How to Assess the Value of your Used Car (2024)

Selling a car can be a real pain, and can take more time than you think. Beyond taking pictures and listing the vehicle for sale, you’ve got to make sure you understand the condition and history to properly represent the car. You’ll also need to gather all of your paperwork and have everything in order before you begin. All of that, and we haven’t even gotten to one of the most important steps in the process: Finding the value for your used car.

It's easy to login to any number of websites today and get the value of your car. The process is quick, free, and painless, and will give you a good idea of where to start with your asking prices. There’s more to know about getting your car’s value than that, so we’re here to help.

Where to Find the Value

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You have a few options for where to look at your car’s value. The easiest thing to do is to head to Kelley Blue Book, NADA, Autotrader, CarGurus and others. Enter your VIN, mileage, and vehicle condition, and the site delivers an approximate value. It’s important to remember that some sites look at value differently than others, so it’s possible to have two completely different values in front of you. Choose a happy middle ground on the price spectrum to sell your car.

Condition Matters

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Getting a value for your car means describing its condition, so you might need to do a little homework. Most sites use a “good, better, best” scale for condition, and most provide a breakdown of where the majority of cars fall on that spectrum.

Excellent condition cars are typically described as having matching tires with good tread, no damage, no paint imperfections or chips, and the ability to pass an inspection. Only around five percent of cars fall into this category, as it’s quite restrictive and generally only applies to the very best used vehicles.

Very Good condition cars show age and wear, but have no mechanical issues and are generally in good condition cosmetically. This means there can be a few scratches or dents and the interior can have some wear, but the vehicle’s overall condition must be very good, as the name describes. These vehicles may also come with maintenance records and should have matching tires in decent condition.

Good condition cars are a little rough around the edges and may have issues like fading paint or interior wear. It’s unlikely that these cars come with maintenance records, but some do. Even with the wear, the car should be able to pass inspection and should come with usable tires.

Of course, vehicles can be worse off than those three categories. If your car has a salvage title, has been wrecked and repaired, or serious mechanical problems, you’re looking at a lower-tier value or condition rating. Many private party buyers steer clear of these vehicles to avoid expensive hassles, but you may find a person looking for a project. Dealers tend to offer lower prices for these cars because they can’t put them right back out for sale. For that reason, many cars in rough condition end up going straight to auction, where the dealer is unlikely to get top dollar for the sale, further depressing values.

Be Careful With Words

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How you describe your vehicle’s condition is almost as important as the condition itself. Be honest and don’t use complicated language that could confuse the buyer or hide the true condition. If your car has been in a wreck, damaged, or if it has other issues, the sales ad is your chance to lay out the facts. An accurate, honest assessment of condition in the ad will help you get the most money from the sale.

What Does the Value Mean?

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When you see the value of your car, especially online, you’ll be presented with a few options. Most pricing services provide details on private party sales, dealer trade-ins, and instant cash offers. The value for each will likely vary a bit, with private sales offering the best dollar amount and the other two exchanging places, depending on the vehicle. It’s tempting to look at the highest amount for private party sales and assume that’s the price you’ll get for your car, but a dealer won’t pay that amount.

The instant cash offer (ICO) is a dollar amount set by the valuation service, and represents the amount it is willing to pay for your car. Most ICO programs use an algorithm to determine vehicle value that considers a car’s age, condition, mileage, options, and demand. In many cases, you’ll get a good price that rivals trade-in values, but it’s a good idea to shop around. Try Kelley Blue Book, CarGurus, Autotrader, and others for an instant cash offer.

Private party sales values are typically the highest, because there’s no middle person between you and the buyer. Dealer pricing and instant cash offers take into account the fact that the buyer must turn around and sell the car after the fact, but selling direct to an individual means you can sell the car for more money. The value you see for private party sales online is still calculated the same way as dealer trade in and instant cash offer values, so it’s vitally important that you accurately describe the condition of your vehicle.

Things to Remember

  • Demand: The value you see for your car online is a great starting point that can give you plenty of information on how to set pricing when you’re looking to sell. It is not, however, a barometer for how popular your car is. Online valuation tools are also not good at anticipating what a dealer or other commercial buyer might offer. Remember that the value of a car is completely dependent on having a buyer willing to pay the price. If your car’s value lands a $25,000 but there’s no demand for the model, you may have a hard time getting the full amount. On the other hand, scarcity leads to higher prices, so if your car is hard to get or extremely desirable, you may end up getting more than you thought.

  • Emotions: You’ve been driving your car for a while, and you’ve built up quite an attachment to it, but the person or business you’re selling it to couldn’t care less about the good times it brought you over the years. Heading into a price negotiation loaded with emotions is a bad place to be. Just because you value the car and hold it dear doesn’t mean the person buying it from you feels the same way, nor does it mean they’ll view your asking price as being fair. Once you’ve determined the condition and value, list it for that amount. Don’t tack on a tax because you’re sad to see the car go.

  • Negotiations: You might get lucky and find a person or dealer willing to give you the listed asking price, but many times the buyer will feel the need to negotiate. You need to have a good handle on your vehicle’s value and an idea of what you’re willing to accept as a bottom dollar should the buyer decide they don’t like your price. Dealers may wiggle a bit on their trade-in or purchase offer, but in many cases what you see on the offer is what you get.

