BUYER’S GUIDE: Used Vehicle Valuation

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Buyer’s Guide - 10 Steps to Buying a Used Car 01Attempting to purchase a used automobile without doing your research can be like beginning a long trip without a map (or GPS navigation system). Once you decide what type of vehicle you desire, you must investigate its value to determine whether you can afford it or not. Remember that research equals reward. If you do your research correctly, you will end up with a decent vehicle at a fair price. Skimp on the research and you could wind up with a clunker for which you overpaid.

Here are some tools to help you evaluate the estimated value of the specific vehicle that strikes your fancy. Hopefully they’ll also help you to determine whether or not you can afford the car of your dreams or if you will have to settle for something a little less glamorous. You can bet that perspective sellers have spent plenty of time and effort pricing their vehicles for maximum effect. You must be prepared to confidently negotiate the price of the vehicle without offending the seller. Remember that an offended seller may not sell you the vehicle at any price.


Estimated Value

Utilize vehicle valuation services like the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) website to get an idea of what the vehicle is worth. You will need some pretty detailed information regarding the vehicle before you can use NADA. Vehicle year, make, model, mileage, and optional equipment, as well as a general description of the condition of the vehicle (poor, fair, or clean retail) will be required to get an accurate valuation. You can also compare the prices of similar vehicles that are listed on websites like


Timing is Critical

Used Car Buyers Guide - Vehicle Valuation 01Take extenuating circumstances into account when figuring vehicle value. For instance, you wouldn’t want to begin your quest for a speedy used convertible when spring is in bloom when you can get a much better price during the dreary days of late fall and winter. You can purchase very fuel efficient vehicles for less money when gas prices are lower. Classic and vintage collector cars are usually cheaper during bleak economic conditions. Waiting a few months could give you an edge in price negotiation that will save you thousands of dollars.


Be Optimistically Practical

There will be some used vehicles that are outrageously priced. If you have done your research, you may determine that there is just too much difference between the seller’s asking price and fair market value for you to come to an understanding. Just avoid these. However, don’t be intimidated by a vehicle that is priced $1,000 – $1,500 above your intended purchasing price. Sellers often set the price higher in order to leave themselves some “wiggle room.” My personal favorite way to open polite negotiations is by asking, “Are you entertaining offers?”


Hard to Price Vehicles

If you are in the market for a classic or collector automobile, you must take the investment potential into consideration. You can check out websites like Hemming’s Classic Cars and auction sites like Barrett-Jackson to compare prices on similar vehicles. Obviously the condition of the vehicle becomes much more critical as the value and selling price increases. Use caution and when uncertain, consult a professional.

S.M. Darby

S.M. Darby

I am a freelance author with over 25 years of experience as a professional, ASE certified automotive technician and shop owner, muscle car enthusiast, avid street racer, and classic car restoration specialist.