Are Kelley Blue Book Values Accurate and Reliable?
When buying or selling a used car, many people rely on the Kelley Blue Book (KBB), which has been around since 1926. One sign of its popularity: Roughly 20 million unique visitors per month log on to the Kelley Blue Book website.
Although automotive experts acknowledge that the Kelley Blue Book is one of the most popular and trusted guides in automotive pricing, the question remains: Is it accurate and reliable? Here’s a look at how Kelley determines car pricing, an assessment of some issues consumers might encounter with KBB pricing, and a brief review of some of the top competitors in the industry.
- The Kelley Blue Book—and its equally popular website—is one of the most trusted guides for automobile pricing, used by those who are buying or selling cars.
- Kelley assesses the following values: private party value, trade-in value, suggested retail value, and certified pre-owned (CPO) value.
- Kelley determines Blue Book values by analyzing pricing information from real-world used car prices, as well as industry developments, economic conditions, and location.
- Potential problems with Blue Book values include a delay as price information is assessed, the consumer tendency to overrate the value of the car they are selling or trading in, and a mismatch between wholesale values listed by Kelley and the prices used by dealers, who access special industry-only pricing info.
How Kelley Blue Book Determines Car Values
Kelley Blue Book receives real-world used car prices on a daily basis from wholesale auctions, independent and franchised dealers, rental fleets, auto manufacturers, lessors, and private party transactions.
Kelley’s proprietary algorithm analyzes pricing data along with historical trends, current economic conditions, industry developments, time of year, and location to determine Kelley Blue Book values.
That process results in the following values for used cars:
- Private-party value refers to how much you will have to pay for a specific used car from a private seller.
- Trade-in value is the amount you are likely to get from a dealer for a trade-in.
- Suggested retail value refers to what dealers are typically asking for a specific used car.
- Certified pre-owned (CPO) value tells us how much cars covered by the CPO program are worth.
Some Issues With KBB Pricing
Some factors that could affect the accuracy of KBB values are lag time, consumer bias, and mismatched data.
It takes time for data and analysis to make its way through KBB. Prices listed may not always reflect the very latest trends and economic conditions.
Most people think the car they are selling or trading in is in better condition than it really is. If you misjudge the condition of a car for trade-in or purchase, your expectations may not match the reality of KBB’s valuation structure.
Most dealers do not use KBB for trade-in (wholesale) values. Instead, many rely on National Auto Research’s Black Book or the Manheim Market Report, neither of which is available to the public. More important, both tend to skew lower than KBB in wholesale pricing.
The year Les Kelley, a Los Angeles car dealer, published the first Kelley Blue Book.
Solutions for Consumers
If you use KBB as a general guide and follow the suggestions below, Kelley Blue Book data can be very useful.
Print out Definitions
If negotiating to buy a used car from a private seller, show KBB’s car condition definitions to the seller, especially if you believe the car is priced too high.
KBB’s pricing structure tends to favor dealers, meaning listed retail prices can be higher than other guides. Start with the listed retail price and bargain down.
Ask for Sources
Be aware that insider guides like Manheim or Black Book tend to show lower wholesale prices than KBB. Ask about the source of the trade-in offer or wholesale price.
Consult Other Guides
Consult one or more other websites or pricing guides to get an “average” for the vehicle you are trading in, selling, or planning to buy.
Since the three main consumer guides—KBB, Edmunds.com, and NADA—use different algorithms, your best bet is to check all three and calculate an average price.
The following are several sources you can check for pricing and rating information before buying, trading in, or selling a used car.
Edmunds:This website offers an appraisal engine that includes five car condition categories compared with KBB’s four. This can be helpful—or generate confusion—depending on how realistic you are about your car’s condition. Many experts believe Edmunds' values are more accurate than KBB's. That’s not always the case, of course, which is why getting several estimates and averaging still makes the most sense.
NADA Guides: One of the oldest guides, NADA guides were designed for dealer members of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) trade group. NADA pricing is often higher than Kelley Blue Book since the algorithm has a standard that calls for all trade-ins to be in very clean condition. As a result, you may need to adjust NADA prices down.
J.D. Power: Although the ratings are only for new cars, the used car search provides dealer pricing based on ZIP code. This information could be valuable if you are planning to sell a car outright and want to know what typical pricing in your area looks like.
Consumer Reports: The well-respected, noncommercial (no advertising accepted) publication offers lots of information if you buy an online subscription, less if you don’t. The website features general pricing on used cars, information on reliability, cars to avoid, and much more.
