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Knowing your car’s value helps you get the most for your vehicle and keeps your equity positive.
Understanding the value of your car is an important part of selling it. If you don’t do your due diligence, you could lose out on hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars by listing your vehicle for too little.
On the other hand, you could end up listing your vehicle with too high of a price tag. This could cause your car to sit in your garage for months on end, taking up space and losing value.
Figuring out how much your vehicle is valued at doesn’t have to be complicated, as long as you follow these steps.
Understanding Different Car Values
It might be surprising to hear, but your car actually has multiple different values. Each value reflects the price that the car is worth in different retail and private sale situations, which can affect how much you get for your car and how much equity you have in it.
Trade-in value (wholesale price)
The trade-in value, or wholesale price, of your vehicle is based on how the dealership values your car. With a trade-in, the dealer is buying your car from you and crediting its value towards the purchase of a new car.
The trade-in value will depend on your car’s condition, age, and model, among other factors. For example, a car in good condition with little mileage will likely receive a higher trade-in value than one that’s rusted out with hundreds of thousands of miles on the speedometer.
Private party value
When you list your car for sale, you’re initiating a private party sale, rather than one conducted through a dealership. The exact private party sale value your car has will depend on your location, what shape your car is in, and how quickly you want to sell it.
Dealer retail value
The retail value is the price the dealer will actually put a used car out on the lot for. This won’t matter so much for you, but understanding the full retail value of your car can help you understand how much you might get via a trade-in, or how much you can potentially list your car for in a private sale.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
The MSRP, often referred to as the list price, is what the auto manufacturer suggests the car should be listed for by dealerships. This value suggestion helps keep dealerships from charging outrageously different prices for the same vehicle.
Certified pre-owned value
Certified pre-owned is a fancy way of saying that a used car has gone through an inspection by an automaker. These inspections can help ensure that a car is in working condition before it’s resold. Typically, CPO vehicles will have less than 80,000 miles. This, paired with the rigorous inspection, makes them often more valuable than a used car that could be sold privately or on discount sale lots.
Which Option Offers the Best Value?
Now that you understand the variety of values given to your car, which ones should you actually pay attention to? The ones that should matter the most to you, the owner, are the:
- Trade-in value
- Private party value
These values show you how much you could get if you decide to sell your vehicle. Values like dealer retail value, MSRP, and certified pre-owned are going to matter more to dealerships than a private party seller, since that’s what they’ll get when they go to sell.
Trade-in value vs. private party value
Will you get more money for a trade-in than a private sale? That can be difficult to determine since it will largely depend on the type of car you have and the condition it’s in.
More often than not, you will make more money by selling your car yourself since no one is looking to make a profit except you, but it’ll be a more involved process than if you simply traded it in at the dealership.
So how do you make sure you set the right asking price or prevent an undervalued trade-in?
Use a Value Estimate Tool
One of the fastest ways to find the value of your car is to use a free online value estimate tool. These tools use data, some of which is provided by you, to determine how much a used car is worth in different situations. Since there is no exact formula to determine a vehicle’s value, you can expect your car’s value to vary slightly based on each tool’s algorithm. When in doubt, use multiple tools to compare.
Here are three reputable tools to check-in with to find your car’s value estimate:
- Kelley Blue Book (KBB): KBB is one of the most recognizable names in car valuation. It offers several different tools aimed at finding your vehicle’s private party value, trade-in value, Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP), and certified pre-owned (CPO) value. They may even offer you an instant cash offer if you’re interested in selling your vehicle right away.
- Edmunds: Edmunds has also gained some traction in recent years, building a nice set of tools all car buyers and sellers can appreciate. Using their appraisal tool, you can simply enter your VIN number or your license number and state, then you’ll be given your car’s estimated value. In addition, they can help you find cars for sale in your area through dealer listings.
- NADA: Created by the National Automobile Dealers Association, NADA provides car pricing guides that let you look up car value by make, model, and zip code. Most notable are their pricing information for classic cars. NADA is in the middle of rebranding as “J.D. Power,” and promises the same helpful tools, but with an even better user experience.
What you need in order to estimate your used car’s value
To save yourself time filling out all of the details of your vehicle, a few of the sites above allow you to enter your car’s VIN or license plate number. If you prefer to do things the old fashioned way, make sure to have the following information handy before starting the appraisal process:
- Make, model, and year
- Color (yes, even color affects value)
- Optional equipment packages or trim level (leather seats, additional safety features, entertainment packages, etc.)
