Know What Your Car is Worth

How much money can you make by selling your used car? Find out how to accurately assess used vehicle values.

Today's automobile market is more unpredictable than ever, due in large part to the impact of COVID-19. Used cars are currently selling well, since new cars are in shorter supply than usual. However, selling a used car is sometimes difficult, especially if you do not know its real value. There is no way of knowing if a buyer is giving you a reasonable offer or a low offer. You also cannot tell when a buyer is offering much more than the vehicle is actually worth. Therefore, selling your car “blindly” with no knowledge of its actual value is a major gamble.

If you want to go into used car sale negotiations with the upper hand, or at least on even ground, you must know what your vehicle is worth. However, finding out its value is not as easy as assessing the value of other more basic possessions you may have, such as movie DVDs or clothing. A vehicle has many different parts that can change its value. The history of the vehicle and other factors can also influence the amount a buyer is willing to pay for it. Here are things you need to know about used vehicle value assessment and the online tools available to help you sell your vehicle for what it is actually worth.

Mileage and Fuel Costs 

Mileage is a major factor for any used car buyer. The average annual miles driven for residents in each state can influence some buyers. Multiplying that average by the age of the vehicle can help a buyer determine how much use the vehicle has gotten. However, that information alone is not a good indicator of the value of a vehicle. A savvy buyer must consider mileage as one of many calculations relating to the sale and purchase of the vehicle.

Current fuel costs are also important when determining the value of a vehicle. In the wake of the pandemic, fuel costs have risen significantly in most areas. Therefore, large vehicles with poor gas mileage are in lower demand. Buyers tend to prefer smaller cars that can travel more miles per gallon of gas used.

Ownership and Accident History

Another thing buyers care about is the ownership and accident history of the vehicle. If you are selling your car, you know its history during the time you have owned it. You must also familiarize yourself with its earlier history, if you are not its first owner. Any history of accidents may lower the value of the vehicle. Similarly, the type of previous ownership of the vehicle is important. For instance, a vehicle previously used as a rental or taxi is less desirable than one owned by one or two individuals or families. Websites like CARFAX can help you look up the history of your vehicle quickly and easily.

Appearance and Condition

Appearance impact a vehicle's value, in some cases. However, it depends on the desires of the buyer. One buyer may overlook cosmetic dents or scratches, as long as a vehicle runs well. Another may prefer a vehicle with a pristine appearance. Condition is also a factor. Unlike appearance, condition includes issues that are not purely cosmetic, such as how the engine runs or how much tread the tires have.

Make and Model Demand 

Particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply and demand are vital when determining the value of your used vehicle. Since new cars are harder to obtain, used cars are now more desirable then ever. Yet, not every used car is equal. An older car of a hard-to-find type with an unusual body design, good mileage, or a unique color may attract more buyers. The rarer and more sought after the vehicle, the more you can charge for it. If your used car is newer or of a generic style, many similar cars are probably also available for sale, lowering the value.

Special Features and Add-Ons 

You might think special features and add-ons make a car more desirable. However, a car that is customized for you is less likely to appeal to the general public. Also, certain state-of-the-art add-ons depreciate quickly as technologies and desired features change. Geographic location also matters when factoring features into a sale. For example, vehicles with heated seats are almost always more desirable than those without in colder climates. However, they are of little to no use to buyers residing in warmer regions.

Resources for Determining the Value of Your Used Car

You cannot possibly calculate the value of your used car without assistance. There are too many contributing factors to consider. Instead, take advantage of the many online tools available to assist you. For example:

  • The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) uses unique calculations based on current market values, wholesale prices, and local demand to determine the value of your used vehicle.

  • Kelly Blue Book (KBB) has been a leader in determining used car values for years. The KBB value calculation tool uses a vehicle's make, model, and mileage, among other points, to quickly estimate its value.

  • Edmunds offers a similar used vehicle assessment tool to KKB's. Edmunds also routinely publishes road test information and other assessments of various vehicle makes and models.

  • Autotrader also provides a simple tool you can use for vehicle worth calculation. It requires you to fill in basic information, including the year in which your vehicle was produced.

  • Hagerty is a website that provides specific assessment tools to calculate the values of classic used vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, and trucks. You can use the tools provided by Hagerty to see how the value of your classic vehicle has increased or decreased over a period of months or years, as well as to assess its current value.

How to Use the Knowledge of Your Car's Value When Selling

If you use more than one of the tools above, you are likely to receive more than one estimate of your vehicle's worth. However, you can determine a generally fair price range. Once you have that range in mind, you can use it as leverage when negotiating with a potential buyer. For example, you can opt to suggest a price at the highest end of the range. If the buyer counter offers, you can lower the sale price to an amount still within the acceptable range. That way you can get a fair price and the buyer can still feel like he or she got a great deal.