The Bottom Line
Kelley Blue Book is a very good resource, but it should not be the only one you consult. Although none of the top used car buying guides is perfect, when taken together—along with additional information gained from other websites and tools, such as auto loan calculators—they can provide reasonably reliable and accurate information for your used car transaction.
"Blue Book pricing!" "We're selling below Blue Book!" "Get true Blue Book value for your trade-in!" Whether you're buying or selling a car, truck or SUV, you can't get away from what we'd call Blue Book mania. At one time the Blue Book value was a used car insider's term like 'cream puff' or 'cherry', but today the phrase is, uh, all over the lot.
The Kelley Blue Book has become one of the major merchandising devices of modern vehicle selling. From used car lots to new car dealers, they all claim to sell cars at or below Blue Book while buying your trade-in well above Blue Book!
What, actually, is a Blue Book? Who started this whole arbitrary pricing bible? How accurate are they and how do they get their numbers? Most importantly, do they provide truly valuable information to help you get the best deal, whether you're buying or selling new or used?Read More
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“I needed to value my car,” said Phyllis Hellwig. “So I did what most people do. I went online, logged onto Google and started searching. I typed in ‘KBB,’ ‘Kelly Blue Book,’ ‘Kelley Blue Book used cars’ and ‘KBB vs NADA.’” Like many Americans, Hellwig has kept her current car longer than she had expected. When she bought her luxury sedan, she anticipated keeping it for about five years. That was a decade ago. Now, she wants to sell it and get a new car, and she’s obviously considering using the craigslist cars listing.
This is happening all around the country. Americans are keeping their cars longer than ever before, and the average age of a car still on the road is approaching 13 years old. Currently, there’s a growing gap between the prices of new and used cars, and according to the Wall Street Journal, used-car values have increased in recent years. More consumers are shopping for and buying used and pre-owned vehicles, while many are only interested in learning how to find off-lease cars only. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Used-car buyers are finding a growing selection of low-mileage vehicles that are only a few years old.” But like many consumers in Hellwig’s situation, determining the value of their current automobiles seems complicated. Looking for answers, they’ve checked car prices online at Kelley Blue Book (KBB), NADA, Edmunds, Autotrader and other trusted resources that address car values. But many questions remain, including:
To simplify the process, we’ve put together this guide on how to use Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and how to understand the value of your current car as well as the key drivers of car value.
What’s My Car Worth?
The easiest way to learn the approximate value of a used car that you intend to sell or purchase is relatively easy. There are price calculators on kbb.com and other auto pricing websites that will ask you a few questions about the vehicle and then determine its value. People often check kbb vs nada. However, typing “value my car” into a Google search may not get you one simple price. Instead, you’re going to encounter several different terms and numbers when establishing the value of used car or pre-owned, which can be confusing. Here’s a short list of those important terms and their definitions that you’re going to see on websites like Kelley Blue Book (KBB), NADA and others.
- MSRP: These letters stand for Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price. It’s also known as a car’s Sticker Price. It’s simply the price auto manufacturers like Chevrolet, Toyota or Mercedes-Benz, suggest the car dealer selling their products charge for a new car. Used cars do not have an MSRP. New car dealers, however, are independent businesses so they can price the cars and sell the cars for any amount they want. If the vehicle is in high demand it’s possible the dealer will try to sell the car, SUV or pickup truck for an amount higher than the MSRP. This is unusual, however. Most new vehicles are sold for less than MSRP, as consumers and dealers expect to haggle the final price below the MSRP.
- Invoice Price: Basically Invoice Price is what the dealer paid the manufacturer for a car, however, with manufacturer rebates and incentives the price is usually not the dealer’s final cost. Any price paid to the dealer above invoice price is profit for the dealer. Invoice Price is sometimes referred to as dealer cost.
- Transaction Price: This is the total selling price of any new or used car, including the destination fee and other charges. Tax, however, is not included. This is what you’ve agreed to pay for the vehicle. The average transaction price for new cars and trucks is now at an all-time high at just under $36,000, and that increase in new car prices had driven demand for used cars and off-lease vehicles.
- Wholesale Price: This is what the dealership paid the previous owner of the vehicle for the used or pre-owned car, truck or SUV (plus any transportation, reconditioning and auction fees). If the dealership sells the vehicle for less than the wholesale price, it loses money on the deal. Every dollar you pay the dealership above the wholesale price for the used or pre-owned vehicle is profit.
