MONEY Autos

New Lincoln MKC: Comfort With a Dash of Audacity

The entry-level luxury crossover SUV, which sits atop a Ford Escape chassis, dares to compete with foreign rivals. It's up to the challenge.

You’ve got to give Lincoln Motor a little credit just for the sheer audacity of its marketing posture for the MKC, its new entry-level luxury crossover SUV. No, I’m not talking about the endlessly parodied commercials featuring stud actor Matthew McConaughey. I’m talking about Lincoln inviting direct comparison with foreign rivals such as the Audi Q5, the BMW X3, the Mercedes GLK, and the Acura RDX — and basically saying, “Bring it on.”

What gives Lincoln this kind of chrome chops? In truth, a little desperation helps. When Alan Mulally reorganized Ford a couple of years ago, he sold off the company’s upscale badges — Jaguar, Range Rover, and Volvo — and junked its pointless Mercury brand. Lincoln lived because it could offer something unique: American luxury.

And if Lincoln wants to be relevant, it has to play ball in the upscale urban crossover sport utility vehicle (a.k.a. CUV) market. The MKC has got some game. At a base price of about $34,000, the MKC dares to be different in a very American way. Where the Germans offer Teutonic toughness, the MKC offers a comfy ride. You are, after all, driving the kids to soccer practice, not taking laps at Nürburgring. Do you really need to feel the road that much?

The revelation for me occurred in the first 10 seconds of my test drive: This ride feels nice. And that’s a good thing. Start with the chair. Every car evaluation has to begin here. The MKC’s is a beauty: a 10-way power, heated driver’s seat with lumbar controls. You will find your sweet spot; you will be sitting pretty. Then there’s the lack of road noise, courtesy of an active noise control system. You can also add continuously controlled damping ($650 extra) — all those sensors working to keep road vibrations from reaching you.

But don’t think this is an old-fashioned American couch drive. The MKC has electronic steering control, so it’s responsive enough. And thanks to its tunable suspension — with settings for comfort, normal, and sport — you can get a stiffer ride if you want one. Still, there’s no confusing the MKC for an Audi. You can decide if you like that or not.

There’s also a gimmick: a push-button gear selector located on the dash. How high-tech is that? Not very. It’s actually a throwback to the 1950s and 1960s. The indestructible, used, mid-60s vintage Plymouth station wagon (the original CUV) that my parents hauled their four offspring in had this very same feature, as did any number of models of the time. Lincoln has revived the push-button transmission for the MKC — only this time around it adds some unexpected elegance to the car and also frees up room in the center console.

There’s some real innovation at the back of the CUV: an optional motion sensor that lets you wave a foot underneath the wraparound tail gate to open it. Quite useful.

The MKC is offered in three flavors, Premiere ($34,000 to $36,000), Select ($37,225 to $40,860) and Reserve ($40,930 to $44,565). One of Lincoln’s selling points is that its competitors start at around $40,000 for a very basic model, and the price moves up quickly with options. The Premiere MKC model is powered by Ford’s 2.0 liter, 240-hp EcoBoost I-4, which has plenty of pop. With the other two trims, you have the option of the 2.3 L, 285-hp version. All-wheel drive is available on all three.

I drove the bigger power plant with AWD, and there’s nothing lacking there; it delivers 305 lb-ft of torque, and churns plenty of power. The EcoBoost engine is a Ford mainstay, and totally fitting for the MKC. With the Reserve trim you can also opt for a technology package that includes adaptive cruise control, collision warning with brake support, active park assist, forward sensing, lane-keeping, and driver alert systems. This is a really good safety grouping; let’s hope it’s standard on all cars some day.

The fact that Ford has piled so many nice touches into the Lincoln MKC is a bit confounding in auto circles, since the car is built on the same platform as the Ford Escape. It evokes memories of earlier times, when the Big Three created really bad luxury cars this way, Lincoln among them. But in modern practice, wherein manufactures try to minimize the number of platforms across a global product line, it works just fine. If Audis can sit on VW beds, there’s no reason Lincolns can’t sit on Fords. It’s all about execution. And with the MKC, Lincoln has pulled it off.

TIME Autos

Toyota Charges After Tesla With New Fuel-Celled Car

A challenge to Tesla

Toyota unveiled its 2015 hydrogen fuel-cell sedan on Wednesday, its closest competitor yet to Tesla’s fully-electric Model S.

