• Buying Guides

How To Get a Car Appraisal

By Melissa Spicer | September 26, 2021

Getting a car appraisal is important if you're looking to sell your car, buy the proper amount of insurance for your car, get an idea of your car's trade-in value so you can buy a new car, or donate your car to charity. An appraisal helps you determine the value of your car based on current market conditions and can provide you with proof of your car's true worth.

First things first. Do you need a documented car valuation? If you need an official documented value of a vehicle, you will need to use a professional, certified appraiser. Officially determining a vehicle's value can be tricky. This primer on how, where, when, and why to get a vehicle appraisal can help.

Getting a Professional Car Appraisal

Getting an appraisal is a fairly straightforward and easy process since professional appraisers know the ropes when it comes to valuing vehicles of all types. You may find yourself needing this type of appraisal if you are the executor of an estate, going through a divorce or dealing with an insurance claim, all of which require accurate hard-copy appraisals. You may also just want the appraisal for yourself and your records if you are an avid collector or hobbyist.

Most appraisers appraise a variety of valuables and property, including furniture, furs, jewelry, and fine art. For this reason, it is essential to go with a certified appraiser who has a history of appraising cars or one who specializes in auto appraisal to ensure that they have the appropriate background to establish your vehicle's true worth.

It seems obvious, but it is best practice to go with a local appraiser since they will need to look at the car in person in order to prepare a written appraisal report. The appraiser will examine the car to evaluate its condition and market value. Pricing information varies widely throughout the profession, with most appraisers charging a flat fee, although some work by the hour.

If you are planning to auction your car through an auction house, then a professional appraiser is likely on staff to provide official values for items before they roll onto the auction block. Even those that don't have their own appraisers working for them can generally point you towards an appraiser you can hire on your own.

Figuring car worth may seem like a tedious endeavor. For the most accurate car appraisals, be sure to ask if the appraiser uses the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) when compiling their appraisal reports. USPAP offers specific guidelines appraisers should follow and it recommends generally accepted appraisal methods to ensure the accuracy of the appraisal.

Another qualification to look for is membership in the American Society of Appraisers (ASA). ASA appraisers have a 26-point checklist for appraising autos, which is the traditionally accepted format in the industry.

Prepping Your Vehicle for Appraisal:

When preparing your vehicle for the appraisal, be certain it looks and runs its best so that the appraiser can see it in its best light. Like lots of things in life, car prices are somewhat based on first impressions.

Make sure the car is cleaned, washed, and waxed, and perform any routine maintenance on the car, such as changing filters, filling and topping off fluids, and changing the oil.

Ensure the tires have good tread and the proper amount of air in them.

Finally, check that everything mechanical on the car works, since things like a blown headlight bulb can detract from the overall appraisal value.

Where to Determine Your Car's Value

If your goal is simply to get a value on your car so that you’ll know what it’s worth before selling it or trading it in, then you likely don't need an official car appraisal. What you are looking for is the car’s book value, which helps determine used vehicles or determine how much a trade-in is worth. You can determine the value of your vehicle from a variety of sources.

  • KBB.com. Kelley Blue Book’s website -- kbb.com -- is one of the best places to determine your car's value -- using its vaunted Blue Book valuation tool. To get this sort of vehicle appraisal, navigate to the homepage of the website, and click on 'My Car’s Value.' Use the drop-down menus to input your car’s make, model, year, and other specifics related to the car’s condition and whether you're trading the car in, selling it to a private party (and thus, looking for the car's private party value) or looking for the certified pre-owned value or suggested retail value.

  • NADA.com. NADA is one of the oldest book value guides, originally established for the National Automobile Dealers Association and now operated by J.D. Power. KBB pricing is often off slightly when compared to NADA pricing since it provides estimates for only vehicles in very clean condition. For this reason, you may need to adjust your asking price up or down based on your vehicle's actual condition and other factors such as the car's trim level. Because J.D. Power purchased NADAUsed Car Guide in 2015, you can also find used car value information on JDPower.com.

  • CarFax.com: is another great site to get your vehicle valued. In much the same vein, CarFax provides a history-based evaluation of your car, based on its VIN and other factors, including any accidents, repairs, and so on.

  • Edmunds.com: Edmunds provides five-car conditions, unlike KBB's four value types. Some experts trust Edmunds' values more than KBB's values as far as accuracy.

  • Consumer Reports.org: is a respected source for ratings and reviews on cars and other products. The website offers general pricing info on used vehicles.

  • Dealerships: If you are looking to trade or even sell your car to a dealership, dealerships offer their own book values. The dealer will take a variety of information into account when determining how much your vehicle is worth, much in the same way that KBB.org and CarFax come to their conclusions.

The dealer will also factor in the market demand for the vehicle in question, which is one advantage that a dealership vehicle appraisal may vary greatly from an online one - your dealer understands more about demand in your local area than a website calculator tool. For instance, if you live in Florida, your SUV with four-wheel drive may not be as in demand as it would be in a location where icy roads and bad conditions prevail part of the year, such as Kentucky.

However, since the dealer has a vested interest in paying you less for your vehicle than it's worth, it's often best to walk into the dealership having already done your research via one of the aforementioned third-party sites.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of whether you have a car appraised or not, you'll almost always get more for your old vehicle if you sell it privately yourself than if you trade it in or sell it to another dealer -- remember, dealers need to make money too. When selling your car privately, you'll need to know the pay-off amount if you're still paying on it, and you should be prepared to allow buyers to test drive the car. Presenting potential buyers with receipts for oil changes or repairs to your car can help to boost the presumption of the vehicle's condition so that it sells for more.

For most consumers, an official car appraisal is an added expense that they probably don't need. However, if you own a collectible, vintage, antique, exotic, rare, or classic car, a car appraisal ensures that the true value of your car is made clear in no uncertain terms.

However, whenever you're looking to get rid of your old Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, or another vehicle, it's a good idea to at least use an online appraisal tool first. This can help you more fully understand what your vehicle is worth so that you know more about what you’re selling and how much people are willing to pay for it. Depending on which you use, you may also be given an instant cash offer for your car, so you can offload it even faster.