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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.

Key Takeaways

  • 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.

Lag Time

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.

Consumer Bias

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.

Mismatched Data 

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,, and NADA—use different algorithms, your best bet is to check all three and calculate an average price.

Additional Resources

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.


Are you are planning to sell a car?

If so, then you might have checked Kelley Blue Book (KBB) to determine a fair selling price.

Kelley Blue Book is a popular evaluation guide for consumers and dealerships. Although, there are many misconceptions about the guide that create confusion among consumers. They wonder, “why are so many cars overpriced?” or, “why do dealers laugh at the Kelley Blue Book price?” In this article, we dive in and learn how the Kelley Blue Book price is set, how to use KBB prices to get a good deal on your car, and much more…


What is the Kelley Blue Book Price Based On?

First, we need to address the largest misconception about KBB:

They are not setting prices for the market.

Instead, KBB tracks selling prices from wholesale auctions, independent dealers, franchised dealers, rental fleets, financial institution leases, private party transactions, and more. Simply put, they follow a trail of transactions across the country and calculate vehicle values based on pricing data and economic conditions.

There are other factors to consider that also affect your car’s price that the Kelley Blue Book price doesn’t account for:

  • Are you selling or buying from a dealer? Dealerships have high overhead and lending costs; this places consumers in a position to lose money. Dealerships have to make a profit, so you cannot expect to get a fair Kelley Blue Book price. Even if you do get a fair price on a trade in, you will lose that money on the other side of the deal. If you make an extra $1000 on your trade in, they will charge an extra $1000 on the car you buy.
  • Private parties want to get the best price. Why are vehicles on Craigslist, Autotrader, and other online car sites set at higher prices than KBB’s quote? Again, the Kelley Blue Book price is not meant to reflect a fair price for a vehicle. They merely track prices. With that understanding, you can begin to look at your car’s price in the context of your market. Private sellers set prices high because they expect people to negotiate them down. The same goes for “low ball” offers: most buyers expect to negotiate up. Don’t let either of these discourage you. Selling a vehicle is about negotiation.
  • What kind of deal are buyers looking for? This is where most car buyers mess up. Instead of looking for a great vehicle at a fair price, they are trying to find GREAT deals that are under priced. Here’s why this doesn’t work: amazing deals usually come with an invisible cost. In the end, a buyer isn’t going to care about a great price when the car breaks down. As a seller, you should do your best to show them the value of a trustworthy transaction (which we will talk about in a moment).

Having said that, is it realistic to get a Kelley Blue Book Price?

How Often Can You Get a Kelley Blue Book Price?

To get a Kelley Blue Book price, you have to understand leverage.

For example, if a buyer is carrying cash, they are going to expect that they can negotiate you down. Having cash gives buyers leverage to close deals (it’s almost like you can smell the money).

Also, do you have a deep understanding of the true condition of a vehicle? More often than not, car owners will over price their vehicle because they believe it is in better condition than it actually is. In truth, very few vehicles are in excellent condition. Here at TRED, we solve this problem by doing a 150-point inspection giving buyers 100% confidence in their purchase.

You can also commit to more research. Equipping yourself with the right information makes negotiating the best deal even easier. Check used car platforms like Craigslist and eBay motors to see average used car prices. When a buyer says, “look, your car is only worth this price because…” you will be able to counter with relevant prices and market information if you do your research.

Here is the sober truth:

It is hard to get a Kelley Blue Book price. Even in private party transactions. With other car evaluation companies like Edmunds, NADA, and Black Book (which often lists lower prices than KBB), it will be hard to convince someone to pay that much–especially if you cannot accurately judge car quality and market pricing yourself.

But don’t become discouraged. You can still get a great deal selling your car at or near the Kelley Blue Book price!

8 Tips to Get the Best Price For Your Car

  1. Buy new tires. This shows the buyer that you are committed to selling a quality vehicle.
  1. Extensively clean the interior and exterior. If you want to ask for a competitive price, you can’t show up with a dirty vehicle. There is no reason to trust your justifications for the price if the car doesn’t fit the image.
  1. Learnstandard negotiation techniques. People are not going to agree to the Kelley Blue Book price right off the bat. They want to get a good deal, too, but you shouldn’t be afraid to negotiate either. The buyer is obviously interested if they ask about your car.
  1. Use online car platforms with competitive financing rates. TRED offers to finance with rates as low as 1.99%. Also, this will help people afford your vehicle because they can take out a loan.
  1. Establish the car’s condition with proof. Bring the car to a mechanic to get a reliable inspection. Again, this shows that you are a trustworthy seller. Why? Because you are willing to go the extra mile to ensure a safe and reliable transaction.
  1. Have your car’s documents on hand. Get your title, Carfax vehicle history, and bill of sale together. You never know when you are going to close a deal. If you have your documents, you give your buyer less time to reconsider, and they may be more likely to buy your car immediately out of fear that you will sell it to someone else.
  1. Learn aboutpricing psychology Instead of listing at $13,000, list at $12,949. Human brains are weird! For some reason, even though that price is almost the same as $13,000… it seems like it is only in the $12,000 price range.
  1. Take extensive pictures of the interior, exterior, and engine. People are less likely to inquire about your car if there isn’t enough information. Also, pictures will give buyers confidence. Instead of wondering what they are going to find when they finally meet you, they can be confident that the meeting is worth their time.

One More Tip to Get the Kelley Blue Book Price

On TRED, we use KBB to determine a fair price for each vehicle. With over 90 years of experience, KBB is the most trusted source of vehicle pricing information. Also, TRED establishes trust with buyers by committing to a 150-point inspection to ensure the vehicle’s condition.

That’s why, on TRED, you can expect to get 30% more than a dealer trade in and 12% more than on Craigslist. We do the paperwork, we help you competitively price your vehicle, and we ensure safe transactions with financial and identity fraud protocols.



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How to Use the Kelley Blue Book for Car Quotes

The Kelley Blue Book site is a great resource for any car shopper looking at car quotes from dealers. Here's how to use it to your advantage.

Kelley Blue Book for New Cars - If you're looking to match a Kelley Blue Book value to a new car quote, get onto the Kelley Blue book site and select the year and model. You'll see a price that corresponds to MSRP or other price estimates. This is not what you should expect from your dealer: the dealer price will be based on dealer cost. However, a new car estimate on Kelley will show you what that car is generally worth on the common market.

Kelley Blue Book for Used Cars - For used car quotes, there are several ways to use Kelley Blue Book values. You will see these when you go onto the site and enter in used car information. The first value is a "Suggested Retail" value that shows what a dealer might charge for that car on the lot. The second value is a "private party" value: what a shopper might pay when buying that used car directly from the owner. The third value is what might be secured at trade in time.

Keep in mind that either way, the Kelley Blue Book represents a handy common value for a specific kind of car. It is never a direct value for the specific car in question. In new cars, dealer costs enter the equation,and in used cars, conditions and features make a big difference.


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