The Different Books for Car Valuations

March 16, 2021
Written by: Ray Shefska

You need to know how much your vehicle is worth, plain and simple. However, there are seemingly countless books for car valuations out there. Which ones are worth your time and which ones should you ignore?

Today, we’ll go over the different value books, examining how they get their values and when they should be used.

What’s My Car Worth?

You need to understand the worth of your car before you start selling it. Where do you start?

What’s my car worth? Well, the first step is understanding how you’ll be selling it. The vast majority of the time, your car will be worth far more when you sell it privately as opposed to trading it in. 

Why doesn’t everyone just sell privately? In order for you to land that higher selling price, you’ll need to list it on a classifieds site, talk to multiple would-be buyers, have plenty of people come look at it, and eventually you’ll find the right buyer.

Compare that process to simply handing the keys over when you buy your new car. Trading-in is much easier. You’ll be sacrificing some profits for the ease of trading the car in. 

If you’re looking at trading the car in, most price books will tell you that your car is worth less when being traded in. This begs the question, why are trade in values so low? The short answer is that the dealership has to recondition your car before it can be sold, which costs money. Alternatively, they may simply sell it as-is at a wholesale auction, which means less money than selling it to another car buyer. Oh, and not to mention, the dealer needs to buy the car cheap enough to be able to turn around and make a profit.

In order to determine your car’s true worth, you need to look at a few different book values in addition to understanding that it will vary based on how you sell it, who you sell it to, and your negotiation skills. 

What Are All These Books?

Why are there so many vehicle value books? Why can’t someone just tell me what my car is worth?

Some books are intended for car dealership usage. This means that they’ll be focused on overall profitability and will often suggest lower prices than other books.

Some books are used primarily by financial institutions for setting loan to value ratios, and other books are intended for consumer usage. Different book values serve different purposes, and as a savvy car seller, it’s important you understand the distinction between each. 

Another difference between the different book values is how they gather data, along with how they analyze it. Every book has its own data sources and evaluation algorithm, which is why the price is always different. 

You should use multiple books and tools to understand the value of your vehicle, since there’s no definitive source. You should also understand that just because a vehicle valuation book says that your car is worth X, that doesn’t mean you’ll receive X. These values are data to use in negotiations. 

What is Kelley Blue Book?

Kelley Blue Book is perhaps the first name that comes to mind when most people think of a car evaluation tool. KBB has been around since 1926 and has grown by leaps and bounds since the first booklet was published.

Kelley Blue Book is known for providing different values based on whether you are trading a vehicle in or selling it privately. There are also different price estimates for vehicles based on the condition that they’re in. This actually harms the accuracy of Kelley Blue Book, since people often overestimate the condition of their vehicle.

When Should I Use It?

You should use Kelley Blue Book with every car transaction that you make. However, be aware that this book is known for giving values that are higher than what a car dealer will offer you for your vehicle. Kelley Blue Book is better for evaluating the price of a car sold privately.

Read the full Kelley Blue Book guide.

What is Black Book?

Founded in 1955, Black Book has been on a mission to provide accurate car valuations since its inception. Black Book charges a subscription fee, which means it’s typically only used by dealerships and financial institutions that will use it enough to justify the cost. Black Book is heavily used by car dealers to determine how much you should be offered for your trade-in.

Black Book reaches its values by evaluating the sales data generated by over 60 auction companies around the country. Some of this data is even obtained by physically visiting auction houses and viewing their books.

When Should I Use It?

Black Book values are typically not available to individual consumers, since they focus on serving car dealerships. However, here at YAA we partnered with Black Book to get their data into your hands. YAA members can now see Black Book trade-in, private party, and retail valuations in their dashboard. This means you’ll have the exact same information the dealer is using when you  visit them. 

Read the full Black Book guide.

YAA is the first non-dealer, non-financial institution to provide Black Book values directly to consumers. Become a YAA member and access Black Book data.

What is NADA?

Short for the National Automobile Dealers Association, NADA has been in operation since 1917. Shortly after forming, they released NADA Guides to help determine the value of any given vehicle. These guides were published as books for quite some time. These days, NADA Guides are trusted by millions of consumers that want to understand the value of their vehicles.

NADA Guides uses local market demand, wholesale prices, and retail market prices to determine the valuation of any given vehicle. One downside of this approach is that they do not factor in condition or mileage, which creates estimates that are usually higher than what might be realistic.

When Should I Use It?

You can use NADA Guides whenever you might otherwise use Kelley Blue Book. In fact, combining multiple books is a great way to help paint a picture of what your car is worth. Use NADA Guides in conjunction with other valuation tools and you’ll be ready to negotiate with the dealership. Take note that car dealerships and lending institutions often use NADA Guides to come up with financing offers, since they tend to overvalue vehicles (this helps with loan to value ratios).

NADA Guides are often used by financial institutions when they’re deciding how large of a loan they can approve for you.

Read the full NADA guide.

