How Much Is My Car Worth?

There are a few reasons why you may ask, “How much is my car worth?” You could be selling your car or it could have been totaled in an accident. Maybe you are self employed and need to know the value for accounting purposes. When asking this question, the reason you ask is just as important as the answer.

If you are looking to sell your car, you must consider who the car is being sold to. If you car is being sold to a used car dealer, traded in on another purchase or sold to a private party will make the difference in what your car is worth to those individuals. You should also understand that you will not know the exact value of your car until you actually settle on a deal. You can only find an estimate from which to begin negotiations.

There are several Internet resources that will help you find out how much your car is worth. Going online is usually the easiest way to gather this kind of information. The following sites offer respected valuation services for free. Select “Used Car Prices” from the home pages of these sites.

  • Kelley Blue Book (KBB)
  • NADA Guides (NADA)
  • Edmunds

Before pricing your vehicle at any of these websites, there is some information you will want to have on hand. These include:

  • Your Zip Code
  • Body Style
  • Year
  • Make
  • Model
  • Trim Package
  • Engine Size
  • Options
  • Mileage
  • Vehicle Condition



Each service has its own way of looking at the condition of your vehicle. KBB offers four condition classifications and Edmunds has five. NADA does not ask you for the condition of your car. It only offers three types of trade-in values. NADA does not offer a private-party selling value.


KBB gives you the options of excellent (like new), good (minor blemishes), fair (needs a little work), poor (major problems). The site will not value cars in poor condition because prices can vary wildly on such cars. If you are unsure how to classify the condition of your car, the website offers a condition quiz to help you. It is the most user-friendly of the sites.

Edmunds Used Car Appraiser

Edmunds, one of the newer vehicle valuation sites on the Web, offers condition classifications of outstanding (perfect in and out), clean (minor, normal wear), average (few mechanical or cosmetic problems), rough (several repairs needed), and damaged (major mechanical problems and body damage).  The vehicle appraiser is more visually based that KBB, offering images of the car you are researching during the valuation process.

Each of these valuation services will give you very different trade-in numbers on the same vehicle. For instance, a 1999 Mercury Mystique with 90,000 miles in New England can have a trade in value ranging from $900 to $2,000, depending on which site you use to value your car.

You should also understand that seasonal and economic factors influence demand and therefore car prices. For example, a convertible is more valuable in the summer. In the current economic climate, it is nearly impossible to find a GMC pickup for book value. The demand is high and the market scarce for some used vehicles.

Trading It In

Once you have done some basic research, call the dealer and start at the highest price for trade in and negotiate a deal. Make sure you keep a list of all the positive points about your car as ammunition for this discussion.

You should also understand that you can try to sell the car for trade-in value to another dealer. You do not have to use the dealer where you are buying another car. You can simply sell the car to another dealer before buying from the other one.

Selling Privately

Look up your car’s value on KBB and Edmunds. NADA’s values are not very effective for private sales because they only classify vehicle conditions for trade-ins. Looking on KBB and Edmunds, the same Mercury Mystique we looked at for trade-in value has a much higher private party value. The range for private party sales was $1,730 to $1,843. This gives you a much better idea of how much you could get for your car on the private market.

If there is a large gap between the private party values, it is a good idea to peruse AutoTrader and Ebay Motors to find similar cars for sale. This will give you a better idea of the best valuation on your car before you place an ad or park the car out front with a sign on it.

Total Loss

If your car is a total loss, you will need to understand the value of your car so you can negotiate a settlement with your insurance company. Use the same method you used for the private party sale value but understand you will have to do some negotiating.

In most cases, the insurance adjuster offers the lowest reasonable value for the car and it is up to you to talk the adjuster up, based on the condition of your vehicle. The adjuster does not use KBB, NADA or Edmunds. Most insurance companies have private companies that perform valuation services for them. This is the main reason for discrepancies between the insurance company’s opinion of value and yours.

When negotiating a settlement, understand that some value arguments will only increase the salvage value of your car. This would actually detract from the final settlement check. For instance, if the tires were brand new, they do not increase the overall value of the car because tires are only a maintenance item. However, tires do increase the salvage value, which the insurer deducts from the total settlement amount.

The things that can increase your settlement value are vehicle options the adjuster did not include in the valuation. This can include items like leather seats, sunroof, spoilers and stereo equipment. Find any documentation you may have to prove you had these additional options and send them to the adjuster as proof. This will make negotiating and settling on a final value easier.