Reference from Coast to Coast - Vehicle Prices On the Web

By Jan Bissett and Margi Heinen, Published on August 15, 2002

Jan Bissett is a Reference Librarian in the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan office of Dickinson Wright PLLC. She is a past president of the Michigan Association of Law Libraries and has published articles on administrative and research related topics in the Michigan Association of Law Libraries Newsletter and Michigan Defense Quarterly. She and Margi Heinen team teach Legal Information Sources and Services for Wayne State University's Library and Information Science Program in Detroit, Michigan.   

Margi Heinen is the Manager of Library Services at Sherman and Howard in Denver, Colorado. She has taught courses on Legal Resources at the University of Michigan's School of Information and at Wayne State University's School of Library and Information Science. She has been a faculty member for several I.P.E. presentations including "Internet Strategies for the Paralegal in Michigan" and ICLE's "Internet Legal Resources" seminar. She is a member of the Colorado Association of Law Libraries and the American Association of Law Libraries.

Need to check car prices? Maybe your client is getting divorced and you need a valuation for property settlement purposes. Or you may need to settle an estate or value a vehicle for tax purposes. You may be asked to help someone with a personal request - "my son wants to buy a car" or "I want to sell my old car." Finding "blue book" values is easy if you know what you need.

The "blue book" price has not always come from books the color of a summer sky, and now may not come from a "book" at all. For years we relied on a nearby public library for the little yellow paperbacks from the National Automobile Dealer’s Association (N.A.D.A.). Other reputable price guides have been known as the "Black Book", the "Red Book", and, yes, the "Blue Book." The Web has made the color of the source irrelevant, but you may need some guidance choosing which website provides what you are looking for. For an excellent description of vehicle valuation tools we suggest LLRX's own Zimmerman’s Research Guide. This entry provides a helpful description of historical sources as well as useful websites. Since this section of Zimmerman’s Guide was produced, there have been some changes - the "Red Book" is now produced by Primark (see description below).

Before describing this rainbow of appraisal sources on the Web, we want to caution the reader to check local customs or statutes before choosing a source for your particular need. There appears to be a preference for certain guides based on geography (northeastern states tend to use the National Market Reports whereas western states may usually refer to the Kelley Blue Book) or on specific requirements of rule or statute (Kansas Directive from Department of Revenue lists recommended guides to be used in property valuation.) If you are not required to use a specific guide, you should take a moment to see how the various guides come up with their values. Comparing the same vehicle in several of these guides may give you a range of values. Most of these websites also have a FAQ (frequently asked question) section which is well worth visiting for explanations of what they do and how.

That familiar "blue book", an N.A.D.A. publication, can now be accessed on the Web. Prices go back to 1983 in the used car listing. If your car is older than that you might try the "classic" tab. If you still don’t see your vehicle, you may need to call N.A.D.A. at 888-232-6232 for a price. N.A.D.A develops their values by reviewing approximately 500,000 sales each month and breaking the values down by the condition of the vehicles. An alternative value guide is the Kelley Blue Book. Kelley also breaks prices down by the condition of the car. Their values are intended for use by wholesalers, so the value assumes the trade-in value plus the cost of preparing vehicle for resale. The famous "Red Book" (formerly National Market Report Guides) is now available through Primark and can be subscribed to in print, CD or the Web. Unlike N.A.D.A. and Kelley, this source is not available FREE on the Web - a subscription is required. However, Primark offers guides to passenger vehicles, boats, aircraft and commercial vehicles. They claim to cover 40% more passenger vehicles than other guides so if you do a large amount of vehicle work the subscription cost may not be significant. Another subscription only source is the National Auto Research "Black Book". This valuation source has been around since 1955 and it develops its price guide based on weekly wholesale auction prices. Cars are rated by condition and the prices obtained at auction are factored into the price guide weekly.

While these guides have long been recognized as authoritative sources for "blue book" prices, you may be looking for car prices from a consumers view. In that case you probably also want to consult the helpful folks at the Consumers Guide® for price information as well as reviews and recommendations. A final website worth looking at when considering car prices is the consumer-oriented site at Edmunds.com. This site offers plenty of advice on shopping for cars as well as price guides. The Internet Public Library’s FARQ "The Automobile Blue Book" provides descriptions of standard sources – NADA, Kelley Blue Book, and Edmund’s Automobile Buyer’s Guides for these consumer oriented questions.

And a last caveat for those web minded users: Beware - some sites claiming to provide "blue book" car prices require you to give your name and address and they will mail you a price quote. For instance, Automobile Magazine claims to offer valuations back to 1983, but requires that you put in personal information and the price quote will be sent to you. You may not want to start receiving ads for cars (or other solicitations) just because you are researching prices.

Links Mentioned in this Article

Automobile Blue Book

  • http://www.ipl.org/div/farq/bluebookFARQ.html

Automobile Magazine

  • http://www.automobilemag.com/

Black Book

  • http://www.blackbookguides.com/

Consumers Guide

  • http://auto.consumerguide.com/


  • http://www.edmunds.com/

NADA Blue Book

  • http://www.nadaguides.com/

Kelley Blue Book.

  • http://www.kbb.com/

Red Book

  • http://www.pricedigests.com/

Zimmerman’s Research Guide

  • http://www.llrx.com/guide/

Zimmerman's Research Guide: Automobile Valuation Tools

  • http://www.llrx.com/guide-gen/6/116.html