What is Edmunds?

Edmunds began publishing a car-buying guide in 1966. Over time, it evolved into becoming one of the most frequently referenced sources for car buying information. In the 1990s, Edmunds pivoted into the digital space and started to help consumers evaluate car prices.

These days, Edmunds is known for two impressive tools:

True Market Value

This car evaluator helps consumers to decide what they should be paying for a new car and how much they should sell their current car for. While some have criticized the aging design of this tool, it’s still well worth using when you want to gain more insight into your car’s value.

Total Cost of Ownership

Ever wanted to know how much it would cost to own a BMW? This tool can help you to compare cars by presenting facts about the ongoing costs of ownership. It’s based largely on reported maintenance costs, along with gas mileage information.

Edmunds also publishes plenty of videos, guides, and walkthroughs on a variety of auto topics. They’ve earned their place as an authority in the auto industry.

When Should I Use It?

You should use Edmunds whenever you’d like to know the value of a car. Since it’s free to use the tool, you should use it to evaluate your new car, along with the car you’ll be selling. Combined with other value books, this information can help you to negotiate with the dealership or a private buyer.

Read the full Edmunds guide.

What is Galves?

Galves began in the 1920s as a wholesale car dealership that sold hundreds of cars per month. As the company evolved, they saw a need for a tool that could evaluate the price of vehicles. Since nothing else existed, they created it. It was a printed book that aimed at helping car dealers to understand which prices they should use for buying and selling vehicles.

Much like their old books, modern Galves is a tool that helps car dealerships to price their cars. They also use the same data to power a platform called Accu-Trade, which is specifically geared toward advising car dealerships about the amount to offer a client on a trade-in vehicle.

When Should I Use It?

Unless you get a job at a car dealership, you likely will not be using Galves. Instead, use tools like Edmunds, NADA Guides, and the Kelley Blue Book to evaluate your car. 

Galves exists to serve car dealerships, though, which means that you should be aware of it. Galves often provides lower valuations than other services, which is one reason why dealerships like to use it.

Read the full Galves guide.

What is Red Book?

Red Book is a unique entry on this list, since this service doesn’t actually operate in the United States (or even in North America). Instead, this service is for Australia and the Asian Pacific. It’s similar to Kelley Blue Book in that it uses the make, model, mileage, and condition to reach the value of a given vehicle. Red Book is well-respected throughout Australia and used by car buyers and car dealers alike.

When Should I Use It?

Australian and Asian Pacific consumers should use the Red Book for any auto transaction that they’re making. It’s always worth understanding the value of your vehicle when you’re about to buy or sell a vehicle

Read the full Red Book guide.

What is vAuto?

Dealerships around the country use vAuto to manage their inventory and evaluate car prices. This subscription-based service is only available for people who are willing to pay an expensive fee, which means that this tool is often used exclusively by car dealerships. vAuto has access to data from two different sources:  Manheim and Autotrader. All of their data is parsed and analyzed to determine how much a vehicle is worth.  

When Should I Use It?

As a car buyer, you won’t be likely to use vAuto. Instead, you’d be better served to use sites like Kelley Blue Book and the NADA Guides to evaluate your car’s worth.

Read the full vAuto guide.

What is MMR?

Manheim Market Report, otherwise known as MMR, is a service that provides wholesale car buyers with valuable insights into car values. Manheim is an auction house that has branches all around the country, so they have millions of auto sales that they can analyze. 

When analysis is done, MMR provides its users with precise reports that include the retail and wholesale value of a given car, along with predictions and insights into how much the car will be worth in the future.

When Should I Use It?

As a consumer, you won’t have access to the MMR unless you decide to pay their expensive membership fees. It’s not worth it for someone who just wants to know the value of their trade-in or new car. Instead, use services like our Market Price Report, NADA Guides, Edmunds, and the Kelley Blue Book.

Read the full MMR guide.

Online Tools:

In addition to referencing book values we recommend you get quotes from “digital car dealers” that are desperate to buy your used car. We’ve gathered some useful online tools that you can use to generate quotes for your trade-in. These quotes will be massively helpful when you are at the dealership. 

Carvana. Known as the “Cardian Angel,” this easy to use tool provides a customized trade-in quote that you can either accept or use in negotiations.

CarMax. Simply input your VIN and receive an online quote for a trade-in. Most cars will receive a quote, while other car owners will be asked to come in to receive a quote. 

Vroom. Get a quote based on your VIN and mileage instantly. You’ll receive a redeemable quote that you can use as a negotiation tool. 

Which Book is Right for You?

There’s no rule that says that you can only use one value book. Combine our Market Price Report with NADA Guides and YAA’s Black Book evaluation to showcase that you know the value of your car when you’re at the dealership or selling your care to a private party. 

Every piece of data that you bring with you will become an important tool when you’re looking to trade in a car or sell it privately. You can even secure quotes from sites like Carvana and Vroom when you want to effectively negotiate for a higher trade-in value.

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