Friday, December 23, 2011

What is your car worth?

What is a 21-year-old Mercedes worth?  Thanks to the Internet, it is not hard to find out.

A friend of mine wants to sell his Mercedes roadster.  I went over to look at it and we had to pump up the tires and charge the battery.   It has not been driven in three months.  Cars are like fresh fruit.   You cannot "save" an apple for three months.  Eat it or get rid of it.  Cars hate to sit.  If you ain't using it, it is just depreciating in value and costing you money.  All you are doing is creating a nice, low-mileage used car for someone else to enjoy.

So I tell him to sell it.  Clearly he isn't using it and the money he could get for it would pay for the maintenance on his other cars for years to come.  And it is cluttering up his driveway, anyway.

A lot of people tell me they "don't know how" to sell a car.   How do I use eBay?  How do I used Autotrader?  What are the mysteries of Craigslist?  For some reason, a classified ad seems simple and safe to them, but an online ad just freaks them out.  They are afraid of being ripped-off or selling the car too cheaply, or having to wait weeks or months to sell it.  So, instead, they take the car to a dealer, and trade it in - thus guaranteeing a rip-off, instead of running the risk of one.

Selling a car is not hard.  If it is taking weeks or months to sell, you clearly have overpriced it - and that is the most common problem.  People over-list cars and then whine about how hard it is to sell them.  And they over-list them because the dealer offered them a pile of money for the car.    The dealer will offer an "inflated trade" price, folding the excess price into the new car they sell you.  It is not a real price or a real bargain, but you can kid yourself you "got good money" for your trade-in.  However, if you realistically price the vehicle, it should sell within a week or so.

But how much is it worth?  Thanks to the Internet, it is not hard to find out.  There are three "book values" you can easily find, plus you can check asking prices on eBay, Craigslist, and Auto trader.

Bear in mind these are guidelines - raw data, not pat answers.  You have to come up with answers yourself (that pesky thinking again!).  But the data is helpful in figuring this out.

Here are the sources I would use, and my comments on their limitations:

1.  NADA Guides ( is a dealer book that lists dealer asking prices self-reported by dealers.  As such it can be kind of high in price.  But the pricing information can be useful.  Trade-in or private party prices you should expect would be around low retail.

2.  Kelly Blue Book ( is sometimes the highest of the three "books" and again relies on self-reporting of data.

3. ( used to be a great site, but now they "hide" the car price appraisal under a pull down menu.   Like most Internet sites, they are hiding the good free stuff and trying to "steer" you to sites that sell you cars.  But their data is good, I think and the most pessimistic of the three.  It takes into account color, year, mileage, and zip code.

4.  eBay ( can provide you with ideas on asking prices.  Auction prices are not hard data until an auction has ended.  "Watch" a few auctions for some cars similar to yours and then see what the car sells for at the end of the auction.  Also, "buy it now" prices are a good indication of ASKING (not sales!) prices for vehicles.

5.  CraigsList  ( is another source of ASKING prices.  The ads are free, so you do get a lot of dreamers.  Take it with a grain of salt.

6.  Autotrader ( is another good source for ASKING prices, but look for private party sales, not dealer sales.  These ads cost money, so there are fewer weirdo ads and cons.

Of course, toss out ridiculously low asking prices - they are probably come-ons for Nigerian scams.  But the rest of the data can be useful.  Examine each car - condition, mileage, etc. and realistically compare it to yours.  It is better or worse.

From this, you can come up with a price that is reasonable.  If you want the car to go away more quickly, price yours about 5-10% less than similar cars offered for sale locally.  It is not a lot of money, oftentimes, and it will make the vehicle "go away" quickly.

eBay can be a great venue if you are not an idiot and fall for the obvious Nigerian scam artists - people asking you to end the auction early and ship the car to Europe or other far-fetched scams, such as the fake cashier's check/wire transfer gag.  Also, when someone peppers you with "endless e-mails" just block them from bidding.   Those folks never bid and never buy.

I have sold about a dozen vehicles (trucks, boats, cars, motorcycles, RVs, trailers, a jeep and a tractor) on eBay with good luck.   If you use a low opening bid (and no reserve) the car will go away in seven days, guaranteed.  And in most cases, I ended up getting more for the car than I would have selling it in the paper.  And most of the bidding doesn't get serious until the last hours or minutes of the auction.  But that is the subject for another posting as well as some of my previous postings.

