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What Is Car Depreciation?

By: John Fuller  | 

Off the Lot: Why Cars Depreciate

Cars generally lose 15 to 20 percent of their value each year.
Cars generally lose 15 to 20 percent of their value each year.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Car depreciation is a tough thing for many people to keep in mind while they're shopping for a new or used car, or even when they're just maintaining the car they already own. It seems there are already enough immediate concerns you have to worry about while operating a vehicle. There are questions about car insurance, there's that annoying grinding noise coming from the front right corner and even simply monitoring how hot or cold your engine is running and watching how much gas is in your tank usually seem pretty important, too.

But car depreciation is always there -- in the background. It's even despairingly referred to by some as a "silent thief" because of the manner in which it continuously reduces your return on investment in your car.

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The standard for car depreciation is that all cars, in general, lose about 15 to 20 percent of their value each year. So a car that's three years old will become worth about 80 to 85 percent of the value the car held as a two-year-old car. The next year, when the car is four years old, it will become worth 80 to 85 percent of the value the car held as a three-year-old car, and so on.

So, for example, let's just say you bought a used car that after one year is worth $15,000. This particular car loses 20 percent of its value each year. So, after its second year in your possession, the car would be worth about $12,000. The next year, the car would be worth 80 percent of that two-year, $12,000 value, or $9,600.

The first year tends to be the steepest drop. In fact, the moment a new car is driven off of the lot, depreciation sets in immediately. Why is this?

There are a couple of reasons. Initially, you pay a retail price for a new car: whatever amount the dealer is willing to agree to in order to sell you the vehicle. The moment you're on the road, the car is instantly down to its wholesale price. In other words, whatever amount the dealer would be willing to pay for the car if you made the unfortunate decision to sell it back to him right away. This depreciation is typically thousands of dollars. On top of that, the money you spent on taxes and other licensing fees is gone, too.

So is there anything car shoppers can do to alleviate the pain of depreciation? Well, understanding some of the variables that determine car depreciation helps. Cars that maintain a high demand and are in low supply typically have better resale values. Some brands also depreciate less than others, and of course the condition of a used car will affect its resale value. In the end, it's best to just accept the fact that most cars depreciate and there's not much (if anything) you can do to stop it.

For more information about car depreciation and other related topics, follow the links below.

Car Depreciation FAQ

How do you calculate depreciation on a car?
Cars depreciate at different rates, so the exact depreciation varies significantly from vehicle to vehicle. However, to get a rough estimate, you can look up the current fair market value of your car and subtract that from the purchase price (just leave out any taxes or fees).
What is the depreciation rate for cars?
Each make and model depreciates at a different rate, so there's no exact depreciation rate for all vehicles. However, many vehicles lose as much as 20 percent of their value in the first year of ownership. By year five, vehicles can lose as much as 60 percent of their value, according to Credit Karma.
How much does my car depreciate per year?
Every car depreciates at a different rate. However, vehicles lose as much as 20 percent of their value each year, according to Credit Karma.
What will my car be worth in five years?
This depends on the make, model and features of your vehicle. However, on average, a vehicle can lose up to 60 percent of its value by the fifth year of ownership.
What is the depreciable period for a vehicle?
Five years is the depreciable period per the IRS.

Originally Published: Aug 24, 2009

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Sources

  • Dictionary.com. "Depreciation." (Aug. 14, 2009) http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/depreciation
  • Lazarony, Lucy. "Know the deal on auto depreciation." Bankrate.com. Dec. 26, 2002. (Aug. 14, 2009) http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/auto/20011226a.asp

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