How Much is Your Car Worth?

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Car buying & selling car guide

One of the most confusing and daunting parts of buying a car is getting the right price for your old one and making sure you aren’t paying too much for your new one. It’s a minefield, but there is no need to worry because we are here to help!

The first thing to remember is that there is no right answer; cars are like any other commodity and are only worth what someone is prepared to pay for them.

Even then, the price will vary. It’s like buying foreign currency to take on holiday with you. You are quoted two prices: the price to sell and the price to buy, with the difference being the profit.

Buying and selling a car is exactly the same. If you sell to a dealer it is less hassle than selling privately, but you will get a lower price because he has to make a profit out of the transaction. Buy privately and save money; buy from a dealer and gain peace of mind. Simple, eh?

Welcome to Car Valuation 101:

Valuing a Car You Want to Sell

sell your carSelling a car is easy. It only gets hard when you try and get a fair price for it. The world is full of chancers out to fleece you given half a chance, but if you follow these rules carefully your car will gain value and be more attractive to genuine buyers as a result.

Presentation

Present the car to its best advantage; give it a good clean or, if you are as lazy as us, pay someone to valet it thoroughly. Trust us; it’ll be the best £200 you’ll ever spend. Take out all of your personal belongings, remove stickers from windows, and clear out the boot. You want to give the potential owner room to imagine it’s a new car. (That’s how we all think, isn’t it? We tell people we’ve “bought a new car”, even when it’s secondhand, so don’t ruin the illusion.)

Service History

When you’ve cleaned it you need to service it – but don’t worry, you don’t need to be a mechanic. Get the AA or Halfords to fit a new oil filter and oil. Pop on a new air filter yourself and top up the coolant with a decent anti-freeze mix. Fill the screenwash and pump up the tyres and you are done.

Now get all the paperwork together: service bills, old MOTs, the registration document, and anything else that could conceivably be called ‘service history’. Pop it in a folder and offer it to every single person who comes to look at the car; most won’t read it but all will assume that it adds value…

MOT and Tax

Vehicle excise duty, or good old-fashioned road tax, adds value way beyond the amount on the disc, so if it only has a couple of months to run pop another six-months-worth on. After all, it can always be used as a negotiating lever with a potential buyer – and if you don’t like the price they offer you can sell without it and cash it in easily and quickly.

Never sell a car with less than six-months’ MOT as short MOTs reek of desperation and imminent problems. Pop a new ticket on the car unless the repair costs are prohibitive, in which case you need to advertise and keep your fingers crossed that the prospective buyer doesn’t look at the failure sheet.

What? I hear you cry! Yes, anyone can look at an MOT failure sheet for any car, something we’ll cover in a later article. Suffice to say, we’ve used this time and time again to vet cars we are interested in and about half the time it’s revealed a sordid past…

The Advert

Now, take some brilliant pictures of the car and write the advert. The pictures are easy; you need a dozen of the exterior and interior and they need to be in focus. If the car has faults then photograph them too.

What needs to go in the advert? Anything that adds value – and that includes the bad bits. Every single car has at least one fault, so listing them makes you look honest. Tell them what the mileage is, how long the MOT and tax run for, what the tyres are like, and if it has a good service history.

But never tell them that it’s reliable, the engine is good, or anything else that can’t be substantiated; if you do, and the engine goes bang, you could be liable.

Then add the price. This is the daunting bit, but it isn’t hard if you are honest with yourself. Search eBay for completed listings and see what similar cars sold for – and what they didn’t sell for. Look at Autotrader and Pistonheads’ classifieds. Read the car magazines. Value it on parkers.co.uk.

The reality is though, that you know what your car is worth by now so don’t be greedy; in these post-internet days you cannot ask over the odds and expect people to travel on a wing-and-a-prayer that you’ll drop by more than about 10%.

Now sit back and watch the buyers flock to you. No, seriously, if you’ve done your job properly they will. And then, when you’ve got the cash in the bank, you can do it all in reverse, and buy your new car.

Valuing a Car You Want to Buy

Buying a used carThe same rules apply when you are buying a car – almost. We’ll assume that you are buying a car to use, rather than to make a profit on, and that you intend to keep it for a couple of years or so.

Look on eBay, Autotrader, Exchange and Mart; anywhere and everywhere to get a feel for the market. Go and look at some cars, and talk to some owners. Knowledge is power and power means paying less.

Age

Newer cars are worth more than older cars, something so self-evident that it doesn’t need us to point it out. Or does it?

Take a car registered on the 28th February 2013. This will wear a ‘62’ plate. The same car, registered one day later, will wear a ‘13’ plate and be more in demand when it comes to sell it on the secondhand market.

You can use this to your advantage; some dealers are so desperate to sell a pre-registered car that they will knock thousands off the price to get it sold before a plate change. This saving may well offset the loss you will make when it comes to sell it on, so do the maths and don’t get too hung up on registration dates. We’ve seen pre-registered cars with fewer than 1,000 miles advertised at less than half the showroom price for a brand new one.

Mileage

Modern cars are so reliable that 100,000 miles only means that they’re nicely run in – and a high mileage generally means that the car has been sitting on a motorway at low engine revs for mile after mile after mile. This is a Very Good Thing; the oil is warm, mechanical stresses are low, the brakes, clutch, and suspension are hardly being used, and it will have been serviced on the dot.

Yet the public hates high-mileage cars. Offer a low-mileage car owned by a little old lady alongside a high-miler, ex-fleet car and former will sell more quickly and for more money, even if it has never had chance to warm up, suffers from a dodgy clutch, and dozens of parking dings. Weird, huh?

So, if you are buying a car don’t be afraid of one showing high mileage; buy on condition, not miles. But offer low, of course…

Condition

Talking of which, the overall condition of the car is the biggest variable after age, mileage, and colour. This can, again, be used to your advantage.

If you are buying, look beyond surface dirt; factor in the cost of a valet and knock twice that amount off the asking price. Ditto worn tyres, a cigarette burn in the seat, or a dent in the door. All are fairly cheap to fix – just make sure you factor in the cost of doing and then add a bit on for your time. This is how the trade adds value and increases their profit.

Colour

Colour is subjective but there are some rules; executive and premium cars sell best in silver and sober, dark colours. Small, city cars sell best in bright colours. Sports car look good in silver and red. No-one likes brown cars. These are immutable rules and if you break them you will pay the price; that pink Range Rover might suit you down to the ground but it won’t half cost you when it comes to selling it. (Unless Katie Price is around, in which case your problems might not be limited to selling your car…)

MOT

Never, ever buy a car with a short MOT. If it only has a couple of months to run there is a reason. The days of dodgy MOTs are (mostly) gone, but double-check the MOT online anyway; if nothing else it will give you the advisories, so you know what to expect when you MOT in a year.

History

Cars with service history, a wedge of old MOTs, and a boxful of receipts are worth more than those without – and they’re worth every penny. They will be more reliable, better to drive, and worth more when you come to sell.

Just make sure you keep the servicing up to date, won’t you?

Walk Away

Unless you are buying a very rare, very old classic car there are dozens, if not hundreds, of your model out there. So offer a fair price and walk away if you can’t do a deal you are comfortable with. Leave them your number and be prepared to wait.

The only cars we’ve ever regretted buying are those that we’ve bought in haste. You have been warned…

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