Anyway, here is the data below for my friend's car.  I believe his has less than 100,000 miles on it (70-90) has been repainted (dark grey) and has a decent paint job.  It has a small dent in the hood and an aftermarket air dam.  The interior is OK (needs cleaning) but the side bolster on the driver's seat is torn.  Two new tires.  Starts and runs fine, but A/C doesn't work (needs recharge, or what?).  The convertible top is worn - the isinglass windows are yellowed like an old toenail and one has cracked (nice duct tape repair on it!).  He has a new top for it, but it has not been installed.  It is a good driver, but not collectable.  It would need some work to make it look 100%.

So, here is a question for you, intrepid reader:  What do you think the car is worth, based on the data below?  I will post my answer in the comments section later.

1. NADA guides:

$83,500 $8,000 $10,250 $17,300
Options: (add options)
TOTAL PRICE $83,500 $8,800 $11,275 $19,030*

"Price Depends on Condition" in this category.  I think it would have to be perfect to



Jekyll Island, GA

True Market Value®
Trade-in $2,627
Private Party Sale $3,628
Dealer Retail $5,296

Customized True Market Value® Prices

Trade-In Private Party Dealer Retail
National Base Price $1,935 $2,991 $4,751
Optional Equipment $0 $0 $0
Color Adjustment - Black $0 $0 $0
Regional Adjustment - for Zip Code 31527 $-101 $-156 $-248
Mileage Adjustment - 75,000 miles $793 $793 $793
Condition Adjustment - Clean $0 $0 $0
Total $2,627 $3,628 $5,296

I put in 75,000 miles, not knowing actual, and put in condition as "Good".   You can type in other numbers and see how it affects the analysis




KBB only goes back to 1992:

Trade-In/Sell Values

Show Used Car Prices

1992 Mercedes-Benz 500SL

Roadster 2D

Mileage: change

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Instant Trade-In Offer
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4.  E-BAY

 1991 Mercedes 500sl convertible, 2 tops, VERY NICE! Custom wheels. LOW RESERVE!
Mercedes-Benz : SL-Class 500SL

2 Bids$2,025.00Time left:5d 5h 42m

 sl 500 private 1 owner both tops red/ parchiment michelins clear carfax garaged
Mercedes-Benz : SL-Class Sl 500

Buy It Now or Best Offer $12,500.00Time left:4d 3h 36m

Mercedes-Benz : SL-Class SL-500

5 Bids$1,069.87Time left:2d 23h 1m

Mercedes-Benz : 500-Series 500SL

10 Bids$3,451.00Time left:17h 20m

 1992 Mercedes 300SL Parts Goldmine Needs Ignition Controller To Run No Body Rust
Mercedes-Benz : SL-Class 300 SL
0 Bids
Buy It Now
Time left:1d 2h 47m

Mercedes-Benz : SL-Class 300SL
0 Bids
Buy It Now
Time left:6d 3h 56m
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guarantee. More info

!!!!!!!!!! MERCEDES BENZ 500SL !!!!!!!! - $7950 (JAX)

Date: 2011-11-28, 7:34AM EST
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]


  • Location: JAX
  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
image 0 image 1
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PostingID: 2676207759

1991 Mercedes 500SL all or parts - $1995 (Arlington)

Date: 2011-11-29, 8:36AM EST
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]

1991 Mercedes Benz 500 SL. Complete car / no hard top. Just had engine rebuilt but has sat for over 1 year. Will sell all or part out. Asking $1,995. Engine worth more than that alone. 904-553-8355

  • Location: Arlington
  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
image 0 image 1
image 2 image 3

Note: NICE AIRDAM on the parts car!  Trashed, otherwise!

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You might get more selling the hard top separately.  However these are IMPOSSIBLE to ship, so whoever bought it would have to come pick it up.  eBay might snag a buyer from as far away as Atlanta or Florida.  Craigslist might get a buyer from Savannah or Jacksonville.

I would think you might get $800 to $1000 for the top alone.