Do I Have To Tell The Dealer How Much I Owe On My Trade?

This story was originally published on February 28, 2020

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As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve decided to pick a few questions and try to help out. This week we are discussing trade-in strategies, Crown Vics as kid cars and buying out a friend’s lease.

This story was originally published on February 28, 2020

Is A Dealer More Likely To Hose You On A Trade Once They Know Your Payoff Amount Upfront?

I’m buying/leasing a new car soon and I’m planning on trading in my old car. I’ve stopped at two dealerships for appraisals and see their inventory and both have given me stupidly low estimates. I’m sure part of it is them taking advantage of the Texas tax credit which they later use to their favor when I argue their numbers (“yeah, it’s low but it’ll save you $X from your new car’s taxes”)

I’ve noticed a common practice is to ask me if it is financed, how much I owe on it as soon as I mention my trade. I cringe at that question as all feel I’m doing there is telling them the lowest number I’m willing to take. “Coincidentally” their numbers have been right at my payoff balance or $500 below. And then, they throw in the tax credit speech. I have had my car appraised in CarMax and Vroom and have gotten $2500 over theirs.

I’m aware they can get payoff amount from the lienholder at any time, but I’m almost positive they haven’t had the time to make that phone call in either transaction. My question: am I forced by law to give them that information? Or can I just answer “paid off” to that question and let them come up with their best shot? Is there any benefit to saying “financed”?


You are under no legal obligation to tell them your payoff amount, and you can always say “I don’t know, but you can find out with the lender,” and see what they offer. The tax savings are something to consider when you factor in the cost of the overall transaction, but if other outfits are offering you substantially more for your current vehicle the difference may supersede any tax savings you would get by trading it to the dealership. But what I would suggest is to use those offers from the online buyers as leverage against the dealer. They may not match them, but the dealer may come upon the trade enough to make it so the tax savings offsets the better offer.

Is A Ford Crown Victoria A Good Car For A New Driver?

We live in AZ and are looking for a first car for our son. We have $5,000.00 to spend and are looking for something reliable and easy to fix. I’ve been researching Crown Vics due to their abundance, simple builds, and reliability. Am I on the right track?


Ford Crown Victorias and other Panther-platform cars are very durable, easy to fix, and should be fairly easy to find in decent condition at this price range. My only concern is about giving a relatively heavy and rear-wheel-drive car to a novice driver. While those cars are sturdy in case a crash happens, they are are not the most nimble, so that is the tradeoff. Since you are in Arizona, you don’t really have to worry about snow or rainy conditions too much, but you will want to have your son be aware of the limitations on that kind of vehicle.

How Do I Buy Out A Friend’s Lease?

We have 2 kids and our 2012 Honda Fit is showing its wear. We are looking to upgrade to something bigger and nicer sometime this year. At the same time, my sister’s lease on her Acura MDX ends this summer and they are way under mileage (not even 15k). I know their dealer is going to call them soon to try and buy it back off of them and my wife liked the car after a test drive. Am I able to do a lease swap and then purchase the car for the original buyout price? Is there a more efficient way to transition ownership to us?


You probably don’t have to take over the lease then buy it out, you can likely just purchase it from the leasing company. Essentially, what you are doing is buying a used car, but you are just buying it from Acura Financial Services. Call Acura with your sister and tell them you would like to purchase the Acura at the conclusion of the lease and they will likely have a system for that. Some brands will allow you to do this transaction without a dealer, while others will make you use the dealership as the intermediary. If you do have to go through the dealer make sure you are only paying the buyout amount plus taxes and fees. The dealer should not be adding any “reconditioning” or “certification” charges to that deal.

Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at!