• Buying Guides

How To Get a Car Appraisal

By Autolist Staff | December 12, 2018

So you want to sell your car. Or insure it for the proper amount. Or buy a used vehicle. Or donate one to charity. There are many reasons people want to know how much a vehicle is worth which means they'll need to get it appraised.

An appraisal helps determine the value of your car based on current market conditions and it can provide you with proof of your car's true worth. If you need an official, documented value of a vehicle, you will need to use a professional, certified appraiser.

However, if you are simply looking to find out how much a car is worth without the fancy documentation, you have a few more options.

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 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. Most appraisers charge 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.

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.

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. 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.

Determining Book 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 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. Because J.D. Power purchased NADA Used 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.

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.

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

However, whenever and however you're looking to get rid of your old vehicle, it's a good idea to at least use an online appraisal tool to understand what it's worth.