Ask LH: How Can I Determine The Real Value Of My Car?

Ask LH: How Can I Determine The Real Value Of My Car?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m hardly a savvy sales person, and I need to sell my car. I know how much I paid for it and how long I’ve had it, but I don’t know how to translate that into a selling price. How can I figure out how much my car is worth? Thanks, Sticker Shock

Photo by Paulo Ordoveza

Dear Shock,

Figuring out how much your car is worth isn’t easy, though it all boils down to how much you can get someone to pay you for it. While every working vehicle has some level of intrinsic “value”, how much is a negotiation between you and the buyer. If you can get someone to pay you $500,000 for your old wreck, then it’s worth $500,000. (You won’t, but that’s how it works.)

There are other reasons you might need to find out the value of your car, even if you’re not selling it. If you total your car, knowing how much it was worth before the accident can help get you the most money from your claim. You would also want to know how much it’s worth if you plan to use your car as collateral for a personal loan. And, of course, if you’re buying one, overpaying is the last thing you want to do.

Get A Value Estimate

The main providers of car price valuations in Australia are RedBook and My Car Price. If you want a more specific price that reflects your car’s condition and features, you’ll need to pay $22 for a detailed price estimate from RedBook, or $16.50 from My Car Price.

Find Listings For Similar Cars

You may not need to pay that fee. Unless you’re dealing with very old or very rare cars, someone out there is probably selling a vehicle that’s very similar to yours. Search used car listings in your area for vehicles that are the same make, model, and year as your vehicle and see how much others are charging. The obvious sites to check are eBay, Gumtree, Drive, The Trading Post and Carsales.

In doing your research, be sure to look at similar cars, not just identical ones. Knowing how much your exact year and model of car is worth is a big help, but not all buyers will be as picky.

Factor In Condition And Extras

Mileage is a huge factor in determining what a car is worth. A vehicle with low kilometres has clearly been used less, which means it’s worth more. (These values will be reflected if you pay for an estimate, but may require more research if you’re trying to offload a vehicle which has been used differently to most other models of the same vintage.) Extras such as the sound system, sun roofs, convertible tops, and any enhancements your car has can increase the cost.

Negotiate Up

Worked out a target price using those resources? Now, bring that price up. Remember, it’s your car and you want to get as much value for it as possible. The buyer/insurance agent/loan officer/whoever you’re dealing with on the other side of the table will do their job to bring it down. Use your information as a baseline to know how much your vehicle deserves and don’t go below what you know you can get. From there, talk it up.

Promote all the extras. Talk about the car’s excellent condition. If you’re selling to a person, try to appeal to what they want in a car and highlight those features. If you’re trying to argue an insurance claim, point out ways in which your vehicle is better than others on the market (lower mileage for its year, better condition, fewer accidents prior to the wreck in question). Some cars may have more value than others, but every car has something to offer. Even if it doesn’t run, it could be used for parts or scrap metal.

Ultimately, your car is worth whatever you can convince someone to pay for it. Some people prefer to get a moderate amount of money up front if they can get it in cash, while others will hold out as long as possible to get every last cent they can. Once you know what your car has going for it and how much those assets can go for on the open market, how high you’re able to go all depends on how good your negotiation skills are.


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  • I would point out that currently the market in Australia is very pro buyer. Due to over 2 million new cars being sold over the last two years, the number of second hand cars for sale has increased significantly.

    There are literally hundreds if not thousands of identical models for sale in each state (with a few exceptions). If you want to get the sale you need to be immaculate with your presentation, throw in some goodies and have a low price.

    Im currently in the market for a particular car, and have identified 3x people who i am negotiating with.

    1x I have negotiated down from $19,500 to $15,000.
    1x I have negotiated down from $21,000 to $15,500
    1x I have negotiated down from $18,500 to $13,800

    Now all i have to decide on is the colour…..

    Unless you have a unique, immaculate or highly sought after car, you are at the mercy of us 🙂

  • Redbook is an absolute crock. You’ll find many many cars where the red book value is so low you could barely buy a crashed one at auction for that much money. The best way to work out value is work out what everyone else is selling theirs for, if you want to sell it quicker make it a little cheaper, if not sell it around the same. One of the best things you can do is clean the damn car properly and take awesome pictures of it, everyone else selling theirs has terrible pictures so it’s the easiest way to make it stand out. Oh and don’t bloody take pictures of your car on the lawn, it ALWAYS looks crap.

  • Just curious.. is it generally true that you will get more for it as a trade-in than if you tried to sell it outright? I’ve always been under the impression that if you use it as a trade-in for another car, that they will give you slightly more than the market value so they get a sale of the car you are buying… how true is that?

    • Only trade in if you are desperate for $$ – you will typically get 20-40% less for a trade in then a private sale.

      Mind you, if (for example) you are trying to sell a Toyota Corolla and you are up about 3,000 others in your state….well you might be better off to trade in (unless you have an amazing example).

      • Thanks both.. I’ll just keep the car as a 2nd car then.. It’s only a cheap car to begin with.. the model I have is selling for around $8,000 with same amount of km’s etc.. which is around $6,000 less than I paid.. I actually like the car a lot.. but it’s just too small for my growing family.

  • Excellent article! I would just add one more thing, if you can’t find a buyer for your car just yet, don’t be too upset just yet. There are a lot of other avenues that you can go through to get more “Exposure”. Perhaps check with you car financing company if they know of anyone looking for a used car and you might get lucky!

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