The car will launch in Japan and cost seven million Yen (almost $70,000), but will not reach U.S. and European markets until the summer of 2015. The company known for the fuel-efficient Prius is one of the first to challenge Tesla after Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk announced that he would not initiate any patent lawsuits against competitors using his revolutionary technology.

But Toyota will not be going fully electric.

“Hydrogen is a particularly promising alternative fuel since it can be produced using a wide variety of primary energy sources, including solar and wind power,” the company said. “When compressed, it has a higher energy density than batteries and is easier to store and transport. In addition to its potential as a fuel for home and automotive use, hydrogen could be used in a wide range of applications, including large-scale power generation.”

The new sedan boasts a cruising range of approximately 435 miles and a refueling time of less than 3 minutes—leaving only water vapor in its wake.

TIME energy

Harley Davidson Goes Electric

Harley Davidson, battery powered, 2014, Motorcycle
Profile full body photograph of Harley-Davidson’s 2014 battery powered motorcycle, taken on June 5, 2014 at the Harley-Davidson headquarters in Milwaukee, WI. Grant Cornett for TIME

Will this battery-powered hog help the famed cyclemaker grow beyond aging boomers?

It’s bike night at the Harley-Davidson Museum near downtown Milwaukee. Outside this Modernist cathedral of chrome, hundreds of riders have parked their Harleys to admire one another’s bikes, swap stories and enjoy a perfect May evening. Anyone from a corporate marketing department happening on this scene might have been horrified, because it would not suggest a growing market. Bike Night in Milwaukee sure looks like Old White Guys’ Night. The only diversity among this group of aging boomers is in the beer brands in the cozies they carry. But Mark-Hans Richer, who is indeed Harley’s marketing boss, isn’t bothered. “We love old white guys,” says Richer, who is not quite one. “Our old white guys are great customers, we love them, and we never want to walk away from them.”

That said, Harley is in the midst of a complete reimagining as it increasingly tries to appeal to African Americans, Hispanics and women, not to mention riders in China and India, all of whom have become target customers. Global demographics–more young people with less money to spend–are forging big changes at the iconic firm. Harley still sells the rebellious, hell-raising, American free-spirit ideal that it rode to fame in the 1950s and ’60s. But that isn’t a strategy for running a company in 2014.

The Great Recession drove Ford to the wall and Chrysler and GM into bankruptcy, forcing drastic operational and cultural changes that made them more efficient, higher-quality operators. Harley was in better shape than the auto companies going into the recession but fared worse after the downturn: motorcycles are typically a second or third ride for Americans. Harley’s sales plunged from $5.8 billion in 2006 to $3.1 billion in 2010, even as autos were recovering. Its U.S. market share fell from 51% in 2006 to 43% in 2008, according to the Trefis research firm. The average age of its customers increased to 49 from 44.

Worse, perhaps, is that when sales turned up again, Harley reverted to form. And form wasn’t particularly good. Harley’s product line was full of retreads, and it had little to offer consumers in emerging markets like India and China. “There was a recognition that it was a great company, 108 years old,” says CEO Keith Wandell, a former auto-parts executive who took over in 2009 and began to force Harley to behave. “A lot of great things had happened, but I think what was apparent was that we’d become stuck in time. We had become sort of resistant to change and doing things differently.”

This year Harley’s sales should increase 9.7%, to $6.5 billion, and it will move perhaps 283,000 motorcycles. It’s introducing new lower-powered, lower-priced models for young riders and taking its biggest technology risk ever: the LiveWire, an electric-powered, urban globocycle whose high-pitched, jetlike whine sounds nothing like the Harley roar–that hurricane of sound that tells you a V-twin gas-engine hog is approaching even before you check your rearview. “We have a powerful brand and a powerful product–that’s why we are doing this. It isn’t the better-mousetrap strategy,” says Wandell. If the bike sells, it will punctuate the turnaround of a uniquely American corporation.

The electric Harley sitting on a small test track behind the company’s development center in Wauwatosa, outside Milwaukee, isn’t going to be confused with some of the putt-putt electrics on the market today. The design of LiveWire is gnarly enough to be Harley: it’s angular and agile, with a cast-aluminum exoskeleton sitting on a short wheelbase with 18-in. tires. The tires are a little bigger than normal and the seat a little higher, so the cycle can more easily jump curbs and handle the potholes of New Delhi or New York City. The turn signals and rear lamp are glowing LEDs, like those found on high-end Audis. What’s missing is the steroidal engine sitting under the rider–replaced by a lithium-ion-battery-powered motor.