- Trade-in Value: Also known as trade-in price, this is the amount of money a dealer offers you for your used car or truck. It’s usually less than you may be able to sell the vehicle for on the open used-car market through a private sale, which is when you sell the vehicle to an individual rather than a dealer. The agreed upon trade-in value is the same as the vehicle’s wholesale price.
- Blue Book® Value: Often referred to as the “book value,” this phrase usually refers to Kelley Blue Book (KBB). Kelley Blue Book (KBB) has been providing new and used-car valuation expertise for more than 90 years.
Today, there are many such guides, including the Black Book, NADA Price Guide and others. These companies also put those used car prices online, where you can find dealer retail prices, private-party prices and trade-in prices on almost any used car. Car dealers often mention the “Blue Book Value” to establish the trade-in value of a used car or asking price of used cars on their lots. You probably want to keep this in mind if you’re considering off lease only cars.
How Do I Calculate the Book Value of My Car?
The easiest way to establish the book value for your used vehicles is to log on to one of the websites mentioned above, including kbb.com and nada.com, and use a vehicle calculator. It will ask you a few important questions about the vehicle and then calculate the price or book value of the used car. Here are six easy steps to determining your Kelley Blue Book Value.
- When you log onto kbb.com, at the top of the website’s homepage is a large green button labeled, “My Car’s Value.” Click on that button and it will take you to a page that asks a few questions about your car, including the year it was manufactured, the make or brand (Chevy, Toyota, Mercedes, etc.), model (Tahoe, Camry, C300, etc.) and current mileage. This is easy, as Kelley Blue Book (KBB) supplies drop-down menus with the most common choices.
- Once you’ve completed the information, click on the “Next” button and the website will ask you for your zip code to establish your location. This is common as the values of used cars can vary from town to town or from state to state. Typing in your zip will assure an accurate value for your vehicle.
- After that, kbb.com will ask you for the “style” of the car, SUV or truck, which may include a trim level (LX, EX, etc.) and possibly engine size (2.0-liters, 3.0-liters, etc.). Again, Kelley Blue Book (KBB) supplies you with the most common answers, so it’s hard to make a mistake.
- After that, you can add your car’s optional equipment and Kelley Blue Book (KBB) will ask you for your car’s color and condition. Most people think their car is in better condition than it really it. It’s best to be honest about the condition of your vehicle to get a proper valuation. Most cars are in “good” condition according to kbb.com.
- Here come the prices. For example, according to kbb.com, a 2011 Audi Q5, which has been driven 54,000 miles and is estimated to be in “very good” condition, has a trade in value of $14,569. However, Kelley Blue Book’s easily understood pricing graphic also points out that the range in my area is $13,244 to $15,893.
- On the upper right of the page is another button labeled “Private Party Value,” which estimates the price the owner can get for the car by spending the time and effort to sell it to another individual instead of trading it in to a dealer. These prices are almost always higher — and that’s true for the Audi Kbb.com says it has a private party value of $15,984 and a price range of $14,514 to $17,463.
Kbb.com also offers other helpful calculators, including a loan payoff calculator, as well as calculators for auto loans, car insurance and the 5-Year Cost to Own expense on most vehicles, which includes fuel, maintenance and other ownership expenses. Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and most other car websites also offer listings of dealer inventory and pricing specials, car reviews, certified used-car listings and monthly payment calculators and other features to help you finance a vehicle.
What is the Kelley Blue Book Price for My Car?
Kelley Blue Book (KBB) will offer you two different values on your car, Private Party Value and Trade-in Value. The Private Party Value is a fair price for your car when you’re selling it to an individual instead of a dealer. The Kelley Blue Book Trade-In Range is what a consumer can expect to receive for their car on that particular week when selling it to a dealer. Any price or price range supplied to you by Kelley Blue Book (KBB) or any other online pricing calculator, including those from NADA and Edmunds, is an estimate of your car’s value. It’s a guideline. A suggestion. This is why Kelley Blue Book (KBB) always supplies you with a price range in addition to its estimated price of your vehicle. Remember, the trade-in value of your car is always going to be lower than the private party sale value. This is because the dealer paying you for the trade-in will then re-price and then resell the car to someone else for that higher value, creating the dealer’s profit less any costs for reconditioning, smog and safety. Despite this, many people trade in a vehicle to save time and effort. For most consumers, it’s just easier to trade in your used car when buying a new one instead of learning how sell a used car online and placing classified ads for the vehicle on craigslist and other websites. Once you have the prices for your vehicle, you can quickly test that information in the real world. Visit a local dealer with your used car and ask for a trade-in value on your vehicle. If there’s a Carmax in your area, you can arrive unannounced and get an offer on your vehicle painlessly and with no obligation in about 30 minutes. The offer is good for seven days — whether you buy another car or not. If you’ve decided to sell your used car on your own looking for the higher private party price, take a couple of weeks and test the market in your area. Place a couple of ads with the Blue Book Value and put it out there on social media. See if there’s any response. Keep in mind that any used-car buyer will expect the ability to haggle on the price a bit.
