DETROIT (AP) – As two private equity firms examine Chrysler’s books and consider making offers to buy the company this week, they’ll try to answer a question that doesn’t have a certain answer: How much is the automaker worth?

Although Daimler-Benz AG paid $36 billion for the company in 1998, industry analysts now place its value at anywhere from nothing to $13.7 billion. Estimates vary with the value placed on assets such as brand names, factories and materials, all weighed against Chrysler’s estimated $19 billion long-term liability to pay health care benefits for unionized retirees.

Some analysts say the liability exceeds the value of the assets, meaning that German parent DaimlerChrysler AG would have to pay someone to take Chrysler. Others say the company is worth more to the right buyer.

“It’s a hard thing to really figure out, and the uncertainty is what the health care liability really means,” said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. “If that were removed, then it’s a wholly different game.”

Experts from one of the equity firms, Cerberus Capital Management LP, were at Chrysler’s Auburn Hills headquarters on Monday, said a company official who requested anonymity because the talks are confidential. Representatives of the Blackstone Group, are to arrive later in the week, the official said Tuesday.

In regular trading yesterday, DaimlerChrysler’s U.S. shares rose $2.87, or 4.4 percent, to $68.67 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The visits are the latest developments since DaimlerChrysler Chairman Dieter Zetsche said Feb. 14 that all options are on the table for the Chrysler business and that he would not rule out a possible sale.

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