Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate drivers about...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Licensed Agent for 10 Years

UPDATED: Jan 30, 2020

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The Kelley Blue Book is the nation’s largest automotive valuation company. The “Book” actually refers to a publication put out periodically for use by automotive dealers, insurance agents, bankers, and lawyers. The company also has a comprehensive website at which offers information to the public on car values.

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Kelley Blue Book has become the standard in automotive valuation, so much so that the terms “blue book” and “book value” have become generic terms for the value of a car.

There are other standards used to evaluate vehicles; for example, there is a “black book” published by Hearst Media, and the NADA (National Automobile Dealer’s Association) guide, both of which are also available online.

However, Kelley’s has remained the standard most used to determine fair market value of a car.

History of the Kelley Blue Book

Kelley Blue Book began as the Kelley Kar Company in Los Angeles in 1918. The creator, Les Kelley, wanted to create lists of cars and prices he was willing to pay as a dealer for them. In 1926, he published the first Kelley Blue Book, listing used car values.

After World War II, car sales exploded, and a standard was needed to help dealers fix fair prices for trade-ins. The Kelley Blue Book was on its way to becoming the national standard.

Kelley began publishing consumer editions in 1993. This allowed consumers to understand the prices of used and new cars, and to get fair market values for their trade-ins.

Due to the consumer publications and the website, more and more buyers enter automobile showrooms educated about the value of their vehicles.

Dealers, understanding this, have become very forthcoming with sharing the values listed in the “blue book” to justify trade-in offers.

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What does the Kelley Blue Book report?

The Kelley Blue Book not only reports auto values, but also has sections for RVs, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and marine craft. The publication has sections for new car values, used car values, and even special publications for antique vehicles.

The used car section of the Kelley Blue Book offers several “prices” for each car. First, vehicles are separated by make, model, and year. Next, columns show three values: retail, trade-in, and private party sale.

Retail is what you can expect to pay for this car on a dealer’s lot. Trade-in is what you can expect to get for your car if you surrender it when you buy a new car. Private party sale is what an average sale would be to another individual. Obviously, there are many variations within these prices; they are considered as a guide only.

You also have the opportunity to look at the effects of mileage, wear and tear, and additional accessories on the price. You can pinpoint a very specific value for your car; however, what you actually receive for it will depend on the market and other factors, so this is not a “set in stone” number.

The website offers the same services but in an interactive format. If you are trying to see a used car, you will be asked to input several items of information, including your zip code, as car values change from region to region. You can pick the specific accessories your car has and put in the car’s current mileage and condition.

From these facts, will generate a value for you for either trade-in or private party sale. This will give you a good idea of what you should ask for your car, although you should be prepared to receive offers either slightly lower or higher than this number, based on the person buying the vehicle.

Be aware, also, that some categories are general and do not take into account specific circumstances. For example, “body damage” is a rather general category that tells you to choose “fair” if there is any visible body damage to the vehicle.

Obviously, you could expect to receive more for a “fair” car with a few small dents than a “fair” car with major body damage in several spots.

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Who uses the Kelley Blue Book?

Banks and loan agencies also use Kelley Blue Book to determine how much you can borrow when buying a car. Even if you are willing to pay more for a particular used vehicle, that does not mean that the bank will loan that amount.

Generally, banks and credit unions use the standard of 80 percent of the blue book value when determining how much to loan on a used car.

Finally, Kelley Blue Book can give you an idea of how much new cars are selling for. However, this is a very difficult number to predict. Car dealers have incredible markups built into their vehicles, and generally, have great flexibility in pricing new cars.

Because they often finance these vehicles at a profit, as well as sell expensive warranty plans and other “extras” with new cars, dealers will often drop prices significantly and offer various “rebates” or “dealer incentives” to move new cars.

Kelley can offer you a good average of what people are paying for a particular model and may be useful if you are buying last year’s model or a “program” car.

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