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How to figure out how much your car’s worth

Check the resale value before trading in or selling your vehicle.

The first step to selling your car is finding out how much it’s worth. But it’s also an important step when using your car as collateral for a loan — or even making sure your car loan isn’t upside down. While free online services can give you a pretty good idea of your car’s worth, you might need to pay for a professional appraisal if you’re using it to secure a loan or going through a divorce.

How to get an estimate online in 4 steps

Getting an estimate online is a great way to make sure you’re getting a fair deal before you sell or trade in your car. It won’t be the most accurate, but it can give you a ballpark idea of what your car should be worth.

Step 1: Gather your information

Have the following details about your vehicle on hand before getting started with a car-pricing service:

  • Year
  • Model
  • Make
  • Mileage
  • Color

To get a more accurate quote, you might also have to provide details about the condition of the vehicle or any additional features you added on.

What do I need to know about the condition?

It helps to take a good look at the car’s exterior, interior and mechanics before you go online. Take note of any damages, like dents, scratches and other repairs. Many pricing services have their own grading system or ways of weighing your car’s condition based on feedback you provide.

Step 2: Visit multiple car-pricing services

Get quotes from multiple car-pricing services to get a range of values for your vehicle. Each site has different standards for condition and might give you slightly different quotes. Some popular sites include:

  • Edmunds. Shows you the average price someone in your area has paid for the kind of vehicle you own.
  • Kelley Blue Book. Its calculators can give you the different prices of new, used and certified preowned vehicles in your area.
  • NADA Guides. Estimates prices on sales of similar vehicles across the country.
  • Carfax. Can help you price your current car and figure out the true value of any new car you plan on purchasing.
  • Consumer Reports. Offers a car-pricing service on top of helping the public advocate for more transparency from companies.

Step 3: Get quotes for multiple types of car values

How much your car is worth varies depending on how you plan to sell it. Look up the following values before you decide what you plan on doing with your car:

  • Trade-in value. How much you’d get from a dealership if you traded in your car for another vehicle. Also known as the wholesale price, this is usually lower than other types of car values.
  • Private-party value. The amount you might be able to earn from selling it to a private individual. This is generally higher than the trade-in value.
  • Dealer retail value. How much a dealership would receive for selling your used car. This is often higher than the trade-in and private-party value.

Typically, you need to fill out a form with information you gathered about your car and where you live — prices can vary by location. The more information you provide, the more accurate the estimate will be.

What’s the certified preowned value?

Some dealerships sell used cars that have been inspected by the manufacturer — called certified preowned (CPO) vehicles. These come with an extensive warranty that covers everything except damages that come from regular car use. Typically, these have a higher value than most used cars, thanks to the warranty, but still cost less than a new car.

Step 4: Compare the price to similar vehicles in your market

Once you’ve gotten a few estimates from car-pricing sites, take a look at the current market to see how cars similar to yours are selling. Search for your make, model and year on sites like Autotrader.

Take note of the number of similar cars on the market as well as the asking price. If there’s a high volume of cars like yours, you might not be able to negotiate as high of a price as you might otherwise — it could be worth waiting until there’s fewer similar vehicles on the market.

How to get an appraisal

Getting your car appraised might be necessary if you want to use your vehicle as collateral for a loan, it’s part of a divorce settlement or you’re in another situation where you need a certificate stating its value. Appraisals can sometimes set you back around $100 per vehicle, but you’ll get the most accurate quote.

Typically, you need to bring in your car for an inspection, which can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours depending on where you go.

Where to get an appraisal

You have a few options when it comes to getting your car appraised. Many dealerships will appraise your car when you try to sell it — though you might be able to get a more unbiased opinion elsewhere. You can also get your car appraised through a professional appraiser — typically you can find these online, through an attorney or even by contacting a real estate office.

Auction houses also sometimes appraise vehicles and can be particularly helpful if you have an antique or exotic car.

4 tips for getting your car appraised

Here are a few pointers to ensure you get the most accurate appraisal:

  • Go to an independent source. You can usually get a more accurate quote from an appraiser that doesn’t have any potential ulterior motives, rather than a dealership looking to make a higher profit from a trade-in.
  • Ask if it uses USPAP. One way to tell if an appraiser is legit is by asking if they rely on Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). USPAP provides specific guidelines and best practices to help give the most accurate valuation.
  • Look for ASA membership. The American Society of Appraisers (ASA) provides a 26-point checklist for appraising a car, which is considered an industry standard.
  • Clean up your car. Give your car a wash, vacuum the seats and make any small adjustments so you can present your vehicle at its best.

Do I need to get my car appraised?

An appraisal might be more accurate, but it’s usually not necessary if you’re just interested in selling or trading in your car. Generally, you only need to get your car appraised in situations where you need a certificate stating its value. For example, if you intend to use your car as collateral for a loan, you might be required to get it appraised. Otherwise, it might not be worth the money.

However, you might want to get your car appraised if you’ve made a lot of changes to the vehicle or it’s difficult to describe its condition. Rare or old cars might also benefit from an appraisal, especially if you can’t find prices online.

I know what my car’s worth. What’s next?

Have an idea of what your car is worth? You have a few options:

  • Trade it in. Bring your car to a dealership and trade it in for a different vehicle. You’ll have to cover the difference between the trade-in value of your car and the retail price of the new vehicle.
  • Sell it. Post ads on sites like Craigslist, Autotrader and eBay Motors to get a higher price for your vehicle.
  • Invest in improvements. If your car is too banged up to get a good deal, it could be worth investing in some improvements before making a sale.

Thinking of trading in? Consider depreciation

You may have heard that a new car loses 20% of its value as soon as you drive it off the lot. But that’s not always the case. Different cars lose value at different rates. Paying attention to your car’s rate of depreciation can help you time when to trade in your car to get the most bang for your buck.

How depreciation works on cars

Bottom line

Getting several quotes from different online sources can help you get a more accurate picture of how much your car is worth when you want to sell it or refinance your car loan. In cases where you need a certified estimate, however, you might have to pay for a professional appraisal. You can learn more about auto financing with our guide to car loans.

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