer stories I have) Reason I say this is because recently I had one contact me in regards to buying one of my cars that I was selling, I drove it over to the car yard and had him ‘assess’ my car, I could tell that he knew nothing about the car from the way he was talking about it.

    “mmm theres a little scratch here” “oh I can see a crack here” etc…
    “I’ll give you $1.5k for it, since we will have to repaint it and that will cost X amount *bs story about other things here*”

    luckily a week later I sold it privately for $7k – Protip people that are looking for the particular car that you are selling will already know about them thus trivial things like scratches and cracks (fibreglass crack in this case) won’t matter.

    Waste my time and they waste yours. Pretty simple to sell vehicles privately and you get all the deserved profit, It takes 10 minutes to research up on the type of vehicle you own and just write down everything wrong with it + all the extra features you have added, I even include video tours of my cars on the sale ads I make just so it does not waste the buyers time coming down to look at it.

    I have gone through roughly 20 cars from euro to Japanese, v8’s to 4 cylinder turbos (bit of a car fanatic) and not one of them has been through a dealer, I’m able to do this since I’m not loosing all profit to a pesky dealer.

    • lol. I dare say it’s in the delivery then. I’ve had nothing but tyre kickers on most private sales. From people who already have the same model car and just wanting to go over it and compare (4 times this has happened).
      Even once had 2 separate people wanting to buy my old MX5 with a payment plan. Not my problem if the bank won’t finance you. Especially since all I was asking was $5K at the time (1990 NA series).

      • Yeah unfortunately you will always get no shows and Tyre kickers. I hate the ones that pull out at the last minute just after you had been siting around for a few hours waiting for the guy/girl to show up haha. But I’d still put up with that over car dealers any day it might take longer to sell the car at times but the profit usually wins in the end

        Lol @ that payment plan.

  • Depends on the dealer. Some dealers, definitely not. When I was looking for my last car, My first preference, I went and asked if I could get an RACQ inspection. He refused saying, “no we don’t allow them, RACQ damage the cars. But the car has no issues, we’re an honest business.”, so I avoided that dealer. I’d lie to them.

  • Broken air conditioner, trade the car in winter. The guy doing the inspection probably won’t test it out.
    A lot of cars that get traded in go to wholesalers. The dealer doing the deal on your new car won’t care that much about minor things (a broken air conditioner won’t make it unroadworthy, which is a major issue).

    Try it, don’t tell them. They are out to screw you anyway, so you need a few things in your hand. Remember, anyone selling cars is doing so because they enjoy and are good at lying. Honest car salesman don’t last long.

  • Eh, I traded in my last car (CH lancer). Got a little under 3k for it. They listed it at 5k on carsales so, realistically they probably sold it for 4-4.5k. Add stamp duty and transfer fees and the time I didn’t have to spend, I think I didn’t do too badly.

    I figure my time was worth more than trying to deal with selling a car. Not to mention I didn’t have to pay for two cars worth of insurance and reg.

  • We were trying to get rid of my wifes old Holden Viva (2006 model), took it to one fo those sellmycar/areyouselling places because i couldn’t think that anyone would go looking for a POS like that.

    I was expecting maybe a grand if we were lucky, it had under a week rego left, its a notoriously shitty model (should have been recalled its that bad), it had a number of dents.

    When he offered over $2000 for it (“because of the dents i can only offer $2500”) i had to do my best not to jump with joy. and call him a sucker.

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