Cars are one of our most significant day-to-day relationships—many of us depend on them to run errands, take kids to school, or get to work. We become intimately familiar with all the controls and characteristics of the car we drive. But this is a finite relationship. As cars get older, and accrue more mileage, the end draws nearer.
But how do you know when it’s time—the best age/mileage to sell? When is too soon, and when is too late? Most people sell between 3 and 5 years, and 40,000-60,000. And those are good general ranges.
Striking the balance
Basically, the risk of selling too soon is that you might be letting go of a car that still had lots of good time and miles left without problems, and taking on more expense (taxes, fees, maybe a higher payment) buying something new before you needed to.
On the other hand, if you wait too long, you might miss the window of getting the best price. Certain mileage thresholds tend to cause a big drop-off in a car’s value. Age can do the same thing, to a lesser extent. And there’s also the risk of the car having significant maintenance costs—whether it’s a major service or consumable parts that need replacement—or even a costly failure that requires an expensive repair. Those types of things can mean dropping a bunch of money into the car before you can sell it.
How do you know when it’s time? Model matters
When’s the right time to sell? The make and model of your car have a big impact on this. Some makes are basically impervious to miles or age. One example of this is Toyotas. They have a reputation for running well into extremely high mileage, and having very few problems. When they do require maintenance, it’s typically relatively affordable.
On the other hand, a car like a Land Rover tends to drop sharply in value once it gets to 40,000 or so miles. That’s because while Land Rovers are desirable luxury cars, their reliability record is less stellar than Toyota’s. The bottom line is that they’re likely to require more major repairs, sooner, and even standard service and maintenance is considerably more expensive.
The level of equipment on a car can play a role, as well. A highly-specced car with a lot of electronics can take a hit as far as resale value once it has some miles on it. There are simply more things to go wrong, and more things that are likely to break with time and use.
Things to keep track of
A good way to keep tabs on your car’s value, and where the big drop offs are, is to keep an eye on price guides like the Kelly Blue Book. You can look up your car’s specs and mileage, and see what the numbers are. Bear in mind that to be safe, you should realistically expect to get a little less than what KBB says. It’s also extremely helpful to keep an eye on what cars like yours are selling for in your are
Another thing to keep an eye on is your warranty—if it’s still under warranty, be sure you know when (at what age and what mileage) that coverage ends. Most cars have a bumper-to-bumper warranty the first 2-4 years that covers everything (except consumable parts like tires and wipers), and a more limited powertrain warranty that continues for a longer period of time after that.
Selling your car while it’s still under warranty will definitely give you an advantage in terms of getting more money. It also means that you have a safety net—you’re not going to get stuck with an expensive repair before you sell. And if the buyer has the car inspected and discovers any significant problems, you can go get them resolved by the dealer without being out of pocket for those costs.