Tips and advice

Car valuations: how to price your car

Our guide on how to get an accurate valuation of your used car, and pay the right price for its replacement

How to value a used car

You may be considering selling your car if you find you’re not using it enough or are looking to buy yourself an upgrade, but used car prices in the UK have been unpredictable over the past few years due to world events and supply shortages.

This can make finding the book value of your car harder, and when it comes time to sell your car, it can be difficult to calculate a fair asking price. However, there are tools to make it easy, whether it’s using a free used car price guide or entering your registration number using the valuation tool on our sister site Auto Express to get an up-to-date figure.

Your car’s trade-in value is likely not to be the best price you’ll get for it if you were to put in the time and effort to get the maximum market value for your car. Many services, such as webuyanycar.com, exist to give you an instant valuation for your car and while they may guarantee to buy your car and save you time, the offers can be disappointing, and negotiated even further down in person. If you can, it’s worth the research to work out how much your car is worth using an online car calculator or looking through car listings to estimate your car’s value against that of similar models for sale.

Service history, repair history, mileage, trim levels and year of manufacture are just a few of the factors to consider to estimate a car’s value so you know how to price your car. If you need to sell a car quickly and attract buyers’ attention, you may want to put it up for a lower, more attractive price; knowing the car’s value means you’re aware of the discount you’re offering. Ask for too much, on the other hand, and you’ll find the car fails to attract any attention at all.

Getting an accurate valuation of your car can also come in useful if your car is written off and you need to know whether the insurer’s settlement is fair or not. For cars on a PCP finance plan it also helps you make the decision to buy it outright or hand it back.

Every car has its own history and no one used car is identical to another. Each will have a unique service history, number of previous owners and total mileage – all which need to be factored in when working out a car’s value. These tips will help you find out how to get the best deal by setting an accurate price.

How much is my car worth?

Ferrari forecourt

Some new mainstream cars can lose as much as 60% of their value in the first three years of ownership. This is a general figure, however, and the actual loss depends on the type of car in question, because some more prestigious or sought after models can actually increase in value. 

In general, you’ll have to consider three main variables when working out the value of your car: the vehicle’s age, mileage and condition. Other factors also have an influence, such as whether the car has an automatic or manual gearbox, and whether the car has a petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric powertrain. Market demands can have an influence on this, so valuations can go out of date in a matter of months.

It’s easy to overlook, but your car’s value also depends on where in the country it is. Used car prices tend to be higher in the south compared to the north. The time of year can also have an effect on your car’s value – you’ll find that convertible car prices go up during spring, and SUVs in autumn and winter.

Optional extras can have an effect on the price, too, depending on how desirable they are. In some cases, a lack of extras can also be detrimental to a used car's value, particularly if it’s missing an item that most similar cars came with, like alloy wheels or air-conditioning. The easiest way to determine if your car stands out from the crowd is by searching used car websites for similar examples to your own car, and seeing what the majority of vehicles similar to yours have as advertised extras – to learn more about how options can affect prices, see our guide to optional equipment.

A car sold by a dealer will be more expensive than one sold by a private individual, so bear that in mind when setting your price. A dealer has many more costs including VAT on their profit, refurbishment expenses and overheads to consider. Cars sold from dealerships also often come with extra perks like a warranty or a fresh MoT. People accept this and will pay a dealer’s higher price. However, you can maximise the price of your vehicle by mimicking the benefits of buying from a dealer. Getting a new MoT shows potential buyers they have less chance of a costly repair within the next year. If you have any outstanding warranty on your vehicle that can be transferred to a new owner make this clear in the advert to make it even more appealing to buyers.

It’s better news for slightly older used cars, however, because the AA estimates that depreciation tends to level off around the eight year mark as long as the car is well cared for; it won’t lose as much value per year from then on.

It goes without saying that models from more prestigious brands tend to keep their value much longer – the likes of Ferrari, Lotus and Porsche are among the slowest-depreciating brands in the UK. There are some more surprising everyday brands in the top 10, however, with Dacia and Subaru some of the best at keeping their value.

How to value a car

Buyacar website

A good place to start when working out the value of a car is to look at prices of the same make and model on classified car ad websites such as BuyaCar. Most sites offer a way to filter by trim level, year and mileage, and some even give a rating that shows how reasonable the asking price is based on analytics of other nearly identical cars for sale.

There are also several used-car price guides you can refer to for pricing information such as Glass’s and CAP. These are favoured by the motor trade, although there are plenty of others available online.

Using one of the valuation tools, you’ll find there are four guide values.

  • Dealer price – The price of the car at a dealer.
  • Private sale – The price of the car when offered by a private seller.
  • Part-exchange value – What a dealer will offer you for your car if you want to trade it in against one they’re selling.
  • The trade price – This is usually split into three categories with names like poor, average, and clean. Essentially giving a different value depending on the condition of the car. This is what traders use to value cars they buy for stock.

It’s important to bear in mind that these values represent typical asking prices, and it’s not uncommon for the final sale price to be lower after buyers haggle with sellers. Values also differ between private sellers and dealers – buying from a dealer often means people are entitled to finance packages, plus a warranty and legal protection if any issues arise, and buyers are usually willing to pay more for this peace of mind than they are from a private seller.

