You’ve decided to sell your car and you need to set a realistic price. Maybe you’re going to trade your car in for a new one and want to make sure you get the full value. Or, you might be thinking about refinancing your auto loan and are worried you might be upside down on it, meaning you owe more than the value of your car.
There are many reasons why you might need to know how much your car is worth. Fortunately, there are also many tools to help you estimate an accurate price.
Your first — but not last — source of pricing information should be free online pricing guides from Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book and the National Automobile Dealers Association.
Your first source of pricing information should be free online pricing guides.
You can look up your car, answer a series of questions and get an approximate value. You’ll notice a difference in pricing among the various guides. That’s because each source draws from slightly different data. However, the prices should be within several hundred dollars of each other.
Get an accurate price
Pricing guides are just that — guides that help you estimate a price, not precise tools to be followed to the penny. Even so, you’ll need to determine the following information to get an accurate price:
You’ll need key information about your car to determine an accurate price.
Year, make and model
Say you have a 2010 Nissan Sentra SL. The “SL” is the version of the model, sometimes called the “trim level.” If you don’t know this detail, look for the chrome letters on the back of the car. You can also find all this information in your owner’s manual or on your vehicle’s title.
Color and optional equipment
Some colors are more popular and will command a higher price. Optional equipment is features that don’t come standard with the model. Examples are heated seats, a sunroof and leather seating. Sometimes, optional equipment is grouped in a package and given a fancy name, such as the sport or convenience package.
Different pricing guides use different ways of describing the condition of the vehicle. For example, Edmunds uses Outstanding, Clean, Average, Rough and Damaged. Whichever words they use, read the description of the condition level carefully and be honest when evaluating what matches your car.
Each mile you drive reduces your car’s value. If you’ve driven more than the average amount of about 12,000 to 15,000 miles a year, the value of your car is reduced. If you’ve kept your car in the garage and it has fewer than the average miles, your car is worth more.
Understand the prices
Once you’ve input all this information, you may see several different prices.
- Trade-in: This is about what you should get if you trade in your car at a dealership when you buy a new car
- Private party: This is for selling to anyone other than a car dealer. If you advertised your car and sold it yourself, this is about what you should expect to get after negotiations.
- Dealer retail: This is about what the price would be if your car were being sold by a dealer
- Certified pre-owned: A certified pre-owned vehicle, which includes an inspection and extended warranty, bumps the price up above dealer retail
Compare it with similar cars
When selling a house, a good real estate agent prices it by looking at “comps,” or comparable properties. You should follow the same general practice when you’re setting a price for your car.
Check the listings of comparable cars for sale in your area.
Go to listing site Autotrader and put in the information about your car, as if you were searching to buy your own car. When you see the results, find cars that closely match yours. Pay attention not only to the asking prices — what the seller would like to be paid — but also how many similar cars are for sale.
It’s also worth doing searches for cars similar to yours on both Craigslist, which is localized, and eBay Motors, which can reach buyers across the country.
Put it all together
Following these recommendations will give you a clearer picture of the market in your area. But remember the market is changing constantly due to the weather, holidays and available inventory. The value you set for your car will ultimately be a combination of many factors — including a gut feeling about the desirability of your car.
Keep one thing in mind, though: While it’s important to know what the value of your car might be — using the tools we’ve described here — the real price of your car is what someone else is willing to pay for it.