The Kelley Blue Book and Black Book are both price guides for used vehicles, but they're used in radically different ways. Consumers are apt to run across Black Book values only when they sell their cars to vehicle resellers. Blue Book is directed squarely at consumers.
For decades, the two guides were sold by subscription to automotive industry professionals, but the companies took different paths in the mid-1990s. Black Book continued to sell by subscription to "industry qualified users," as the company puts it. Blue Book, however, became a consumer reference in the 1990s and makes its money from web advertising.
While Blue Book and Black Book don't compete directly, Blue Book does compete with Edmunds.com. Edmunds originally published information booklets for car buyers and started its website the same year Blue Book did, in 1995. Both include valuations for new cars as well.
Black Book, which is part of the Hearst Business Media Corporation, gets its data from used-car auctions across the country -- auctions where bulk-volume vehicle buyers get their stock. It captures and sorts out the selling prices to get usable data on specific vehicles' values.
Some Black Book users invest in portfolios of vehicles to spruce up and ship to a different region of the country or the world. Other subscribers include insurers tracking vehicle replacement values and car-lease companies that calculate their rates based on the value of the vehicle when it is returned to them.
Then there are Black Book subscribers who buy cars like yours and resell them at auction and elsewhere. You won't get the Black Book data directly when you sell your car, but it's reflected in the valuations you get from car-purchasing businesses. These companies advertise that their quotes are based on Black Book values.
If you assume that preliminary quotes from such firms are high but binding quotes are low, those valuations can serve as guidance for pricing your own private transactions. That's about the only use consumers can make of Black Book.
Kelley Blue Book says its valuations are based on "actual transactions," and its print version covers values nationwide. Nevertheless, Blue Book valuations are emphatically local. You cannot get a price for selling your car or buying one without specifying your zip code.
Blue Book wants your zip because local car dealers want your dollars, and Blue Book wants theirs. Every valuation comes with listings of cars available from dealers in your area.
Blue Book values are updated weekly, the company says. Its valuations reportedly run higher than valuations on Edmunds.com, but you'll want to check both whether you're buying or selling.
If you're buying a used car, you'll start with the Blue Book search button labeled "Price New/Used Cars." Although buyers can use a browse feature for car-model shopping, valuations hinge on precise information that you enter about make, model, trim, options, mileage, and even interior and exterior color.
Fill in the search details and the site gives you the fair market value for that specific car. The value is a range, and the specific dollar value for your car is pinpointed on that range based on vehicle condition. The results page also tells you the number of dealers' vehicles for sale that meet your precise search criteria, and even points out vehicles priced above or below market value.
If you're selling a car, click on "Check My Car's Value." You'll go through a series of valuation indicators, just as you do for valuing a car you want to buy. You can get trade-in values and private-sale values. Private sellers can list cars for sale just as dealers can.