Where Does KBB Get Data for My Car?
Many consumers assume Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and its website kbb.com are in the business of selling cars, but that’s not true. Kelley Blue Book (KBB) is in the data business, and the kbb.com pricing tools reflect that data gathered, which includes actual dealer sales transactions and car auction prices. The data is then adjusted for seasonality and market trends as well as your geographic region, and the pricing information is updated weekly. Many of kbb.com’s other features, including its reviews, dealer inventory, dealer pricing specials, certified used car and pre-owned listings and monthly payment and finance calculators are also updated regularly. Some are even updated daily to keep the information fresh. Kelley Blue Book (KBB) works with many car dealers and used car auctions around the country that supply the company with their latest used car sales. The information includes the vehicle’s specs, optional equipment, color and final sales price. Much like Google and Facebook, Kelley Blue Book (KBB) gathers that data and then uses a unique algorithm to sort and organize the information, filtering it down until it is useful to you. That’s how Google offers you the best results for your search inquiry on any given topic and it’s how kbb.com and other online automotive pricing services like NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) calculate the value of your used car. Kelley Blue Book (KBB) also has automotive analysts that are experts in the market and adjust the algorithm.
Why are KBB and NADA Car Values Different?
Although many of the online automotive pricing websites use similar data to calculate the value of your used car, the price will vary from website to website. This is the result of each using a different algorithm as well as unique methods for sorting that data.
What Affects the Value of My Car (i.e., engine, cosmetics, etc.)?
The value of any used car or truck is primarily determined by its condition and mileage, however, the optional equipment on a vehicle also plays a factor, as well as its color and geographical location.
- Mileage: The lower the mileage on a vehicle the more valuable it is. But condition goes well beyond the car’s odometer reading. And condition is subjective, which is why used car values are not an exact science. Condition is a judgement on the part of both the seller and the buyer, and sometimes the two parties see the vehicle differently.
- Condition: Any used car will show some wear and tear as its gathers minor scrapes and stone chips in the paint and other minor imperfections over the years of use. But some cars lead harder lives and their conditions show it.
Even cars with low miles can have rust, torn upholstery, dents, a history of accident damage, broken air conditioning and other non-functioning features. If that’s the case, the vehicle is less desirable than a similar example in better condition and the damage will negatively affect the car’s value.
- Modifications: Aftermarket wheels, body kits, custom paint, dark window tint and other personalized changes can make a vehicle worth less money as they limit the appeal of a vehicle for a greater number of buyers. This is also true of cars with manual transmissions. Cars with automatic transmission are usually worth more.
- Paint Color: Automakers always offer the basics that never go out of style, including black, white and red. But opt for that trendy new color and it may adversely affect the value of the car a few years down the road.
- Vehicle Location: Some cars are just more popular in certain, towns, cities, states or regions. Mid-sized family sedans are universally popular, but some brands and models are in higher demand in certain regions.
Also, sports cars are usually more popular in warmer states and along the coasts; convertibles are in higher demand during the summer. Buyers in colder snowy areas like the Midwest and northeast like four-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs. The car value calculators on most car pricing services like Kelley Blue Book (KBB), NADA and others take this into account when you ask for it to “value my car.” Hopefully, this information has helped you better understand the processes, the players and the tools available to you while establishing the value of your car. Now that you know how it all works, it should be an easy and stress-free experience.
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You’ve probably heard people refer to ‘book value’ when talking about a car’s price. The ‘book’ they’re talking about is usually the Kelley Blue Book. It’s a price guide, published by an automotive research company of the same name. The Blue Book, or KBB, has been around since 1926 (which is impressive, given that there weren’t actually a lot of cars around back then).
All you have to do is enter the details (make, model, year, mileage, color, options) of the car you’re looking to buy or sell, and it’ll give you the Kelley Blue Book value—a price range to expect. It has different ranges for whether you’re planning to buy or sell privately (where you’ll typically get the best price), or buy from or trade in to a dealer.
The KBB is a great starting point when you’re trying to determine the fair market value of a car you’re selling or buying. But it’s not the final word, and definitely not the only source of car pricing information out there.
