How is car depreciation calculated?

Man sitting in his car, holding a tablet, and looking over at his dog sitting in the passenger seat Image: Man sitting in his car, holding a tablet, and looking over at his dog sitting in the passenger seat

In a Nutshell

How quickly a car depreciates, or loses value over time, is based on a range of factors. Using online valuation tools such as Kelley Blue Book, you can get an estimate of your car’s current market value. You can then subtract that number from the car’s purchase price to get a sense of how much your vehicle has depreciated.

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Depreciation can sometimes seem like an abstract concept, but it has a real effect on the value of your car.

Vehicle depreciation is the rate at which a car’s value declines over time. Paying attention to how a car loses its value is important for a few reasons.

When it’s time to sell or trade in your vehicle, depreciation affects how much cash you might be able to get. When you’re shopping for a car, having a sense of how quickly it can depreciate could help you decide whether to buy it. And if you finance your vehicle and have a long loan term, depreciation could put you in a situation where you owe more on your car loan than your vehicle is worth.

Wondering just how quickly a car depreciates or how you can find out? Let’s take a look at some ways you can estimate your car’s depreciation.


How much does a car depreciate each year?

Depreciation begins as soon as you drive off the dealership lot. During their first year, some new cars can lose as much as 25% or more of their value, according to a 2015 automobile buying and financing guide created by the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection. The guide also cautions that many cars may lose around 15% of their value each year after that. By the end of its fifth year, a car could have lost anywhere from 40% to 60% of its original value.

You can use this information to get a rough idea of how your car will depreciate over time, but keep in mind that cars lose their value at different rates. Your car’s rate of depreciation depends on several factors.

1. Make and model

Some makes and models hold their value better than others. A 2019 study by the automotive research firm iSeeCars.com found that some trucks, SUVs and sports cars tend to have the lowest depreciation rates after five years, while electric vehicles and luxury sedans tend to lose their value more quickly.

Among the top 10 vehicles with the lowest depreciation, Toyota and Jeep accounted for five of the spots on the list. On the top 10 list for cars with the highest rates of depreciation, BMW accounted for four spots on the list.

2. Mileage

In general, the more mileage a car has, the higher its rate of depreciation. For example, a car that racks up 100 miles on the odometer each day will generally depreciate at a higher rate than one of the same age that’s driven only 10 miles per day.

3. Condition

Is the car in “like-new” condition or does it look worse for wear? Generally speaking, a vehicle that’s in poor condition will face a greater loss in value than one that’s in pristine shape.

How car depreciation affects your vehicle’s value

What’s the formula for depreciation?

To estimate how much value your car has lost, simply subtract the car’s current fair market value from its purchase price, minus any sales tax or fees. If you’re considering buying a car, look up the fair market value of older versions of the make and model to get a sense of the car’s value down the road.

You can find out a car’s estimated fair market value by using online tools offered by Kelley Blue Book, NADA Guides or Edmunds.

If you’re a Credit Karma member, you can use the Credit Karma Auto tool to get an estimate of your car’s current value. The tool also features a graph that shows you how your vehicle’s value is deprecating over time, provided from the National Automobile Dealers Association.


What’s next?

Your car’s depreciation could have a significant impact on its value when it’s time to sell or trade it in.

To help minimize this impact, consider choosing a car with a likely high resale value. You can find out which cars have the best resale value by doing a little online research. For example, each year, Kelley Blue Book spotlights the cars that have the best resale value in a number of vehicle categories.

And since your car’s depreciation rate is linked to its overall condition, you can help maintain its value by providing diligent care. Keep its exterior and interior in good shape, and make sure it gets serviced regularly.

Finally, since high mileage can mean high depreciation, keep an eye on the odometer. If you’re traveling far and have a choice between a plane trip and a road trip, you can do your car’s value a solid by choosing to make the journey by air.