Car depreciation explained

The value of a new car can fall at an alarming rate, although this varies across manufacturers and models. Make sure you know the facts about depreciation then use our simple calculator to find out how well your car will hold its value.

What is car depreciation?

Did you know?

Fuel is likely to be your biggest day-to-day car running expense, but the real cash-burner is depreciation.

According to research by CAP Automotive, depreciation will cost the typical motorist three times as much as they spend at the petrol pump.

Depreciation is the difference between a car’s value when you buy it and when you come to sell it.

This drop in value varies between makes and models, but typically is between 15-35% in the first year and up to 50% or more over three years.

Motoring costs experts CAP Automotive say that choosing a car that holds its value well delivers much bigger savings over time than focusing on fuel efficiency.

For example, a typical medium-sized family car bought three years ago will have lost £12,559 in value by now. But the car’s fuel costs during the three years will only have been around £4,000, based on 12,000 miles a year.

To find out your car’s depreciation and running costs, try our Car costs calculator tool.

Top ten cars for beating depreciation

It makes sense to go for a car that will hold its value. That way, you’ll still get a decent price when you come to sell or part exchange your car.

In April 2015, the car valuation service Glass published a study of how well cars held their value.

Here are Glass’s top ten cars for holding value, plus their average annual rate of depreciation:

  1. Land Rover 20.3%
  2. Tesla 28.5%
  3. Maserati 29.8%
  4. Audi 31.1%
  5. MINI 31.3%
  6. Jeep 31.7%
  7. Lexus 33.0%
  8. Dacia 33.6%
  9. Mitsubishi 34.0%
  10. Mazda 34.2%

Use What Car’s depreciation calculator to find out how much different makes of car depreciate by over four years.

What affects a car’s depreciation rate?

Here are the reasons why some cars depreciate more quickly than others:

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  • Mileage – the average mileage is around 10,000 per year. The more miles, the less your car is worth.
  • Reliability – some cars have a reputation for unreliability. This can be based on customer satisfaction surveys.
  • Number of owners – the fewer the better. So check the number of previous owners on the car’s logbook or V5C registration.
  • General condition – damage to the bodywork, interior and exterior will reduce value. Make sure you inspect a used car carefully before buying.
  • Service history – the more complete this is the better. The service book should have stamps or receipts showing servicing in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Length of warranty – three years is good, but some manufacturers now offer as long as seven years, which is a bonus when selling your car.
  • Desirability – some models are ‘face-lifted’ or replaced every few years, while some go on for 10 years or more. The more recent the model, the better it will hold its value.
  • Size – big luxury cars tend to depreciate more than smaller cars because they cost more to run and have higher bills for parts and maintenance.
  • Fuel economy – the more miles per gallon the better for many buyers. This is one reason why diesel cars hold their value slightly better than petrol cars, although it’s becoming less true as petrol car engine efficiency improves.
  • The amount of Road Fund Licence (road tax) payable is also a consideration. Fuel-guzzling cars cost much more to tax each year, which makes them less desirable when selling second-hand.

Tips for minimising depreciation

  • Do your research before buying a car – search the most up-to-date car depreciation tables on the What Car? website.
  • Buy a nearly-new or used car to avoid the steepest depreciation.
  • Maintain your car well – a full service history gives potential buyers peace of mind. So remember to keep all your car documents including service records and receipts safe and in one place.
  • Keep the mileage down.
  • Look after your car and repair any damage as soon as possible.
  • Consider leasing rather than owning – then there’s no worry about the car’s depreciation, which will be built into your monthly payments.
  • Sell your car well before its replacement model arrives in the showrooms. To keep up to date with the latest news, read motoring magazines and websites such as What Car?, Autocar and Carbuyeropens in new window.
  • Sell at the right time of year – for example, convertibles in the summer and 4x4s in the winter.
  • Avoid ‘boy racer’ modifications such as spoilers, wide wheels and flared wheel arches.
  • Choose the right options when you buy – for example, metallic paint and leather are best on executive cars, while built-in sat nav and air con are desirable on mainstream cars.
  • Stick to popular colours – an outrageous shade may appeal to you, but will put off many buyers when you want to sell your car.

Your next step

Read about the different ways you can pay for a car

How to find the right car for your budget

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