If you’re actively searching for a car to buy, you need to look beyond the hype to find out as much as you can about the true value of the car you’re interested in.
On this page you’ll learn how to use research to discover some of the most reliable sources of objective information about cars that you can find online. This information is invaluable when you’re deciding which car is best for you.
When buying a car, the best source of information comes from people who have already used the car, and Consumer Reports provides some of the very best car reviews available based on surveys of millions of subscribers. CR’s speciality is their famous auto reports which are not free. However, you do get exactly what you pay for.
- The invoice price (dealer cost).
- Typical sticker price (manufacturer’s suggested retail price).
- Additional cost of factory installed options.
- Rebates or incentives.
- Recommendations about optional equipment to purchase.
- Safety ratings analysis.
- Suggestions on negotiating the best deal.
The book value of a car is a basic term used in the car-buying business to accurately determine the market value of a used car. It is used as a guideline for car dealers and others who buy and sell used cars. Thanks to the internet, it is very easy to find out exactly how much your car is worth.
There are multiple appraisal guides and websites that provide the book value of a car. These sites are used to inform and empower potential car-buyers by providing independent information from completely unbiased sources.
It is important to keep in mind that there is not one universal book value for a car. More importantly, these different sources tend to vary in their estimates of the value of the same used vehicle. You would think that the values would be the same for a given make, model, year, options and condition of car.
However, the true value of a car is all relative to what you want to do with it and whether you’re a private seller, a bank or car dealer. Essentially, there is a different value if you are trading the car in, reselling it yourself or taking out a loan on it.
Here are the most reliable sources of information that provide the book value of a car and when to use them:
The Kelly Blue Book
The Kelley Blue Book is a principal source for determining the market value of cars, and has been providing this information since 1926. It is one of the quickest and easiest ways to ensure that you are getting a good deal on a new or used car.
The Blue Book reports market value prices for new and used automobiles of all types, as well as motorcycles. It calculates the value of your car based on the make, the model and year. For used cars, KBB provides retail value, certified pre-owned value, trade-in value and private party value.
Kelley Blue Book also offers expert and consumer vehicle reviews and ratings. Car auctions, private owners, rentals and fleets, franchised and independent dealers all use the Blue Book to determine the final value.
The Black Book
The black book specializes in providing “the latest wholesale prices direct from the auction lanes”. Sales prices are checked at auctions daily, then added to the black book database. They use a complex process to determine price, taking into account such effects on an auction as weather, current popularity of the model, quantity of a given model that was for sale at the auction, and other factors.
This is one of the oldest, largest and most comprehensive sources of information about cars available on the internet. Some of the information you can find include:
- Car reviews.
- Safety reports.
- Reliability ratings.
- Side-by-side compare features.
- Car maintenance
- Power search
NADA Appraisal Guides
The professional and experienced used car sellers use the National Automobile Dealers Association’s (NADA) dealers’ editions of the NADA Official Used Car Guide which provides appraisals of make and model years 2007-2014, and the NADA Official Older Used Car Guide which provides values for 1995-2006 vehicles.
Using NADA appraisal guides provide an accurate estimate and appraisal of used cars. The most powerful of these guides is the dealer edition of the NADA Official Used Car Guide.
The three values used to appraise a vehicle in the NADA Official Used Car Guide are the Retail Book Value, Trade-in Value and Loan Value.
- Retail Book Value: This is the amount a vehicle may sell for when sold on the retail market. The used car appraisal books and guides will suggest an amount that is arrived at after adding or deducting for mileage and other factors that relate to the used car or trucks condition. The person doing the appraisal will add to the book value for vehicles that are in exceptional shape and deduct for vehicles that are in less than average condition. They will add or deduct depending whether a vehicle has exceptionally low mileage or if the vehicle has exceptionally high mileage.
- Trade-in Value: This is the amount that you could be offered on your vehicle should you choose to trade it in, based on the NADA Official Used Car Guide. In reality a dealership will rarely offer you Trade-in Value for your used car trade. Typically, you will be offered Loan or Wholesale Value.
- Loan Value: This is the amount a loan officer will loan a customer applying for a loan to purchase a used car. This is also the amount, or close to it, car dealers typically use when they purchase a vehicle. Later, a dealer will attempt to sell the vehicle at Retail Value in order to make a make a profit.
