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What Affects My Car's Value?

Lots of things can affect a car’s value for better or worse and it’s important to know which ones wield the greatest influence.

One dealer said the most common issue he runs into during trade-in negotiations is that owners are overvaluing their cars. That’s understandable; the car you’ve owned and driven for years, through thick and thin, likely has sentimental value for you. But while that small dent on the bumper might have a cute story attached to it, that story won’t help you sell it.

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That’s why it’s important to research the trade-in value of your car (see “How Do I Know It’s a Good Offer”) and be honest about the condition of your ride so there are no surprises.

What keeps your value higher?

  • Have maintenance performed at regular intervals and keep documentation from those visits.
  • Make sure your upholstery stays clean.
  • Take care of the paint on your car; clean it regularly and wax it to keep rust at bay.
  • And, of course, the fewer the miles, the higher the value.
  • Brand reputation can also affect your car’s value. Brands known for reliability usually hold more value as they age.
  • Other determining factors can include the trim level of your car and the popularity of any optional equipment you’ve added on.

What hurts your car’s value?

  • Dings, scratches, dents: Any problems with the body work, no matter how small, will lower the trade-in estimate you receive. Dealers will have to decide whether it’s worth the trouble to fix cosmetic flaws before selling the car.
  • Mechanical problems: Issues with the engine, transmission, or suspension will hurt your car’s value. If the “check engine” light is on, it’s a good idea to get that cleared up before you try to sell the car.
  • Neglected maintenance items: Bald tires, worn brake pads and burnt-out headlights will all hurt your car’s value. Keeping these items up to date should improve your offer. One dealer said he would offer considerably more for a car with new tires, so make sure all these items are up to snuff.
  • Telltale signs of smoking: One dealer flat out said he would not go near a car that smelled like smoke, saying they’re too hard to sell.

More Sell and Trade Coverage