Car Pricing Sources Explained

Naturally, the first thing a seller wants to know is how much cash the old clunker or nearly new dream machine will bring. When it comes to figuring out what a car is worth, value can be found in a number of places. The most common sources for pricing information are online resources, price guides, banks and industry professionals.

Private Sale Pricing Sources
One of the first rules of successful selling is, “Know your market.” The following sources will help first-time and private sellers price their vehicle fairly based on local market conditions. By comparing similar makes and models in various types of condition, determining a fair and reasonable price for your car should be a quick and easy task.


Autotrader’s Car Values page can help you figure out what the asking price is for cars like yours in your local market. The tool determines the value of your vehicle by looking at and comparing specific data from AutoTrader’s listings, including:

  • How many cars similar to the seller’s are listed locally
  • Private seller’s average asking price
  • Dealer’s average asking price
  • Overall average asking price
In 2000, began offering two services for determining vehicle values:

  • True Market Value Used Vehicle Appraiser: Estimates transaction prices for used vehicles bought and sold by dealers and private parties.
  • True Market Value Calculator: Provides estimated average price currently being paid for new vehicles.

Kelley Blue Book
When most people start thinking about selling a car or truck, someone is bound to ask, “What’s the blue book on it?” Many people don’t realize how specific that question really is. Like Kleenex or Xerox, over the decades Kelley Blue Book has seen its trademark product and name adopted by the public as a generic term for an entire industry.

For used cars, Kelley Blue Book provides retail value, trade-in value and private party prices, which are based on comprehensive surveys of actual sales. For new vehicles, KBB provides manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), dealer invoice price and New Car Blue Book Value. KBB publishes market value prices for new and used automobiles of all types, RVs and mobile homes, motorcycles, snowmobiles and personal watercraft.
Since 2000, has been offering an array of online information, products and services for vehicle buyers and sellers. Online information includes used car prices based on a variety of criteria including overall category (e.g., hybrid, luxury car, van/truck), year, make, model and trim, mileage and options. New car prices are also available for comparison.

In addition to new and used cars, trucks, vans and SUVs, NADA Guides are available for classic, collectible, exotic and special interest vehicles, as well as boats, motorcycles, RVs, personal watercraft, ATVs, snowmobiles and manufactured housing.

NADA (an acronym for National Auto Dealers Association) offers hard copy editions of its pricing guides, which are recognizable by their distinctive yellow-and-blue graphic design.

Dealer and Bank Pricing Sources
Although the following sources are not absolutely essential for private sellers, knowing your market can include finding out what similar vehicles are selling for at local dealers, what your vehicle is worth on a trade-in, and the car’s loan value at the neighborhood bank.

Black Book
Black Book offers subscription-only services, including Black Book Daily and Black Book Online, which are designed to track trade-in values for used vehicles. “It’s a great tool for dealers, but consumers can also use the service to get a range of values for their car,” says Ricky Beggs, Vice President and Managing Editor at Black Book.

Bank Value
A local bank may be able to provide an estimate of a vehicle’s cash worth, but that figure is essentially a loan value, which is typically a percentage measured against the wholesale price of the vehicle and is also affected by the seller’s credit score. Consequently, this number should be considered a relative value and market indicator, not an estimated price for your car.

Wholesale Value
Wholesale value is the price dealers expect to pay for a car. Wholesale prices can be helpful in determining a vehicle’s price, but only as a benchmark for comparison’s sake. Quoted wholesale values are normally classified according to four conditions: Rough, Average, Clean and Extra Clean.

Residual Factors
For pricing later model vehicles, sellers may want to check out the “residual value” figures for new-leased vehicles. Basically, this is the estimated depreciated value of the vehicle at the end of a lease. Your bank may be able to provide this information and there are web sites offering software for sale that calculates and tracks these numbers (e.g., The Automotive Lease Guide (ALG) is the foremost source for residual value forecasts, but keep in mind, these prices reflect what a vehicle will likely bring at auction, so this isn’t a good pricing tool for a direct private sale.

Doug DeLoach is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Late Model Illustrated and Circle Track.

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