How to Determine Used Car Values

June 10, 2016
Calculating Used Car Value

A used car's current cash value depends on a number of factors, including age, mileage, options and condition. For any used car there are two prices: retail and wholesale. The retail price is always higher. It's what you can expect to pay for the car at a dealership. If you're buying from a private seller, the retail price will be somewhat lower. The wholesale price, also known as trade-in value, is what a dealer will pay for the vehicle, which will then be resold at a higher price for a profit.

In the wholesale end of the business, a car can actually command several prices. One is what the dealer offers a customer on a trade-in. Then there’s a dealer-to-dealer price when one dealer sells that car to another. If the car goes to a wholesale auction, and many do, there will be an auction price. Dealers and brokers may buy auction cars for resale. Every step of the way, the middlemen take a markup and the car acquires a new “value.”

The first step in assessing a used vehi­cle’s true worth is to check its book value. This is the figure provided by pricing publications and websites. These guides will give you a general idea of market value. Next, search local listings (print or online) to see what actual sellers are asking for similar vehicles where you live. Keep in mind that these are asking pricing, not what buyers are really paying for the car in question. Assume that all such prices are negotiable to a reasonable degree unless otherwise stated in the listing. Between the pricing guides and your own research, you can assess what a car is realistically worth in your area. Whether you're buying, selling, or trading, you should arm yourself with this knowledge before approaching the other party.