Buying & selling a car

How to value a used car

You’re thinking about buying or selling a used car and you want to make sure you’re getting a good deal - but you just don’t know where to start.

Well look no further: by the time you get to the end of this article you’ll be clued up and raring to go.

Where to start

Free! Get a valuation with free tools from WhatCar or Parkers.

Start online where there are loads of free tools you can use to get a car’s value - you only need its registration number, but you’ll get a more accurate value if you also have its mileage and condition.

The value of a car can vary depending on where and how you choose to buy. Generally if you use an online tool, you won’t just get one price - you’ll get an idea of what you could expect to pay if you’re buying or selling the car:

  • From a dealer
  • From a private seller
  • In part exchage
  • At trade price

How is the value of a used car worked out?

Because all used cars are different, you need to consider a number of factors to get an accurate idea of value.

Some of these are fairly straight forward such as:

  • The make and model
  • Age of the car
  • Mileage
  • Optional extras
  • Trim level

You should be able to get most of this information by looking at the car, but if you aren’t sure of details such as optional extra, you can find these using the registration and online valuation tools.

What condition is the car in?

Working out what condition the car is in can be more difficult. The following benchmarks should help you determine what condition the car is in:


This means perfect mechanical condition and the exterior is completely free of any damage or scratches. The interior should be spotless and the tyres should be in top condition.


This means the car may have a few minor mechanical or electrical problems, very minor exterior damage and some minimal rust. Inside there may be small signs of wear and tear and the tyres may have less tread remaining than on a car considered to be ‘excellent’.


In this case you may find several mechanical and electrical problems but the car should be driveable. There could be scratches or dents on the exterior and there may also be significant rust. The tyres will probably not match and will have limited tread life. Cars in this category will generally be over 5 years old.


Here, the car will have severe mechanical problems so may not run properly. There will be significant damage to the exterior and extensive rust. The tyres will need replacing and often the car will be branded ‘salvage’, ‘flood’ or similar.

What else can affect the valuation?

Other factors that may affect a car’s valuation include:

  • Local pricing levels: you can get an idea of these by looking at adverts for similar cars for sale in your area. Do take into account that online adverts will be a mixture of dealers and private sellers, and there will be a difference in price between the two.
  • Seasonal factors: for example, convertibles and sports cars will tend to be on sale in the summer and may hold a slightly lower value simply due to the number available.
  • Additions: if there have been any additional enhancements like a stereo upgrade, these will also affect the price. If the car has been modified you should always check that they are acceptable to your insurer.
Are you selling your car at the same time?
Check out our tips for selling a used car.


Jess passed her test first time at 17 and took to the busy London streets in a battered but beloved 1988 white Fiat Uno. She writes for ingenie's Young Driver's Guide and blog. You can follow Jess on .