How Kelley Blue Book Works

Evolution of the Blue Book

The very first Kelley Blue Book, published in 1926
Photo courtesy Kelley Blue Book

­When Kelley first published its Blue Book in 1926­, it was simply a price guide with a basic list of cars and prices. Today, Kelley offers guides for new cars, used cars, older cars dating back to the 1940s, as well as motorcycles and recreational vehicles like motor homes and camping trailers. Much of this information is available free from the Kelley Blue Book Web site.

Kelley only offers information on cars sold in the United States, so the same model of car sold in Canada might have some key differences that would alter the value. Kelley can still be used as a guide when a used car is sold in another country, but it does not account for regional market differences.


Most people are familiar with the consumer editions of the New Car and Used Car Guides, which can be purchased in almost any book store. These guides are published twice a year.

The Kelley Blue Book New Car Guide contains pricing information on cars for the current model year, including:

  • MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price)
  • the dealer's cost
  • any extra costs that may be involved, such as shipping the car
  • pricing schedules for various options that buyers can select

The Blue Book Used Car Guide contains information on the values of cars made in the last 15 years. This guide offers several different prices:

  • retail price - what you would expect to pay for this car at a used car dealership
  • trade-in price - what a dealer would offer you in trade value
  • private sale price - the price you could expect to get for this car if you sold it yourself to another person

The Used Car Guide offers charts and tables to calculate the price based on the condition of the car, the mileage, and optional components. It also describes how those factors influence the overall value of the car. Information on older used cars is presented in a separate book, while motorcycle and RV information is published separately as well. That information is only available in the guidebooks -- not on the Kelley Web site.

Using the books is easy. The cars are listed by manufacturer, then alphabetically by model. If you wanted to look up a Ford Explorer, you'd first go to the Ford section, then thumb through the "E"s until you found "Explorer." The book includes a "How to use this book" section that explains optional equipment and mileage.

Next, we'll take a tour of the Kelley Blue Book Web site.