- Condition of the vehicle
- Your zip code
Compare Your Car To Local Comps
Your car is going to have a different value in Northern California than it does in Southern Florida or Western Montana. So, when looking to put a value on your vehicle, it’s important that you compare comps in your local market. After all, your vehicle is only really worth what someone is willing to pay you for it. Even though online price estimators take your zip code into account, there is nothing like your own research to verify your car’s value.
Since no two cars are going to be valued exactly the same, especially once they’re used, it might be impossible to find a listing that describes your car to a T. Instead, your goal should be to find vehicles that most closely compare to yours, keeping make, model, year, and condition at the top of your mind.
Luckily, there are a few different places you can start your research.
Classifieds and marketplaces
Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, your local newspaper, and local Facebook sales groups are great places to start your search for market value, especially if you plan to sell your vehicle in a private sale.
Local dealers and used car lots
If you don’t have any luck in your local classifieds and marketplaces, or you intend to trade-in your car, a trip to your local dealership could be in order. Getting quotes from multiple dealerships, as well as used car lots, is recommended in order to find a true average.
Online used car listing sites
There are a large number of used car sites where you can get a sense of what’s for sale in your area, which can help you find comps more quickly. These sites can show you private sales and dealerships local to you. Some well-known sites include CarGurus, Cars.com, and Autotrader.
What Factors Make up a Used Vehicle’s Value
A used car’s value is dependent on many different factors, all of which carry different amounts of weight. Some of the most common things that affect your vehicle’s value are:
- The economy: Market conditions make a big difference in the value of your vehicle because demand is a driving force. Typically when the economy is in a downturn, less people are buying vehicles, causing demand to decrease. On the other hand, when the economy is booming, likely more people are purchasing vehicles, increasing their demand and therefore their value. Lasting impacts from the pandemic on the auto industry, combined with current levels of inflation also has an impact on used car value.
- Make and model: Your car’s make and model make a huge impact on how much your car is worth. You’re not going to get even close to the same amount for an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser as you would for a Mercedes Benz. Luxury and off-roading cars often come at a higher cost than your regular daily commuters.
- Year: Typically, the older your vehicle, the less it is worth. This is true most of the time, except when appraising classic cars and some hard to find makes and models.
- Vehicle condition: When it comes to a vehicle’s condition, the interior, exterior, and mechanical condition all matter. You will want to be honest about the condition of your vehicle in order to get the most accurate quotes.
- Mileage: Mileage is one of the biggest factors in the depreciation of your vehicle’s value. The more miles on your speedometer, the less that your vehicle will be worth.
- Type of transmission: The fact is, manual transmissions (a.k.a stick shifts) have less resale value than automatic transmissions. This is mostly due to the fact that learning how to drive stick is becoming increasingly less common, making the pool of people interested in buying your car much smaller.
- Accident history: Accidents can lessen the life of your vehicle, lessening its value when it is time to resell it. If your vehicle has been in an accident, you should expect to get less for your vehicle.
- Maintenance history: Keeping up with your vehicle’s regular maintenance can help extend its life. In turn, it retains more resale value and keeps your equity out of the red.
- Color: Colors go out of style, so it is no surprise that the color of your vehicle can affect its resale value. When car buying, protect your resale value potential by picking colors that are classic, like white, black, gray, and silver.
Why Vehicle Value Matters (Even if You Don’t Want To Sell)
Knowing your vehicle’s value is important when you’re looking to sell it, but you should also check your value regularly to ensure that you’re not collecting negative equity. If you are, it might be time to refinance your auto loan.
Do I have negative equity?
Negative equity happens when you owe more on your vehicle than it is worth, otherwise known as being “upside down” on your loan. Since the value of your car is a major part of this equation, having an accurate idea of its value is extremely important.
Oftentimes, negative equity is reflected in a loan-to-value ratio, or LTV. This ratio compares how much your car is worth with how much you owe on your car loan. Lenders use LTVs to help calculate risk. If you have an LTV over 100%, you have negative equity.
Worried that your loan is upside down? Check out our LTV calculator below to find out:
Car (LTV) Loan-to-Value Calculator
You might want to refinance
If you have negative equity on your car loan, refinancing might be an option to help get you back in the black. By refinancing, you’ll be starting out your new loan with negative equity, but you will likely have a better interest rate and, as a result, your loan might be more manageable.
Unfortunately, not every lender is willing to take on the risk of refinancing an upside down loan. You will want to get quotes from multiple different lenders to ensure that you find one that meets all of your needs.
Stay On Top of Your Vehicle’s Value
Your vehicle is a major asset, so you want to make sure that you know how much it is worth, regardless of whether or not you plan to sell it in the near future. To stay on top of it, make sure to calculate your vehicle’s value once every six months or so and be ready to make adjustments if your vehicle is worth less than your loan.