In electric cars, the compartment for the battery that powers the vehicle takes up a disproportionate amount of space and produces a lot of heat that has to be dissipated. That’s a lot harder to do on a bike. Engineers jammed as much battery into the bike as they could to deliver sufficient acceleration. LiveWire generates 75 horsepower and goes from zero to 60 m.p.h. in four seconds.

Sound was another challenge because Harleys rumble even at low r.p.m.–a sound referenced, onomatopoeically, as potato, potato, potato. The LiveWire’s gearbox-and-motor combo produced a new and somewhat unexpected sound, which the engineers tuned. “We knew immediately we had something cool,” says Jeff Richlen, the chief engineer.

What’s it like to ride? The beauty of all electric motors is that you get torque–the force that turns the wheels–on command. You don’t have to go through the gears. Twist the throttle and LiveWire responds like an impatient New Yorker, even if the engine growl lags. (The pedal-to-engine-noise disconnect is familiar to owners of electric cars like the Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf.) LiveWire’s speed tops out at 92 m.p.h, by which time it sounds like a big Fourth of July rocket whizzing by. “We wanted to make this a real Harley,” says Richlen. Right now, the bike has a range of 100 miles–fine for city riding–and recharges in about three hours.

Harley isn’t releasing LiveWire for sale until customers and dealers have a chance to weigh in. The company began offering test rides to select customers this month. Can they accept any battery-powered bike as a true Harley? Yes, says Gail Worth, who owns Gail’s Harley-Davidson, located outside Kansas City, Mo. “The world is ready for a Harley-Davidson e-bike,” she says. “Electric bikes are going to be on the street. That is the one element left that will allow Harley to just take over the motorcycle market.” Harley hasn’t priced its rocket yet, but as with electric automobiles, consumers will typically pay a 10% to 20% premium for electric bikes, which suggests something north of $20,000. Worth expects LiveWire to debut in a year.

The electric-motorcycle market is generating a lot of interest these days. BMW already sells a $22,500 C Evolution e-Scooter in Europe. Although the market for e-cycles is still small, the consultancy Navigant Research predicts that domestic sales will grow tenfold and reach 36,000 units by 2018. A couple of specialty manufacturers, such as Brammo and Zero, are already in the market. Harley says it isn’t worried about being late to market. “If it’s green, it’s badass green. It has character,” says Richer. “We don’t see our competitor understanding that.”

Livewire isn’t just a flashy new concept for Harley; it’s also the product of a painful corporate revolution long in the making. In the depths of the downturn, the company produced print ads that proclaimed, “We don’t do fear … Screw it, let’s ride.” The bravado was a misdirected rallying cry. “We were heading downhill–not spiraling but walking down this hill pretty fast,” says Worth, who also heads Harley’s dealer council. Sales of the company’s best-selling heavy bikes fell 50%.

When Wandell arrived in 2009, sales had begun to pick up, but the company had no new products in the pipeline to meet the increasing demand. Harley’s 1,500 dealers vented, but Harley’s product-development cycle was so sluggish that the company needed far more time to get new products to market than the competition: some five to six years. New cars are created in half that time.

Global regard for the Harley brand had long insulated it from bad management. In 1969 a conglomerate named AMF, which you might know from its bowling pins, bought Harley. The motorcycle company suffered from corporate inattention, and in 1981 a management-led investor group bought it back. But it remained a boom-bust outfit that relied on periodic economic upticks to bail it out.

Wandell spent most of his career at Johnson Controls, an auto-components maker. So his being chosen to become Harley’s boss attracted some criticism–he wasn’t a Harley guy. But Wandell quickly drew up a “short list of big things” that had to change: how the company designed products, how it made them and how it interacted with customers. Everything, in other words. He replaced all but one of the top bosses, mostly with talent he found being squandered in middle management.

One of those talented people was Michelle Kumbier, whom Wandell tapped to reshape Harley’s product development. Though not an engineer, Kumbier took an engineer’s approach, benchmarking the company against other manufacturers like Ford. Then she shared the not-so-pretty results: by any measure, Harley was a laggard in both product-development cycles and manufacturing efficiency. “Engineers were able to accept the truth if you showed them the data and the evidence. We showed them the road map. This is how we are going to get to world class.” Since then Harley has cut its time to market in half.