Dealers have to make a living, so can likely command more than you can as a private seller. They may also be prepared to leave a car sitting on the forecourt for longer to get the right price, something a private seller may not have the option to do.

Bear in mind too when the car you’re selling is next due for an MoT test. A fresh MoT can be appealing to buyers, and you can probably get away with asking a little more money for the car as a result – but if issues crop up, it may also cost you hundreds to put the car through its test, and you won’t always get this money back at sale time.

How to get the best value for a car you’re selling

Selling your car

As previously mentioned, you can work out the asking price for your car by comparing it to others for sale around the same mileage, year, trim level and even location. For example, cars tend to be more expensive in southern England compared with the North. 

If your car is a little more niche, like a 4x4, sports car, or a classic, you might consider choosing where you advertise it a little more carefully. A website geared towards classic cars, for example, will attract buyers who are more prepared to pay a fair price for your classic, so it’s a good idea to look at prices for your car from a range of sources.

It’s also important to take into account the condition of your used car, especially a classic, since prices can fluctuate greatly depending on the quality of the paintwork, mechanical issues or presence of rust. Once again, a fresh MoT can be beneficial here, reducing any concerns a buyer might have over the condition of the car you’re selling.

Online car valuation

With so much to take into consideration, sometimes it’s a good idea to use an online car valuation tool. These sites help you get a quick valuation of your car by supplying just a few details. They use information about cars all over the UK which can save you manually searching for yourself.

These tools can be especially useful for more mainstream cars, because there is a range of examples to go by. However, they will be less helpful if you’re looking for a valuation of a classic or rare car – the value of these depends more on who is in the market for a specific vehicle at the time.

If you’re looking to find out how much your car is worth, you can use the free online valuation on our sister site AutoExpress.

How to price an older car

Fiat Coupe

Most price guides don’t give valuations for cars older than 10 years. It’s not surprising, since cars of that age can vary so much in mileage and condition that any guidance can only be very general.

Buyers of older cars are usually either looking for a particular car that interests them, or they’re in need of a suitable vehicle without a high price tag. Older cars tend to be viewed with different considerations than newer vehicles, with lower expectations that the car is reliable and in good working order. Buyers of older cars may be more concerned about service history, repairs to known faults, and overall condition than whether it is fitted with a particular optional extra or painted a certain colour.

Many cheap cars and so-called bargains may be described as ‘Cat C’ or ‘Cat D’ (or 'Cat N' and 'Cat S', more recently). These are terms for varying degrees of insurance write-off. Fortunately, they’re the less serious kind, but could still require work and may be difficult to insure. See our guide to write-offs including Cat D and Cat C cars for more.

Pricing a classic car

beetle convertible

The definition of a classic varies hugely around the world, with 25 years the accepted point in many countries, and FIVA, a global nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of classic and vintage vehicles, considers anything older than 30 years a historic vehicle. In the UK, anything over 40 years is considered a ‘historic vehicle’, and benefits from MoT and vehicle tax exemption.. If it’s still attracting a following at this age, there’ll be a loyal band of experts who’ll help you find out a fair price, whether you’re buying or selling.

Condition is an important aspect of a classic car’s value, with the full spectrum of cars available from rusty barn finds, to good condition usable classics, all the way to complete rebuilds. History is important, and completely original cars with thick folders supplied to give buyers the story of the car's life are some of the most desirable.

Due to this wide variety, classics can be particularly hard to value. If you are selling one with an active enthusiast community it can be easier to gauge its value. Similarly, asking around in the owners clubs can be a great way to accurately estimate a number for your vehicle. Classic car specialists such as Hagerty also provide valuation tools for classic models, based on data from classic car auctions, dealer sales, and verified private sales.

In the case of a rare vehicle that may be one of only a few remaining, specialists' auctions are sometimes better than selling yourself as they will likely have seen other cars like yours before, and be able to give you a good idea of the market.

We would always advise speaking to classic experts who specialise in that marque and/or model before attempting to value your own classic.

Take your time

With all things considered, whatever type of car you’re buying or selling is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Often the best course of action when selling is to have patience and wait until the right buyer comes along. If you’re looking to buy a car, the more you look at, the better your instincts will get at sensing how much the model should be worth and what you’re prepared to pay for it.

Importantly, if you’re not entirely sure how much to charge for a car at first, you can always start optimistically and lower the price if it’s not attracting much attention. 

Similarly, don’t rush into buying a car until you’ve weighed it up against other similar options and have the full picture. Remember, the asking price is not always the final price, so don’t be afraid to make a sensible offer. The worst a seller can do is say no.
 

Timing is everything when buying and selling a car, read our article on the best time to buy a new car for the best deals...

Charlie writes and edits news, review and advice articles for Carbuyer, as well as publishing content to its social media platforms. He has also been a regular contributor to its sister titles Auto Express, DrivingElectric and evo. As well as being consumed by everything automotive, Charlie is a speaker of five languages and once lived in Chile, Siberia and the Czech Republic, returning to the UK to write about his life-long passion: cars.

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