How Much is My Car Worth?

The vast majority of the people we talk to expect the process of finding out how much their car is worth to be something like spinning the wheel before the showcase showdown on the Price is Right. Sadly, technology has not yet quite caught up to be able to pull a magic lever to determine your car’s actual market value.

I say actual market value because there are guide books that offer suggested selling prices, but  oftentimes the number of buyers willing to pay the suggested selling price can be few and far between. So A major component of figuring out how much your car is worth is figuring out how much time, energy, and brain damage you are willing to go through in order to sell your car. If you are wanting to sell it quickly and painlessly, the answer to how much your car is worth is likely to be very different from how much your car is worth according to the online pricing guides.

KBB or not KBB that is the question?

Online pricing guide books do certainly have their place in figuring out how much your car is worth, however, they are sometimes more hurtful than helpful in the process because they can set unrealistic expectations, and can lead to frustration when you are ultimately unable to find the magical unicorn Kelley Blue Book says should pay you (queue the Dr . Evil voice) One Million Dollars.

The reason KBB is usually not the right, or not entirely the right resource to turn to when trying to figure out how much your car is worth is because for the most part when a private seller decides to sell a car—there is a reason. Typically there is an issue or a number of issues that the seller is no longer wanting or willing to deal with. KBB doesn’t do a great job of accounting for the repairs, maintenance, and automotive demonic presences that have led the seller to ultimately decide you know what? It’s time. Online pricing guides like Kelley Blue Book are a lot more accurate if you actually have a nice car, and aren’t getting rid of it because it has a ton of issues you don’t want to deal with anymore.

If your car is actually really nice, and if it is up to date on it’s maintenance (yes, that means the timing belt you have been procrastinating, and the whining differential you have been cranking up your Taylor Swift to avoid hearing), There are 5 main online pricing guides that can help you determine the value of your ACTUALLY NICE vehicle. Click on this link if you would like to learn more about these 5 pricing guides (spoiler alert KBB is usually not at the top of the list of which resources are most helpful in determining actual market value for your car)

If you are one of those sneaky sneaky guys or gals that is:

  1. saying no, no, no my car is nice; there’s nothing wrong with it even though you just filled the cooling system with stop leak 10 minutes ago. Or
  2. you have your fingers crossed behind your back while you say it, and are just praying your car stays together for another 15 minutes so you can get your money and it can be someone else’s problem.
  3. Are simply living in such a heightened state of delusion that you have convinced yourself that the zip ties and duct tape that are currently holding your car together came stock from the factory. Or
  4. Add unique list items while keeping a consistent phrasing style and similar line lengths
  5. are saying yeah I know— my car is a piece of crap, can you get to the point already?

Online Pricing Guides vs Salvage Value

Oh baby, let’s get into the good stuff! The majority of cars that people are trying to sell for cash are going to need some additional tools to accurately determine how much your car is worth with all of its clunks, quirks, and needed repairs. As a general rule of thumb if it meets at least one of the following criteria and especially if it meets  two or more, we will need to also factor in the salvage value to accurately assess how much your car is worth.

  • Hasn’t run for the past 6 months or more
  • Has major drivability issues with the engine, transmission, turbo,  transfer case, or differentials
  • has extensive body damage from a collision with another car, a pole, or Chuck Norris fist
  • Has a salvage or rebuilt/restored title
  • Based on online pricing guides has a retail value below $6,000
  • has over 180k miles
  • is 15 years old and older ***AND***  also meets one of the other criteria

Salvage value is a little more difficult to determine. It is rooted in the cost of steel, and the precious metals that can be recycled from an automobile. It fluctuates up and down based on the demand for steel and the precious metals found in components such as catalytic converters.

To determine the salvage value component of how much your car is worth typically requires making several phone calls to local wrecking yards or to your new favorite full service car buying service (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)

We help over 1,000 individuals and families each year that find themselves in this exact situation. Let’s look at an example of how and when salvage value comes into play. Let’s say you are trying to figure out how much your 2009 Subaru Outback with a blown head gasket is worth. The retail value of the car is hypothetically $6500 and replacing the engine is going to cost somewhere in the ballpark of $4500. Based on decades of experience a 15 year old car is also going to need another $2000 worth of maintenance to replace all of the brakes, struts, CV axles, sun visors, stereos, and oil leaks that have been neglected over the years. So based on that math your Subaru is worth…$0 based on the online pricing guides after we factor in all of the repair costs?

Obviously, the actual value of how much the car is worth is more than $0. In our Subaru example the salvage value of the steel and precious metals may be somewhere in the $300 range depending on the current price of metal.  BUT… if the car is extremely popular or has high valued parts, it may have a few hundred, to a few thousand in parts+ value that we can add to the salvage value of just the steel and precious metals. In general cars that have high enough parts value to qualify for a parts+ value add on need to have at least a $6000 resale value on the online pricing guides. (side note, unfortunately new tires, new battery, and new alternators contribute very little if anything to how much your car is worth.)


So in conclusion  to answer the question of how much is your car worth? First, figure out how much time you’re wanting or willing to spend in order to sell it. The price of how much it is worth will definitely be different if you are willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears of trying to sell it yourself than how much it is worth if you want to press the easy button and get rid of it quickly.

  • Use Online Pricing Guides If your car is really ACTUALLY nice, up to date on all of it’s maintenance, is newer than 15 years old, and has a retail value of at least $6,000
  • Use Online Pricing Guides (-) Cost of repairs (-) hassle cost of dealing with issues if the retail value of your car is more than $6,000 and the cost to fix all of the issues it has is less than 60% of what the car will be worth once all of the issues are taken care of
  • Use Salvage Value (+) Popular Parts Resell values – if your car has some major issues but has a retail value over $6,000 if it were to fully functioning condition.
  • If your car has a retail value of less than $6,000 and has some major mechanical issues or extensive body damage; I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but unless you want to spend a ton of hours listing it online fielding inquiries, dealing with scammers, and hopefully eventually finding someone willing to buy it from you; your car is most likely only worth the Scrap Metal Salvage Value. That  typically falls in the range of $50-$250 (sometimes up to $350-$400 if it is a larger vehicle or newer model)

Give us a call we are here to help you get cash for your car

If you are unsure which pricing guide best fits your vehicle, or if the thought of dealing with selling your car as a private seller has you unconsciously starting to curl up in the fetal position—give us a call. We have literally bought over 25,000 cars over the past 4 decades and would love to go through all of the information on your vehicle with you to see if our service is a good fit to help you sell your car for cash. I hope this article has been helpful, feel free to check out the other articles and other free resources we have available to help make figuring out how much your car is worth a lot less stressful and frustrating. Thanks again!

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