How to Use NADA Guides to Assess a Car's Value

by Denise Sullivan

The National Automobile Dealers Association publishes an annual guide of the latest car and truck prices. The information is based on recent auction prices and is typically skewed toward the auto dealer's perspective, not the consumer's. However, it can be a useful tool when deciding on a reasonable price range for a vehicle you wish to buy or sell. You can search NADA's updated database of car values for free on its website.

Vehicle Information

Write down your vehicle's mileage. Make a list of all of its major features, such as the engine size, transmission type, miles per gallon, power equipment, audio equipment, safety features and types of seats. Also note any special trim or add-ons. Provide as much information as possible about the vehicle to get the most accurate estimate of its value.

Looking Up Prices

Navigate to the NADA website to look up car prices online. Click on the "New and Used Car Prices" link to bring up the search screen. You can find cars by make or price, or select a range of miles per gallon to search for fuel-efficient vehicles. If you choose to search by make, you will be prompted for the year and body style on the next screen. Choose a trim level style if the vehicle in question was available in multiple variations for that model year.

Reading the Results

Find the category that most closely matches the condition of your vehicle. You will be presented with four different columns of values on the search results screen: "Rough Trade-In," "Average Trade-In," "Clean Trade-In" and "Clean Retail." Evaluate the vehicle's body damage, mileage and cleanliness when determining its condition. Add value for any custom features that are not included in the website's options.

Tip

  • The NADA guide is only intended to serve as a guideline -- not a guarantee of the purchase or sale price for any particular vehicle. You may want to consult other sources such as Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book to see if the NADA value falls within a reasonable range.

Tip

  • You can also purchase a print version of the guide by visiting the product store on the NADA website. Guides are available as a one-time purchase or a yearly subscription that includes periodic updates.

Items you will need

About the Author

Denise Sullivan has been writing professionally for more than five years after a long career in business. She has been published on Yahoo! Voices and other publications. Her areas of expertise are business, law, gaming, home renovations, gardening, sports and exercise.