In another big shift, Harley says it has become customer- and dealer-led. Worth says the listening is real. “It used to be lip service,” she says. “‘Let’s sit down and have a beer.’ They’d fix onesie-twosie things. Now they handle it as business. We don’t sit around drinking beer with each other anymore.” Oddly enough, for an outfit with such a devoted following, Harley used to build products based on its managers’ gut feelings, which was fine when the customers were mostly white boomers. But now the customers could be newly wealthy Chinese looking for style, city-dwelling millennials who need utility and affordability or retirees who want a trike that doesn’t embarrass them.

That shift led to a company initiative code-named Rushmore, whose mission was to produce new products for this multiculti world. Harley took a fresh look at every aspect of motorcycling–the issue of the rider’s head being buffeted by wind, the position of the saddlebags, the passenger’s viewpoint–and integrated new technology like GPS. How, for instance, could a rider use a touchscreen while going 80 m.p.h. and wearing leather riding gloves? The research led to more than 106 changes in the way that its touring bikes are built.

Harley-Davidson’s plunge into advanced technology–a third of its engineering is now focused on innovation–led it to LiveWire. A small group of developers was freed to work on the project. “It’s a symbol of what we can be,” says Matt Levatich, Harley’s president, “not what we shouldn’t do. Why not us?”

More immediately, Rushmore yielded something that wouldn’t have been contemplated before: smaller bikes for younger riders, especially women. This year Harley introduced its lower-end Street series, high-riding bikes with 500-cc and 750-cc engines that still provide a Harley feel for less than $7,500. “Street is about access over engine displacement,” says Richer. “It is designed with a global customer in mind. You can grow up in Beijing and Chicago, and you might have a cultural connection that your parents didn’t have 25 years ago.”

With Street, the company now has models that can compete in developing nations such as Brazil, South Africa and India, where price matters. Harley is a latecomer to India, but it is now assembling bikes in Bawal and sponsoring group rides in places like Goa that can attract 5,000 cyclists who want to taste the American ideal. Harley is feeding that hunger: overseas cycle sales now account for 36% of the company’s total. Indeed, there are now group-ride events in China, Africa and India.

The smaller bikes are also a better fit for Europe, where consumers prefer sport and utility cycles like Street over Softail cruisers. In China, Harley doesn’t have the opportunity that American automakers have. Motorcycles are banned from many highways and urban areas. But just as they prefer big Buicks, Chinese riders are hog lovers, as are riders in Japan, home to giants such as Yamaha and Kawasaki.

So far, the strategy appears to be working. Harley has picked up two market-share points in Europe on BMW. And while Street models are now heading to U.S. dealers, the company is living you-know-where on the hog with its traditional cruiser bikes. It owns 56% of the market, up from 41.5% in 2008, according to Wells Fargo Securities. Even better, the supply of white guys over age 35 figures to be about 50 million strong in the U.S. for the next 25 years. “We’re not dying a slow death,” says Levatich. “We’re creating a new future.”

TO SEE MORE SOLUTIONS, GO TO time.com/solutionsforamerica

TIME Autos

Ford Recalls Nearly 700,000 Vehicles Over Airbag Problem

Ford Escape Airbag Recall
A row of 2014 Ford Escape vehicles sit on display at Uftring Ford in East Peoria, Illinois, on Nov. 30, 2013. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Faults discovered in Ford Escape and C-Max models could cause delayed deployment of airbags and increase risk of injury to passengers during accidents, but there have been no reported accidents or injuries related to the defects so far

Ford recalled nearly 700,000 vehicles Friday due to potential airbag malfunctions that could delay deployment of the safety feature.

Ford said the airbag defect, affecting nearly 692,500 2013-2014 Ford Escape and C-Max models, was traced back to a glitch in the airbag deployment software. Under “rollover circumstances,” the company told the New York Times, the glitch could increase the chance of injury to passengers.

Ford is also recalling 692,700 2013-2014 Escapes for an unrelated door latch problem that could prevent the latch from properly fastening into place, allowing the door to swing open while the vehicle is in motion.

There have been no reported accidents or injuries related to the Ford defects. The recalls come within weeks of Ford’s decision to boost funding for recall repairs by $400 million.

