What's a fair used car price, when EVERY car is listed $1,000s above its blue book value?

I’m struggling to find a used car I can afford, and I’m at a loss to figure out when I’m looking at a good value and when I’m getting ripped off. Every car I’m finding, whether at dealerships or sold by individuals on craigslist is at least $1,000 above the kbb blue book value. One dealer listed a 2002 Ford Focus ZXW w/130k miles for $5,500, when kbb says that car should be $1,800! Are kbb values always off? Are prices up because so many more people are buying used rather than new? Am I just in an over-priced market? (SF Bay Area). How can I find REAL prices to negotiate with?

Offer the Blue Book value or whatever you’re comfortable paying and if you don’t like it walk away and keep looking. Keep in mind if it has maintenance deferrals, then you subtract the cost of [maintenance item] from it’s fair value. Example, when I bought my car it needed a timing belt & water pump, so instead of knocking off another, say, $500, the dealership simply threw in the timing belt & water pump with the car (did the work thru their service department). The point is, sometimes you have to be creative when bargaining. Dealerships know that customers will low ball when possible so they have to inflate prices to compensate for it. Hope that helps.

Also check car values on cars.com, nada.com, autotrader.com and edmunds.com Look at ebay to see what actual selling prices (not listing price) have been. I have bought 8 cars in the last 7 years and never paid more than NADA trade in.

In today’s economy, inexpensive basic transportation cars (<$5,000) are in demand. You can find lots of 2005 MB CL600s for $10,000 under wholesale. Expand your search outside of SF and drive it home.

Keep trying and don’t pay too much in today’s economy.


Remember that a dealer’s asking price is like a Christmas wish list and he’s looking for a Santa Claus to fill his stocking. He has mouths to feed too. As suggested, you can find fair NADA and KBB prices for models in your area on line. Going into negotiations prepared and a willingness to walk goes a long way in knocking those prices down. It’s YOU the customer that ultimately determines the REAL price. Keep that in mind.

I found that the Edmunds new car prices are fairly accurate when I buy. Find a car you like and go to edmunds.com. Find the car from the used car page, input the options, mileage, and condition. Make sure that your zip code is correct. You will get a trade-in value, private sale value, and dealer sale value. You are interested in the last two. If it doesn’t match the asking price, offer a price that will make the suggested price on line half way between the asking price and your first offer.