March 09, 1999

Confessions of a Car Salesman

The Real Blue Book

When you buy a car, you need to know its value, just like when you buy a stock.

The Kelley NADA Blue Book (Blue Book) is the only authoritative guide to car values. It's a universal standard in the U.S. When shopping for a used car, a customer ought to know what the Blue Book "wholesale" value of the car is. Why? Because if you ever sell the car or if the car is totaled in an accident, that wholesale value is all you will get from a buyer or an insurance adjuster.

The Blue Book is actually a small, yellow jacketed, pamphlet-type thing that lists every make and model of car and truck by the year of production. It lists the dealer wholesale price (on average, what the dealer paid for the car). This price is commonly known as "Blue Book." If your friend tells you, "I got a 1976 Special Edition Dodge Dart for $100 under Blue Book!" he is referring to the dealer wholesale price.

The Blue Book lists three tiers of retail prices -- low, medium, and high -- which supposedly depend on what shape the car is in. These are the prices the dealer wants to sell the car at.

There's one problem with theBlue Book. It comes in different editions with different prices. This is an industry secret. The Blue Bookyou can buy at a bookstore is a thick pamphlet that is published twice a year and is called the "Consumer Edition." This is not the real Blue Book. Same publisher, same NADA seal of approval, but all of the prices listed are higher.

The real Blue Book is a very thin pamphlet that is published in one- to two-month cycles. Usually only car dealers and insurance companies buy it, in bulk orders. The prices, as you would expect, change with every edition due to depreciation and, very rarely, appreciation.

This is the book you need to see. But don't go looking for it at your local bookstore. It won't be there. So how can a consumer get hold of a copy? According to a representative of Kelley Blue Book, consumers can purchase the real Blue Bookthrough a $54 annual subscription. If $54 and a yearlong commitment seem a little steep, ask the car salesman you're dealing with to show you his copy. Chances are he's carrying one around in his back pocket. If the salesman won't show it to you after several requests, you are not dealing with a forthright person. Consider his "no" your cue to exit.

The Blue Book is your trump card in any car negotiation. It also lets you know if your expectation about the price of a certain car is realistic. You will never have a better ally in the process of buying a car.

-- Mike Cavendish

Tip # 4 -- Keep Your Mind On Your Dream Car