TIME Vehicles

Toyota Is Recalling a Massive 6.39 Million Cars Globally

Women walk in front of Toyota Motor's logo at the company's showroom in Tokyo
The Japanese giant Toyota recalls several million cars world-wide © Toru Hanai—Reuters

The world's largest automaker is recalling 6.39 million vehicles through 27 models for defects like a sliding driver's seat or airbags that won't deploy, making for the second-largest recall in the company's history

Toyota, the world’s biggest auto-maker, is recalling 6.39 million vehicles world-wide because of various faults, it announced Wednesday.

The recall, which applies to 27 models in five different regions of the world, is the second-largest in the Japanese automaker’s history, Reuters reports.

“Toyota is not aware of any injuries or fatalities caused by this condition,” the company wrote in a statement about the recall in North America, where more than 1.3 million cars are being called back.

The faults include steering problems that could keep the airbag from deploying, an engine starter risk that could be a fire hazard and a driver’s seat defect that could cause the seat to slide forward in a crash.

The glitches were found in 27 different Toyota models, including RAV4, Corolla, Yaris, Matrix and Highlander, that have all been sold globally. Toyota issued a recall of 7.4 million cars in 2012 and a recall of 2.1 million vehicles earlier this year.

 

TIME cars

What Is Life Worth? Attorney Kenneth Feinberg Has the Answer

Key Speakers At The John C. Bogle Legacy Forum
Kenneth Feinberg Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

General Motors has retained a lawyer known for working on tragedies to help quantify loss for at least 13 deaths linked to faulty ignition switches, which the car giant initially didn't want to pay to have changed

By the time an organization hires Kenneth Feinberg, the tragedy itself is oftentimes long over with. Its victims, however, remain. And it is Feinberg’s job to figure out a way to quantify their loss.

On Tuesday, General Motors announced it had brought Feinberg on as an adviser, signaling that the country’s biggest automaker was planning to compensate victims of accidents linked to defective ignition switches in millions of its vehicles. Feinberg has become the go-to when companies or governments need to answer a tricky question: What’s life worth?

Feinberg likes to make that sounds a lot simpler than it seems. “What I do is not rocket science,” Feinberg explains. “Thousands, millions of Americans could do what I do. It certainly doesn’t require a law degree. A divinity degree maybe.”

After attending law school at New York University in the 1960s, Feinberg clerked for New York State Court of Appeals Judge Stanley Fuld alongside Jack B. Weinstein, who later became a federal district judge. In 1984, Weinstein presided over a class-action lawsuit brought by 250,000 Vietnam War veterans against the manufacturers of Agent Orange. Weinstein asked Feinberg to mediate the dispute. “He told me, ‘You know how to get things done,’” Feinberg recalls. “And I said, ‘I’ve never mediated in my life. I’ve never even taken a law school course on mediation.’”

Still eight weeks later, Feinberg delivered a massive $180 million settlement. It was on the front page of every newspaper in the country, and overnight, Feinberg became the most in-demand mediator in the U.S. He started getting letters like: Gee, Ken, we saw you settled Agent Orange. I’ve got a really tough case for you…

For the next 15 years, Feinberg became a full-time complex dispute mediator in a variety of cases, often involving mass catastrophes with horrific injuries and damages like asbestos, personal injury claims and deaths linked to pharmaceutical companies. He even helped determine the fair market value of the Zapruder film, which shows the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (It turns out, the film’s worth $16 million.)

But his most trying challenge came in the early 2000s when he was named the special master of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, a dispute in which he visited with 950 different family members to eventually help allocate $7 billion. “That was very taxing, very debilitating,” he says.

In the years since, he’s done similar work for victims of the Virginia Tech shootings, the BP oil spill and the Boston Marathon bombings. While GM has yet to say that it’s planning to provide restitution to the families of the 13 people who have died and as well as those linked to 31 accidents, retaining Feinberg is significant. “You don’t go to Ken unless you’ve got some troubles,” says NYU law professor Samuel Isaacharoff. “It indicates a seriousness of purpose about getting things resolved without a full-on litigation war.”

Isaacharoff, who has known Feinberg for 20 years and taught with him at NYU and Columbia, says he has a way of resolving matters that leave everyone standing and with a sense of dignity. “It’s a remarkable chain of success,” he says.