  • Where to List: Where you list your car is important. It’s easy to find an auction website or local paper with a classifieds section, but it’s best to list the car in a pace that most closely aligns with its type, value, and condition. If you’re selling a modified car or race car, there’s a site for that. If you want to sell a sports car, there are sites for that, and so on. Choosing the right place to sell your car could be the difference in getting a good price and getting hosed on your sale.

How to Assess the Value of your Used Car (5)
How to Assess the Value of your Used Car (2024)


How to Assess the Value of your Used Car? ›

Find the value of your car with Edmunds' appraisal tool. First, simply plug in your vehicle identification number (VIN) or license plate — or you can manually enter your vehicle's year, make and model. Next, confirm the options on your car, note its condition level, and enter the current mileage.

What is the best way to determine the value of a used car? ›

For over 90 years, Kelley Blue Book has been The Trusted Resource for used car values, helping car owners understand what their used car is worth. Depending on the method of disposal, there actually may be more than one Blue Book Value for the consumer's car, truck or SUV.

How do you determine the fair value of a used car? ›

You can find the actual value of your car by going to a library or bookstore and referring to a Kelley Blue Book. Or, you can find similar vehicles that are being sold in your area (within 50 miles of your zip code) with local auto trade magazines, or online.

How do you tell the value of your car? ›

Simply enter your VIN or license plate into the Carfax History-Based Value look-up tool to get the Carfax Value on your car, truck or SUV. Our unique VIN-specific value report considers reported accidents or damage, number of owners and the car's service history.

How do you predict the resale value of a car? ›

The exact appraisal amount will change based on local market conditions, the dealer's inventory, and their ability to resell the car. To understand the value of your car, take it to multiple used car lots to see what they will give you for it. This will help you understand the high- and low-end values for your car.

What is the most accurate site for car value? ›

90 Years of Pricing Expertise

Since 1926, Kelley Blue Book has been one of the most trusted names in the auto industry.

How do I find the real price of a used car? ›

The first step in assessing a used vehicle's true worth is to check its book value. This is the figure you'll find in pricing guides and used-car pricing websites, which lists a vehicle's base retail value. To get a more accurate figure, you must factor in any options as well as mileage and condition.

Are nada used car values accurate? ›

How Does NADA List Prices of Cars in Their Guide? Representatives of NADA promote their guide representing it as the strongest, most valid, and most reliable information list of auto market values when compared to the KBB guide, and even Edmunds pricing guide.

Is Edmunds or KBB more accurate? ›

Many experts believe Edmunds' values are more accurate than KBB's. That's not always the case, of course, which is why getting several estimates and averaging still makes the most sense.

How do you know the fair price for a car? ›

Edmunds True Market Value® (TMV®), also known as Edmunds Suggested Price, is a pricing system that helps you determine the average transaction price — or what others are paying — for new or used vehicles in your area so that you can begin your negotiations with a fair price in mind.

What determines the value of a car? ›

Many factors figure into the value of a used car, but mileage and condition are the most important. After that, options, location, and color are influencing factors.

How do you find the present value of a car? ›

To find the resale value, there are websites, such as the Kelley Blue Book site, that can provide an instant free quote of your car's value after you input key data on its make and model, age, condition and features.

Can I check Carfax for free? ›

A free CARFAX report is also available through many dealer websites. As you browse a dealer's used car inventory, look for links to free CARFAX Reports. If a link is unavailable, contact the dealer and ask them for the CARFAX Report. Free CARFAX Reports are available at many car dealerships in your area.

What brings down car value? ›

Several factors can affect the resale value of your car. These include mileage, age, condition, location, color, make and model. You can retain your car's value by regularly maintaining it and avoiding modifications that could decrease its appeal to buyers.

At what mileage should I sell my car? ›

It's a good idea to sell your car before it hits 60,000 miles if you don't want to spend a lot of money on repairs and replacement parts. During this mileage bracket, your car should be about five years old, meaning it'll still command a substantial amount.

At what mileage does a car lose value? ›

If your vehicle has more than 100,000 miles on it, that is a red flag for potential buyers. Even if your car has been dependable over 200,000 miles with relatively few problems, resale value is going to take a huge hit. The average person puts between 12,000 and 15,000 miles on their vehicle in a given year.

How can I maximize my used car value? ›

These include:
  1. Make and model. All cars are not made equal, and some cars just have an inherently higher resale value due to their make and model. ...
  2. Condition. ...
  3. Mileage and age. ...
  4. Modifications. ...
  5. Color. ...
  6. Avoiding smoking or eating in the car. ...
  7. Keeping pets off the upholstery. ...
  8. Being thoughtful with upgrades.

How to calculate car value based on mileage? ›

How to Calculate Car Value Based on Mileage. According to most experts, your estimated car value will depreciate by an average of $0.08 for every mile on a vehicle's odometer. Furthermore, a vehicle value calculator will usually dock 10% off your new car's value just for driving it off the lot.


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