Your car is a major investment, next to your home probably the most expensive purchase you make, so you want to get good value. You don't want to spend $20,000 on a vehicle and find out a year later it's worth less than what you still owe on it. That's true whether it's a compact you drive on your commute, a minivan or sport utility to haul the family around or a pickup truck for work. You want something that's going to hold its value so you have good equity when you go to trade it for a newer model.
Blue Book Ratings
Check the Kelley Blue Book when you go car shopping. It's the industry standard for establishing the value of a vehicle and each year rates the top 10 in overall value, by brand and by category. Kelley rates cars by category, from subcompact to full-size van and from economy to luxury. Its ratings project potential resale value after 36 or 60 months, so you can judge what your equity would be at trade-in time. It also provides a calculator that provides estimated resale value at any given time.
Other Rating Services
The websites Cars.com and AutoTrader.com rate vehicles by how well they hold their value. Both assess the quality of new models and offer projections on resale or trade-in value. Another website, Edmunds.com, provides a free calculator to determine value. You enter the make, model and other factors and Edmunds will give you an estimate of its worth.
High-quality vehicles from established manufacturers tend to hold their value best. Imports like Toyota, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes depreciate less than most American brands, according to Consumer Reports, although Kelley rated the Chevrolet Camaro among its top 10 vehicles for 2012. Jeep also made that list -- in fact, Kelley rated its Wrangler No 1 for resale value after five years.
Initial price is important, and higher-priced vehicles tend to lose less value than cheaper models, but look at the potential value down the road. Kelley, Cars, AutoTrader and Edmunds all provide estimates of vehicle values after three to five years. Look at your driving experience to judge when you might want to trade; the average motorist drives about 15,000 miles a year.
While most value-raters give higher marks to brands like Honda, Subaru and Infiniti, Chevrolet and Ford both score well in some areas. Kelley rates Chevrolet's Traverse sport utility tops in that class, projecting it will retain 41 percent of its value after five years. Cars.com put Ford's F-series pickups on top of that group.
Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.