Known for publishing two award winning annuals (The Complete Car Cost Guide ™ and The Complete Small Truck Cost Guide ™), IntelliChoice has proven to be a leader in helping consumers determine which cars, SUVs, and light trucks offer the best value. A stamp of approval from IntelliChoice is nothing to scoff at. As a matter of fact, Isuzu’s website proudly boasts that its entire 2006 line-up was recognized by IntelliChoice as among the best in their class—a claim that Isuzu knows will boost interest and sales. Checking any or all of IntelliChoice’s sites can arm you with the information you need before making a vehicle purchase.You’ll be able to compare vehicles side by side. You’ll also be able to find out all about pre-owned vehicles, current rebates and incentives, etc. Of all the car buying resources on the internet, IntelliChoice is truly one of the most respected sources of automotive information in the United States.
Ed Edmunds Inc. is guided by its mission statement: “To empower automotive consumers by providing complete, clear, timely, accurate and unbiased information needed to make informed purchase and ownership decisions.”
As a matter of fact, Edmunds was the first to publish an online automotive resource in 1994. The company itself was founded in 1966 and has continued to grow ever since. Well known and frequently recommended, Edmunds doesn’t mind relying on word of mouth to increase site traffic.
With a plethora of information available on the site, Edmunds offers photos, data, reviews, articles, as well as pricing information on every vehicle on the market. As a matter of fact, Forbes ASAP named the site “Best Car Research Site,” and Money rated it one of the “50 Most Useful Financial Websites.”
Consumers consistently find it reliable as well, shown by numerous J.D. Powers and Associates studies in which Edmunds was described as “the most useful website.”
With credible, organized information at your fingertips, there’s no need to cross your fingers and hope you’re making the right decision when buying a car, SUV, or truck. The antiquated tradition of roaming around on car lots has been replaced by a flurry of fingers over a keyboard, the legwork already done for you.
You’ll find free price information and other auto data at this website. You’ll also find a variety of additional information including calculators, recalls, rebates, insurance information, warranty information, tips, negotiation suggestions, motorcycle information, etc.
Canadian Black Book
In 2010, Canadian Black Book launched a web site for consumers that includes access to its popular “Trade-in Value” estimator. Car buyers and tire kickers can use this tool on www.canadianblackbook.com to learn the trade-in value, average asking price and future value of virtually every car and truck manufactured since 1997. You simply plug in the year, make, model, mileage, and equipment on your vehicle and quickly get a range of what is being paid (in your geographic area) for comparable vehicles (by dealers).
CARFAX, Inc. is web-based service that supplies vehicle history reports to individuals and businesses on used cars and trucks for the American and Canadian marketplaces. The company offers four vehicle research services—Lemon Check, Record Check, Recall Check, and Problem Car. The CARFAX Vehicle History Report is the company’s core product.
You can purchase either a single report or create an account for building multiple reports for different vehicles, allowing you to utilize CARFAX over a period of time as you search for a vehicle. Additionally, you can request CARFAX reports for free from auto dealers who offer CARFAX service, and some automakers routinely provide CARFAX reports as part of their pre-owned vehicle programs.
According to reports, CARFAX shouldn’t be your final deciding factor when buying a car. You cannot fully rely on CARFAX as many cars are typically repaired without full salvage disclosure and sometimes, without any repair history. This means that a CARFAX report is only as good as the information that is actually entered into the system by its sources. Tennessee attorneys Frank Watson and David McLaughlin charge that CARFAX’s ads promise more than it can deliver. “CARFAX fails to disclose the limitations of their database,” says Watson.
“People think they have a little insurance policy on their CARFAX report, and it’s just not accurate,” says McLaughlin. Consumer Attorney John Gayle, with the Consumer Law Group in Richmond, says if you’re buying a used car, don’t stop your search with CARFAX. According to him, CARFAX lulls consumers into a false sense of security”. CARFAX claims to be “your best protection against buying a used car with costly, hidden problems.”
But, critics say when it comes to many accidents, online reporting companies fall short. Consumer Affairs revealed that they have received scores of complaints from used car buyers and sellers nationwide who say CARFAX duped them when they bought or sold a used vehicle. It was also revealed that CARFAX does not receive any records from the biggest source of information about wrecked vehicles: insurance companies!