Buying a Used Car Under Book Value

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Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Oct 27, 2016

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Here's what you need to know...

  • You need to understand depreciation before looking for a car
  • Check out Kelley’s Blue Book to to find out the market value of various cars
  • Learn how to buy cars that are available at less than book value
  • Always compare prices before purchasing your car

Buying a used car for under its book value is possible. Start with a good understanding of depreciation.

If you drive daily, your vehicle is a depreciating asset. If you’re familiar with accounting and depreciation, your car’s maximum life for accounting purposes may be different from its actual years on the road.

Then familiarize yourself with Kelley’s Blue Book. Not every car of the same make and age has the same book value. Certain markets may favor the value of one car over another.

Next, learn about how to find cars available at less than book value. Comparison shopping can help you find affordable car insurance.

Check your car insurance rates now by entering your zip above!

How do I calculate a car’s book value?

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Start by reading Kelley’s Blue Book, a widely read used car value guide. The Blue Book provides a private party value as well as a retail value.

Read other used car value guides, such as NADA guides and Edmunds to compare and contrast values.

Consider how some small details affect the car’s future value, too.

According to author Jane Bryant Quinn in Making the Most of Your Money Now, a car’s color can help determine its value.

Buying a car in a popular color, such as black or white, may cost you more money than a hot pink car. Sometimes, purchasing a car in a less attractive color allows you to purchase a car below its book value.

Similarly, a car with a manual rather than automatic transmission can mean great savings to a careful, comparative shopper.

Where do I find cars selling under book value?


One way of finding cars at less than book value involves exploration of used car sellers on the internet.

Buying a car sight unseen is never recommended, but searching online for cars in your budget is a nice way to get a clearer understanding of your options.

Explore car sales offered via online auction market sites, such as eBay, with care.

After evaluating used cars on the Internet, attend a live auto auction if you’re looking for bargains. In some markets, such as the Manheim Auto Auction in Manheim, Pennsylvania, only commercial buyers may attend certain auctions.

According to The National Auctioneers Association, a private buyer may use the services of an intermediary with the right credentials to buy at a commercial auction.

In some cases, however, buying the right car at 20% to 50% of its market value leaves plenty of room to compensate a car auction consultant!

Other auctions welcome all car buyers to the market. A local county sheriff’s auction or other government auction may provide ample opportunity to purchase used cars under book value.

In some states, cars may be impounded and sold for fines. Repossessed cars may offer other opportunities to purchase vehicles under book value.

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Fleet vehicles from municipal governments or corporations may also be sold at auction. Depending on the vehicle’s usage, its mileage, maintenance, and other factors, the auction buyer must be prepared to bid wisely and in the moment.

Familiarizing yourself with used car value guides, markets, auctions, and opportunities can help you save money on a great used car.

Lastly, consider letting friends and family know about your desire to purchase a used car below book value.

In challenging economic times, some car owners are willing to sell a vehicle quickly to raise cash.

The ability to move quickly when an attractive used car becomes available in this manner can mean great savings to a used car buyer.

How do I purchase a reliable used car under book value?


Most cars purchased in a commercial auction are sold without a warranty. That’s why a commercial auction attracts professional dealers and automotive experts.

The ability to evaluate the car’s condition, including its engine and working parts, can help the buyer to spot a bargain. The paint or other exterior details may be less important to the commercial buyer because he’s concerned with what’s under the hood.

When possible, have a trusted mechanic look at any used car before purchase. Alternatively, the sales agreement may allow the buyer to have the car checked by a mechanic of choice.

Don’t hesitate to pass on a car with an uncertain pedigree or potential high repair or rebuild costs.

Knowing that you’ve purchased a used car under book value is a great feeling. Shopping for affordable car insurance is easy, too. Get free online car insurance quotes today by entering your zip below!

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