Many of the factors that determine as used car's value are obvious. Buyers are always on the lookout for well-maintained cars with low miles, shiny paint and stain-free interiors. After all, who wouldn't want a like-new ride at a used-car price? But that's only part of the value equation. A car's worth, or lack of it, is also influenced by characteristics that have nothing to do with condition or quality.
Brand. Automakers work hard to establish a reputation for reliability. Fair or not, some brands are perceived as far more reliable than others. Their vehicles acquire automatic value on the used car market and depreciate more slowly than others. What brands are we talking about? The top mass-market brands are Subaru, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda and Toyota. In the luxury class, it's Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. These brands usually maintain more than 60 percent of their original value after the first three years of use. Brands below the top tier retain as little at 35 percent of their value during the same period.
Transmission. Most buyers insist on an automatic transmission. Although a manual transmission is acceptable or even preferred on high-performance cars, but it's a deal-breaker almost everywhere else. You might love your stick shift, but it will count against you at trade-in time. On average, cars with manuals are worth $1,000-$2,000 less than their automatic counterparts.
Paint color. The sure bets among mainstream cars are white, silver, and black. If your car is another color, shoppers are more likely to pass it up, no matter how beautiful it may look to you. The value will decrease in direct proportion to how the unusual the color is. An exotic custom paint job on a Toyota Camry could be the kiss of death.
Aftermarket accessories. Most non-factory upgrades and add-ons end up hurting a car's value. This is especially true if the modifications void the factory warranty. Buyers are generally skeptical of aftermarket components, even ones that are purely cosmetic. They perceive them as "unapproved" and therefore more likely to wear out or require upkeep.