How to Determine Your Car's Value

Stephen Fogel
February 6, 2019

how much is my car worth

If you’re facing a major repair, like a transmission rebuild or a failed head gasket, it’s smart to consider the estimated cost of the work versus how much your car is worth. But while we can help you out with an estimate, you’ll need to do a little more research to find out your car’s value.

Online pricing guides and estimators

If you’re considering selling your car, a good starting point is to check a few online or in-person resources to get a ballpark figure for its value. Here are four to start with.

Kelley Blue Book: Kelley Blue Book uses data that includes actual sales transactions and auction prices. By selecting “My Car’s Value” on the home page, you can get an appraisal of your car. In addition to year, make, model and mileage, KBB asks you to rate the condition of your car. It then provides you with two different values: the trade-in value if you trade your car to a dealer, and the private party value if you sell it yourself. Edmunds is set up primarily to sell you a car, but it does offer an appraisal tool. Its used car valuations are based on consumer information, dealer transactions, depreciation, and your vehicle’s age and mileage. This system is similar to KBB’s, providing you with trade-in and private party values. Edmunds also factors in transactions in your area.  

Autotrader: Autotrader is a huge nationwide online marketplace for buying and selling new and used cars. It uses data from its own listings to provide you with a valuation based on similar vehicles in your area. Using its valuation tool, you can choose from trade-in or private party values.

CarMax: CarMax and other used car superstores will give you a solid cash offer, and will pay you that amount on the spot, if you choose to sell. This is not an online tool, so you’ll need to drive to the nearest CarMax location for an appraisal. You’re not required to sell your vehicle to them, but their offer will give you an idea of the actual market value.

What factors into your car’s value

The major factors in your car’s value are the vehicle itself, and its condition. This can be broken down further as follows. 

Year, make, model and trim level: The basics about your car. If you have a 2012 Honda Accord LX, Accord is the model and LX is the trim.

Optional equipment: Additional items such as leather upholstery or a sunroof can increase your vehicle’s value. Sometimes these will be included as part of a “sport” or “luxury” package.

Color: Some colors are more in demand than others, and this can raise the value of the car.

Mileage: If your vehicle’s mileage is lower or higher than average for its age, this will play a role. 

Mechanical, interior and exterior condition: If your car has mechanical problems, body damage or stains on the inside, that can hurt the value.

Warranties: If your vehicle has some warranty left, and it’s transferable to the next owner, this will add value.

Service history: If you have had your vehicle serviced regularly, and have the records to prove it, your vehicle can be worth more to the next owner.

Prior accidents: A history of accidents will reduce your car’s value; any damage from an accident should be properly repaired.

Number of previous owners: The greater the number of previous owners, the lower the car’s value. A one-owner vehicle is the ideal.

Open recalls: If your vehicle has been recalled for anything, you should have it repaired before selling it; otherwise its value will be reduced.  

How to maximize what your car is worth

Obviously, some of these factors are out of your control — rolling back the odometer is illegal, after all. But there are a few things you can do to help improve your car’s value.

  • If your vehicle is past due for service, have it done now
  • Fix any mechanical problems
  • Replace the tires if they’re worn out
  • Wash and wax the exterior
  • Clean the interior
  • Collect and organize your service and repair records
  • Get any dings and dents in the body repaired
  • Have any open recalls taken care of by a dealer

Doing all this will not only improve how much your car is worth, it will also make it look and drive much better for you until you sell it.

How the marketplace decides your car's value

It’s helpful to do all you can to make your car worth more, but the fact is, your car’s actual value really comes down to how much someone is willing to pay for it.

Wherever the price ends up, a clean, shiny, dent-free used car in good running condition will always get top dollar. It’s definitely worth the effort.

So how does the used car market decide how much your car is worth? First come the items mentioned above, but those aren’t the only factors. 

Supply and demand: Used car values rise and fall with the number of buyers in the market. Excess used car supply usually lowers prices, while having more buyers than cars will raise them.

Your location: If you live in an area where winters are severe, there will be more demand for all-wheel drive vehicles. In warm, snow-free climates, front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive cars are more desirable.

Time of year: Four-wheel drive vehicles will bring higher prices as winter approaches, just as sports car and convertible prices peak when it starts getting warm out. 

Most common trim level: This is a reflection of new car buyers’ behavior. Most people want a well-equipped car, but don’t want to pay a premium for the top model. The middle trim level not only sells best new, but also meets the needs of most used buyers.  

Highly rated vehicle: If a vehicle or a manufacturer has won an award from a publication or a safety-related organization, the manufacturer will promote it heavily in its advertising. The car-buying public will be aware of it, in both the new and the used market. 

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.

No comments yet...

Sign in to comment

Related Questions

See what others have asked about this, or visit the Questions page to ask your own question.
Just wanted some outsider opinions on my situation. i have a 95 olds ciera with the 3100 eng. 206,000 miles. needs he...
Ther is a possibility that the heater core may be going. i have roughly 80,000 miles on the truck. is it worth repl...