Feinberg says he’s just starting to gather information about the GM dispute and declined to go into specifics about what he plans to do for the automaker, but he did liken the case to his work regarding victims of sexual assault related to former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. In that case, Feinberg worked to get individually negotiated settlements for each victim.

And yet Feinberg is dismissive of any special talent needed to mediate. He says the best way to describe his success is that he’s got a knack for negotiating among victims who have been through tragedy.

“You’re dealing with innocent victims who are emotionally debilitated, emotionally damaged, and when you process individual claims for compensation, you better brace yourself for anger, frustration, disappointment and a total absence of gratitude,” he says. “You just have to realize you’re dealing with fragile people, and you can’t get angry.”

MONEY Autos

Sell Your Wheels, Now

Matching tires with good treads will help sell your car. Fuzzy dice? Can't hurt.

Planning to replace one of your cars? You might want to accelerate the process. The good times for sellers are coming to a close.

“During the recession, a lot of people hung on to their cars longer,” says Richard Arca, senior manager with Edmunds.com. That resulted in a low supply of used vehicles. And consequently, the average sales price on pre-owned cars up to eight years old has risen — itself an anomaly — by 18% since 2007, reports the National Automobile Dealers Association.

But now cars are beginning to return to the lots as more people buy new and more vehicles come off leases. Thus, used-car prices are expected to see their first decline in five years; NADA predicts that the average car’s annual depreciation rate will climb to 16% this year, up from 11% in 2009. “It’s barely still a seller’s market,” says Arca.

Use these strategies to steer your way to the best price, post peak.

Choose your sales route. While many people opt for a dealer trade-in, selling a vehicle yourself is usually a better bet — you’ll typically reap 10% to 15% more, says Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. (That’s because the dealer needs to profit on resale.) The margin will be even greater on a car with an unusual paint color, like maroon, or an atypical feature, like manual transmission.

The downside of DIY? You’ll need to be patient. Even with today’s still-tight inventory, it takes six to 10 weeks to close a deal, says Art Spinella, president of CNW Research, which tracks auto sales.

Assuming you’ve got time, he suggests starting with a window sign, word-of-mouth marketing (e.g., Facebook), and a free Craigslist ad before considering paid listings on sites such as AutoTrader.com or Cars.com.

A dealer can make sense in rare instances — like when you need to unload fast or when selling on your own would cause you to miss one of the attractive limited-time incentives manufacturers have been rolling out lately. Just be sure to weigh the value of any incentive against the hit you’ll take on the trade. And know that “dealers will try to maximize profit margins on both ends of the deal somehow, like through an extended warranty or lower trade-in offer,” Gutierrez says.

Give your vehicle a good shine. With supply rising, you’ll have more competition. Make your vehicle stand out by putting in some prep work to highlight and improve its condition. Gather maintenance records and a Carfax report, for starters.

Next, be sure you have matching tires with good tread and make any small repairs that are needed. You don’t want a buyer to demand a discount for something you could have fixed for less.

Also watch your odometer. At around 50,000 miles, warranties expire; 100,000 makes buyers think a car is worn out. “Limit usage to stay below those thresholds if you’re close, and you’ll be able to sell for more,” says Juan Flores, head of operations for the AutoTrader.com Trade-In Marketplace.

Craft your ad carefully. Think, too, about how your online listing will attract buyers. Start with the headline, making sure to use keywords shoppers will search, like make, model, year, color, and mileage, says Gutierrez. Include as many photos as you can — all angles, interior and exterior, both sets of keys, and the vehicle history report.

Don’t hide flaws, but do mention great specifics, like the car handling well in snow. You might even think about making a video to show off the auto. “The more things a buyer can engage with, the more they’ll connect with your car,” says Flores.

Know your number. To zero in on a listing price, use the Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds book-value estimate as a starting point. But be aware that prices can vary from that by hundreds to thousands based on your region, the car’s condition, and the season. So also look at cars similar to yours at local lots. Knock 10% off a lot price for a good indication of what you can get from a private sale, says Spinella.

Going to a dealership? First try sites like AutoTrader and CarMax, which give trade-in offers that reflect what local dealers are likely to propose. Then visit several dealerships, says Gutierrez.

Should they lowball, ask them to match the online offers. “If you don’t get at least 85% of the book-price estimate, consider walking away,” says Arca. For now, anyway, you’ve still got the upper hand.

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