Beyond Kelley Blue Book: How to Evaluate Classic Car Values

What do selling, buying, and restoring classic cars all have in common? You've got to know the car's value, and we can help.

Updated September 14, 2023
Ford Thunderbird 1956

From seeing well-kept cars drive by in local parades to racing towards the mock-driving thrill rides at amusement parks, America's fascination with classic cars runs deep. And if you've inherited an old beauty that you've got no idea what to do with, your first step should be figuring out its value. Once you know how much money it's worth, you can decide how/where to keep it, if you want to insure it, and if it's worth selling or keeping in the family. Thankfully, resources like the Kelley Blue Book can help you find classic car values in no time at all.  

Use Kelley Blue Book to Find (Newer) Classic Car Values 

Since 1926, car buyers and sellers have used the Kelley Blue Book (KBB) to determine how much their new and old cars are worth. If you bought your first car post-2000, you probably used the Kelley Blue Book to find the cheapest deals in your area. Surprisingly, KBB was originally a trade publication only accessible to people working in the auto industry, with the consumer edition not coming out until 1993.

While KBB used to produce a twice-yearly blue book for antique car collectors (called Kelley Blue Book: Early Model Guide), you can't get it anymore. However, all is not lost! Their trusty online tool has price information for cars and trucks that reaches back 21 years. Unfortunately, they don't have any pricing information for cars older than 21. So, your instinct was right in heading to KBB first, but if your car's from 19-anything, then you'll have to use other means to find its value. 

Fast Fact

Kelley Blue Book's online database only offers values for cars that are 21 years old and newer

Value Your Classic Cars Using These Resources 

classic car in a garage

If the only thing collectors had available to price their classic cars was Kelley Blue Book, there wouldn’t be much buying and selling going on. Thankfully, there are several less obvious resources you can use to figure out how much your classic cars are worth. 

J.D. Power Guide

The National Automobile Dealers Association's former price guides are now housed through J.D. Power. They're a vital resource for anyone who's interested in finding the market value for their new or used cars. Since Kelley Blue Book is out of the question for most classic cars, J.D. Power's price guides are the next best thing, and they're super easy to use. 

Answer a series of questions pertaining to your make, model, zip code, mileage, and more for the search function to pull up the most accurate valuation estimates possible. And don't worry about there being an age limit. For example, options for Ford go all the way back to 1926.

Just keep in mind that these estimates, although some of the most trusted in the business, are based on fair market value and won't reflect mitigating factors like damage or accident history. 

Hagerty Insurance Valuation Guide 

Hagerty Insurance has a classic car valuation tool that stretches back all the way to the 1940s. Hagerty started as an exclusive source for antique and classic car insurance. And since you can't dole out insurance policies without knowing how much the car's estimated worth is, it seemed natural to make their valuation guides available to the public. You can search by year, make, or vehicle identification number. With a free account, you can see values over time, save makes and models, and use other features.

Hemmings' Classic Car Values Search 

Billing itself as "the world's largest collector car marketplace," Hemmings offers a wealth of data about classic cars. In addition to classified ads and current dealer listings, you can check out your car's value by searching their online price guide. Enter the make, model, and year of the car you're interested in, and they'll give you a low, high, and average price based on recent sales and advertising for the last three years. 

And if you're in the market for selling your old road warrior, Hemmings is a great place to start. You can sell on their website using three different tiers: auction, make offer, or classified. Each costs less than $150. 

And if you've got the vintage bug and want to stick to old-school magazines instead of digital resources, they also publish various guides and magazines, including Hemmings Classic Car. For $15, you can get monthly issues for an entire year. 

Collector Car Market Review

If you want comprehensive numbers, then Collector Car Market Review is the way to go. The values they reach for every car featured are pulled not only through auction results but also the company's Value-Track® database, sales reports, government data, and new car inventory levels and incentives. You can find some basic value information online by selecting the car's make, followed by year and model in their search function. 

Available at newsstands and through order, Collector Car Market Review features profiles of certain cars, styles, and periods (1946-1990). While articles are available on their website, you'll need to buy a full guide to give you all the information. 

Mecum Auctions Past Auction Catalog 

Sports fans have ESPN, and car enthusiasts have Mecum Auctions. Mecum Auctions is reputably the world's largest car auction company. On top of listing the upcoming cars at auction, you can also look at past auctions to see what previous cars have sold for. On top of having high-quality images and detailed seller information, Mecum Auctions is a good resource to help you base average price points for the condition your classic car is in. 

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There are a lot of caveats with auction sales, such as who was present and interested in buying and how high the reserve was. But if you find enough examples in past auctions of the type of car you’ve got, you can get a broad idea for its base value. This is also super helpful if you’re thinking about restoring your car or modifying it in the future. You can get a feel for how much the value might go up if you make those changes and weigh that difference with the restoration costs. 

Need to Know

You have to make a free account with Mecum Auctions before you're able to see the price information for past auction sales. 

AntiqueCar's Online Listings 

Although doesn’t offer official vehicle values, it provides a lot of helpful information for determining what your car is worth if you think outside of the box. The classified section of their website gives you a snapshot of all the classic cars currently on the market. You can search for cars similar to yours to get a general idea about how much other people are listing it for and how long they've been listed. In a way, this is more important than market valuations, because (beyond insurance purposes) most people look for price information to know how much they can sell the car for. 

Things to Keep in Mind When Evaluating Your Ride 

If the most you know about cars is how to fill up the gas tank and that they get you from point A to point B, then all the numbers might not mean that much to you. But don't be swayed to take the first value you get as a commandment. Instead, keep a few things in mind. 

  • Prices are all relative. Values can fluctuate drastically from decade to decade, so don't expect that your car is going to be worth the same as it was 40 years ago. 
  • Value doesn't always translate to sales price. When you're selling a classic car, the value only means so much if you can't find someone willing to buy it for that. 
  • Certain characteristics will always increase price. Matching serial numbers, low mileage, and a good restoration will all increase a classic car's value out of the gate. 

Know Your Car's Worth 

Whether you've got an Oldsmobile collecting dust in your garage or you're desperate to save up for a 70 Chevrolet SS, it's important to accurately know how much classic cars are worth. While Kelley Blue Book will help you with cars up to the early 2000s, you'll have to rely on other resources to fill in the older gaps. But once you've got all the numbers you need, you'll be confident to take the right next steps for your automotive dreams. 

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Beyond Kelley Blue Book: How to Evaluate Classic Car Values