How Much Is My Car Worth?

2001 Dodge Durango used car

When it comes time to get into a new vehicle, and you’ve got one you need to sell, the first question to contend with is likely how much is my car worth? Listening to what your friend, who has the identical car, got for his vehicle and thinking you’ll get the same for yours is just wishful thinking. There are multiple factors that go into determining what a car is worth. Here’s how to navigate this minefield and get a more accurate reading on what your car is really worth.

Check out the pricing guides

Kelley Blue Book is the most popular of the online car pricing guides and provides a great deal of information. The easy-to-follow tabs allow you to figure out what your used car is worth if you trade it in, sell it yourself, or if you’re just curious to know its current value. By inputting your car’s year, make, model and mileage, selecting a category, style, and options and clicking “See Blue Book Value,” you’ll be shown trade-in and private-party (when you sell your car yourself) according to the vehicle’s condition: excellent, very good, good and fair.

NADA Guides is another website that provides straightforward pricing and serves as a go-to place for many consumers looking for their vehicle’s approximate worth. Enter your zip code first, then the year, make, model, trim, mileage and options and click “Continue.” The results page will show used car values based on the vehicle condition, in this case: rough trade-in, average trade-in, clean trade-in and clean retail (what a dealer sells it for).  The small downside of this online pricing guide is that there’s no private party value. But you can find that elsewhere, as in Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds and other sites.

Determine the “real” private party price

Using the pricing guides gives you a ballpark picture of what your car is worth right now, but if you want to drill down to get a more accurate snapshot, use a site such as AutoTrader.com or eBay Motors or Vast.com. You’ll enter various fields of information, such as year (or range of years), make, model, body style or trim, and the search results will show the selling price of cars matching your criteria for sale within the zip code radius you choose. AutoTrader.com gives you the option of selecting dealer and private sellers, dealers only, or private sellers only.

Figure out your actual trade-in value

Again, pricing guides are helpful in giving you a rough idea of your car’s trade-in value, but to really be more confident, you need to have the used car buyer at several dealerships tell you what they’re willing to pay. Most used car selling experts say to keep this activity completely separate from any new car buying experience. It’s never good to mix the two. What you want is a firm idea, in writing, of the trade-in price from the dealer.

The best way to do this is to contact several dealers in your area, tell them the details of your car and ask if they’re interested in looking at it. If they say yes, go ahead and make an appointment and go in to see what they’ll be willing to give you. Make sure that the dealer sells the same make and model you’re trying to trade in. Repeat this process for three or so dealers and you’ll have a much more realistic idea of the trade-in value of your car.

Other factors that impact car worth

There are, however, other factors that weigh in on how much your car is worth. Some of these you may not give much thought to, but they could make a considerable difference in the bottom line. The time of year you’re trying to sell a convertible or a four-wheel drive SUV will affect what it’s worth – a convertible commands more in the summer, while a four-wheel drive SUV may fetch more in the cold weather months or snow belt areas.

The state of the economy, what’s going on in Washington, overall consumer sentiment, whether there’s been a natural or man-made disaster, the weather and other factors play a certain role in determining how much your car is worth at a particular time.

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