Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.
There are two primary resources for researching your car’s value: pricing guides and online retailers. Guides provide estimated ranges, while online retailers make on-the-spot offers.
There are many reasons you might want to find out what your car is worth. Maybe you’ve decided to sell your car and you wonder how to set a competitive price. Or maybe you're thinking about refinancing your auto loan and are worried you might owe more than the car is worth.
Fortunately, there are many tools to help you estimate your car’s value — and now, many of them will offer to write you a check.
Understanding car values
While it might sound odd, a car has different types of values. How you’re selling it, if you’re trading it in and who’s paying for it affects a vehicle’s estimated value. Here’s a quick rundown of the types of values that are often discussed online when you’re researching your car’s worth:
Trade-in value: This is the lowest amount you will likely be offered for your car by a dealership, sometimes called the wholesale price. This tells you about what you should get if you trade in your car at a dealership when you buy another car. In most states, you'll need to consider the tax savings that could make a trade offer attractive.
Private party resale value: This is the amount you'll likely get for selling your car to anyone other than a dealer. This value is often more than the trade-in value but less than the retail value. If you advertised and sold your car yourself, this is about what you should expect to get after negotiations.
Dealer retail value: This is even higher than the trade-in or the private party price. It’s about what the asking price would be if your car were being sold by a dealer.
Certified pre-owned value: Some used cars are inspected and sold along with a bumper-to-bumper warranty. These certified pre-owned cars command a higher price as indicated by some pricing guides.
When you're looking up car values, estimates are potential values. When it comes down to it, a price isn’t a sure thing unless it’s stated as an offer.
How to find your car’s resale and trade-in value
Pricing guides and online retailers are useful great tools to help you find the value of your car. Guides provide estimated ranges, while online retailers make on-the-spot offers.
Pricing guides can give you an estimate of your car’s value based on the information you provide about its age, mileage, condition and features. But since the guides don't write checks for cars, take them for what they are: data-driven estimates based on recent sales and seasonal trends.
Edmunds pioneered the concept of “true market value” pricing, based on real-world dealership transactions, to show the average price paid for a car in your area. Providing this impartial information helps consumers negotiate based on real-world data.
Kelley Blue Book offers an easy-to-use car value calculator that shows trade-in, private party and even certified pre-owned car pricing. Kelley has sometimes been criticized for presenting prices that favor car sellers — low numbers for trade-ins and high prices for dealer sales.
NADA guides, created by the National Automobile Dealer’s Association, uses data on millions of car transactions to get an approximate value. This pricing estimator is backed by car sellers, and it is considered accurate by experts. The estimated value is what someone could reasonably expect to pay for a vehicle.
You’ll probably notice some variation in pricing among the guides. That’s because each uses different data and unique algorithms. However, the car values should be within several hundred dollars of one another.
Companies like CarMax, Vroom, AutoNation and Carvana allow you to sell, buy and trade in your vehicle from the comfort of your computer. Instead of driving to a dealership and talking with a salesperson, you can enter data about your car and receive an actual offer.
An online retailer’s offer will generally be more reliable than an estimate from a pricing guide. That’s because online retailer offers are based on real-time data and tend to reflect current market conditions specific to your location. What you get from pricing guides, on the other hand, are average ranges that aren’t customized to you — and dealers can negotiate those prices down.
However, keep in mind that most online retailers will need to inspect your vehicle to ensure the information you provided is accurate. They may lower their offer if the car's condition is not as described. Online offers are often non-negotiable.
Online retailers can also lowball offers in certain conditions. This is common with older or rare cars where data isn’t available to support demand. It can also happen if your car is not a big seller, in which case a retailer might offer a low amount because it'll be harder for them to resell.
If you feel that an online retailer’s offer is lower than it should be, compare it with pricing guide estimates and offers from other online retailers. This will help you understand your car's value so you can better decide what you want to do with it.
Some online retailers will show you an offer and compare it to a pricing guide’s estimated value range, which might make the offer look sweet. Keep in mind that pricing guides and online retailers might describe car conditions differently, so the two values may not be comparable. Do your own research to evaluate the comparison.
» MORE: How to sell your car
Information you'll need to estimate your car's value
You’ll typically need to gather the following information to get a price on your vehicle. The more accurate you are, the more reliable your estimate or offer will be.
Year, make and model. Say you have a 2015 Nissan Sentra SL. "Sentra" is the model, and “SL” is the trim level. To find your trim level, look for the chrome letters on the back of the car. You may also find this in your owner’s manual or on your vehicle’s title, or by looking up the vehicle identification number (VIN) in a free online database like Carfax.
Color and optional equipment. The color of your vehicle can have an impact on its value, so be specific if given an option to select more than just standard colors. Optional equipment includes any features that don’t come standard with the model, such as heated seats, a sunroof or leather upholstery. Sometimes, optional equipment is grouped in a package and given a fancy name like the sports or convenience package.
Vehicle condition. Pricing guides use varying terms to describe the condition of vehicles. Read the description of each condition level carefully and be honest when evaluating what matches your car to avoid receiving an inaccurate estimate. According to Kelley Blue Book, people tend to overestimate their car’s condition. Unless the car is showroom fresh, it is unlikely to be "outstanding," for example.
Mileage. Every mile you drive reduces your car’s value. Research by the U.S. Department of Transportation shows the average driver travels about 14,000 miles per year. If you’ve driven more than that, the value of your car is likely reduced. Provide the exact mileage of your vehicle for the most accurate offer.