Used Car Pricing: How Does It Work?

Used Cars

Buying or selling a used car and trying to figure out pricing can be a complicated process. While there are used car pricing guides such as Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds to reference, a savvy consumer will do more than just use those two sources. The more important question is probably how does used car pricing work? Beyond that, how do you know you’re getting the best price for a used car you’re either trying to buy or sell?

Two pricing guides, different used car prices

Both Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book are well-known and reputable companies providing valuable services for automotive consumers. Their pricing guides for new and used vehicles are probably their most popular feature, used by millions of Americans looking for the best possible price.

But the results these two pricing websites display may vary from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand dollars – for the same year/make/model vehicle exactly equipped and with the same odometer reading. The reason may lie in their proprietary software or the algorithms used to calculate pricing. Still, using both pricing guides will give you a better idea of the range of prices you can expect for your used car (or the one you’re looking to buy).

Let’s take the example of a 2010 Ford Taurus SEL sedan, 3.5-liter V6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive configuration in the 48090 zip code. The sedan has 26,000 miles on it, is in “excellent” or “outstanding” condition (Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds, respectively), and has the following options: heated front seats, parking sensors and backup camera, braking assist, AM/FM/CD-DVD/MP3 player, and navigation. There are certain differences in that the options list isn’t the same on both sites, but these are approximately the same.

The pricing results are as follows: Kelley Blue Book lists a private party price of $19,693, a suggested retail price (the dealer’s asking price and the starting price for the consumer’s negotiation) of $21,443, and a certified pre-owned (CPO) price of $22,143. Over at the Edmunds website, the True Market Value (TMV) on a trade-in is $17,870, whereas the private party price is $19,632 and the dealer’s retail price is $21,387.

The difference between the private party price from Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds is about $60. The dealer’s retail price is $56 higher at Kelley Blue Book. Keep in mind that the same vehicle in different zip codes will likely show a variance in pricing between the two guides. That’s due to market conditions, availability, even weather.

How do you arrive at a more accurate picture of what the used car price is? One way is to check out various websites, our own used car section included, to see what similar vehicles are priced at. This should give you a clearer idea of at least the range of prices for these vehicles in your area.

MORE: See What Is The “Kelley Blue Book” Price? and How Much Is My Car Worth?


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