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, there is a smidge more that goes into determining a car’s actual market value than just putting in a year, make, and model, and pulling a magic lever that will kick out an estimate of how much your car is worth.

At the most basic level, the value of a car is determined by how much someone is willing to pay for it. There are guidebooks that offer suggested selling prices, and you very well may find someone willing to pay that much for it, but at what cost? How long will it take to find someone willing to pay that number? How many people are willing to pay that much for your car?

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. Oftentimes the price that your car is worth if you are wanting to sell it quickly and painlessly is 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 set unrealistic expectations, and 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) are saying yeah I know— my car is a piece of crap, can you get to the point already?

How do I know how much my car is worth?

Online Pricing Guides vs Salvage Value

Like I mentioned before, most people are selling their car for a reason. So we need to determine if based on what your reason is, if we should use conventional online pricing guides, or if we should use salvage car values, or if we should use a hybrid of the two.

As a general rule of thumb if your car is either:

  • 15 years old or older
  • has a retail value below $6,000
  • has over 180k miles
  • Hasn’t run for the past 6 months or more
  • Has major mechanical 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

The online pricing guides like KBB are going to really struggle to provide you with an accurate estimate of how much your car is actually worth. If your car checks at least one of those boxes and especially if it checks two or more, I highly recommend you also factor in the salvage value for your vehicle in determining how much to sell it for, unless you would like to entertain a revolving door of scammer and tire kickers that are just going to waste your time.

We run into situations like this all of the time. For example let’s say you are trying to sell a 2008 Subaru with a blown head gasket for cash. The retail value of the car is hypothetically $6500 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 require 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?

This is where the salvage value comes in. Salvage value is a little more difficult to find. 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. Salvage value isn’t very easily accessible online, it typically requires making several phone calls to local wrecking yards or to your new favorite full service car buying service (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)

In our Subaru example the salvage value may be somewhere in the $300 range after factoring in the towing expense, but this is where it gets really exciting. There is a 3rd path for cars that have HIGHLY sought after used parts. I am not talking about the doors from your 1997 Ford Taurus, but cars that are extremely popular or have a higher than $6000 resale value often times have parts on them that are valuable for resale that can add a few hundred or a few thousand on top of the scrap metal salvage value of the car.


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.
  • Use Online Pricing Guides If your car is really 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+ Popular Parts Resell valuesif 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 your car is most likely only worth the Scrap Metal Salvage Value and unless you have the bandwidth to take all of the calls and deal with all of the showings, it is likely only worth $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 3 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!

“Running or not, here we come!”