And, there’s a caveat, with Kelley Blue Book value and all the other pricing sites and tools—they may not accurately reflect the most current market trends. They’re ‘updated’ frequently (KBB is updated weekly), but it’s hard to know what, exactly, constitutes an ‘update’. The reality is that they use algorithms and averages, which may not capture big changes in the market right away.
For example, the used car market right now has shifted so extremely and quickly, as a result of the effects of the pandemic, that KBB and the others probably aren’t fully capturing this unprecedented spike in prices.
There’s also the Black Book—no, not the kind where people used to keep phone numbers of dating prospects back before smartphones. This Black Book keeps track of all the car makes and models out there, and their valuation. It’s similar to the Blue Book, except that it’s dealer-focused. It also has more detailed and paid tiers, for really detailed information that would be valuable to dealers but more than a consumer would need. It offers more consideration for future valuation of a car, as well.
In recent years, the Black Book has shifted its focus toward dealers and brokers, and they offer business-focused paid products now. So you’re likely to see Black Book car value calculation tools on some dealers’ websites.
In addition to the ‘books’ (which of course are primarily websites now), there are some other sites that serve as useful valuation references.
NADAguides is short for National Appraisal Guides, which makes us think someone over there has a thing or two to learn about acronyms. But what they do know is used car prices. NADA is powered by J.D. Power’s valuation data, and is slightly more geared toward car dealers and lenders, whereas the KBB is focused on consumer car buying and selling.
That said, the NADAguides website is quite consumer-friendly and easy to use, so it’s worth checking out the NADA used car value calculator.
Each of these sites have different details; for example, one might be missing certain optional equipment that the other one has, when you’re speccing out the details of the car you’re looking to buy or sell. And the Kelley Blue Book site asks you to specify color, whereas NADA does not.
Sites that advise you on your particular listing
Sites like TRED use the guide information from the above entities, but also use their own local market data on what particular cars have been selling for in that area—which is the very most accurate and realistic data to go by. They can then advise on what price to list your car at —and how long it will likely take to sell at various price points— so you can find the right balance between price and speed of sale.
The markethas the final word
It’s very helpful to do your research and be informed when you’re trying to figure out a fair price for the car you’re buying or selling. It’s advantageous to know the Black Book, NADA, or KBB used car value. But you can’t always expect to get the price that the guides suggest.
There are always extenuating circumstances, both around buyer or seller preferences and situations. Maybe your car is an unpopular color. Or it’s missing a feature that buyers of that model typically want it to have. For example, a recent car that lacks a navigation system can be a tough sell; many buyers, especially of cars that are considered more ‘luxury’, want and expect it to have nav. Likewise, buyers of certain pickups or SUVs are generally going to be less interested if it doesn’t have four wheel drive.
On the circumstances side, maybe the guy who’s selling that white Miata you’ve got your eye on has kind of mixed feelings about selling it. He has it priced a little high, and isn’t interested in selling it for a penny under asking. But another local seller, with the same year and similar mileage Miata in red, is moving out of the country in a week, so she’s very motivated to sell. And then your preferences come into play—you like the white better than the red, but… how much is that preference worth to you?
So human factors always come into play, but overall market trends tend to be a good way to predict prices overall!
Published by Christina Perry
Marketer, writer, car geek, content wrangler at @TRED. View all posts by Christina Perry
Value kbb car
Frequently Asked Questions
Kelley Blue Book® (KBB) prices are often quoted by auto dealers. Be sure to check which price is being quoted as KBB used car valuations can differ greatly depending on whether a car is being quoted for retail sale, private sale or trade in (big margin for the dealer). The other thing to keep in mind is that KBB does not buy cars and the Kelley Blue Book car value does not take into account any damage on your vehicle. It assumes a near perfect car. A dealer may quote an attractive KBB price online or over the phone, but they will reduce that price drastically if there is any damage to the car or accident history in an online "vehicle history check" report.
Your valuation from webuyanycar.com® will be accurate if you declare all damage to and mechanical issues with your vehicle. We're confident that we provide you with a more realistic valuation than Kelley Blue Book®, because we take into account any damage on your vehicle. If you need any help assessing your vehicle's condition, please contact your local branch and we'll be happy to help you obtain the best valuation for your car.
Need proof that the KBB value might not be as accurate as you think? Check out KBB Instant Cash Offer. This is where KBB will give you a much better idea of your car's value and it will be much lower than what you might get if you're trading in against a shiny new car with a very high profit margin for the dealer. Hardly surprising when you remember that KBB make their money from selling leads (your information) to those very same dealers.
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