Appraisal: What to Expect

An appraisal is when the potential buyer will assess the vehicle and assign it a dollar value. There are different types of appraisals.

Since covid & it’s effects have changed the way we get inventory, we’ve been buying more vehicles from our customers. Our outcry has been please give us an opportunity to buy your vehicle from you. Now, since we buy & sell cars daily it didn’t quite hit us that some may not be familiar with the process. We do appraisals on trades every time we take one in, and when seeking to purchase your vehicle outright the process is the same. If you’re interested in selling us your vehicle click here.

We know that our customers definitely want to test drive before they buy, so naturally we assumed folks understand that we will test drive before we buy as well. Until this past week when a customer got really upset that we drove his vehicle when he brought it in for an appraisal & quote. So I thought it was a good time to go over the process.

The Role of the Appraiser

The appraiser is tasked with assigning a value to the vehicle. The appraiser will go through a complete checklist of the vehicle. This includes everything from a visual inspection of the exterior to examining the vehicle’s paperwork, odometer, and interior components. The appraiser will also conduct a test drive and calculate the value of the vehicle. We also use tools like NADA vehicle pricing to offer current market values both when we get a trade & when we appraise for purchase.

What Do Car Appraisers Look For?

It’s important to know what car appraisers look for during their inspection. Here is what to expect:

Initial Visual Inspection and Walkaround

The appraiser will walk around the vehicle first and look for any damages, including cracks, dents, signs of accidents, and signs of wear. They will also look at the condition of the tires.  This visual inspection of the vehicle is known as a “silent walkaround” that provides a first impression of the vehicle’s condition.

Check Vehicle’s Paperwork, Mileage, & VIN Verification

The vehicle’s tags, registration, maintenance records, or any accident paperwork are checked. Afterward, the appraiser will check the vehicle’s VIN against a vehicle history search service. This is to check for any history of accidents and vehicle ownership history. Afterward, the appraiser will check the mileage on the odometer.

Look at the Vehicle’s Exterior & Interior

The vehicle’s doors, trunk, and hood are checked to see if they open and close smoothly. Afterward, the appraiser will go inside the vehicle and check the various electronic components. At this time, the appraiser will check to see if all the lights, knobs, and buttons are working properly.

Look Under the Hood

After checking the vehicle’s interior, the appraiser will take a look at the fluid levels on the vehicle. This includes an inspection of the oil, coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and washer fluid.

Drive Test Is Conducted

The appraiser will conduct a driving test and check how the engine starts, the quality of the shifting, acceleration, handling, and braking. The appraiser will typically drive the vehicle for about 3 to 5 miles. After the driving test is complete, the appraiser will check for any leaks under the vehicle.

Final Calculation of Vehicle’s Value

After the appraisal is completed, the dealership manager will calculate the vehicle’s value based on its condition, driving performance, and “Black Book” value of the vehicle.

Will My Vehicle Be Valued at Retail or Wholesale?

During the appraisal, a value will be given to your car based on its condition. Your vehicle will fall into one of two categories: Retail and wholesale.

  • With a retail value, the vehicle will be resold at the dealership. That’s because the vehicle is considered to be in good condition and can be resold quickly.
  • With a wholesale, the vehicle will be sold at a wholesale auction. That’s because the vehicle is considered to not be in good enough condition to be sold quickly. The vehicle may also be sold at wholesale if it is not considered to be in high demand in the local market.

If the dealer can sell the vehicle at the dealership, they are likely to experience a higher profit. If we sell it on our lot we also send it through service to ensure that it meets standards for auto retail dealerships.

If the dealer sells the vehicle at a wholesale auction, they get an auction value. If the dealership has to sell the vehicle wholesale, they are most likely to simply “break-even” on the vehicle.

How Does a Dealer Decide to Value Your Vehicle?

If the dealer believes that they can sell your vehicle at the dealership, they will assign a retail trade-in value. If the dealer believes that they will not quickly sell the vehicle at the dealership, they will assign a wholesale value for your vehicle.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to appraise a car?

A typical vehicle appraisal should take less than an hour. Exotic cars can take longer to appraise.

What is the difference between Black Book and Blue Book value?

Black Book is what dealerships use to value a vehicle. Kelly Blue Book is what consumers use to value their vehicles. Black Book (NADA) tends to use more metrics to value a vehicle.

What should I do before trading in my car?

Be sure to check the value of your vehicle. Also, clean the vehicle, make minor repairs, and get all of the vehicle’s paperwork in order.

Buying a vehicle is a major purchase. You should be sure & ready when you sign the paperwork.

If you have any questions please feel free to reach out via email cathyc at or message me on messenger.

Thank you to Geoff Cudd, for providing most of the information I’ve included here.

If you’re in the market for a vehicle we would love an opportunity to earn your business. Please visit to view our inventory.

All my best

2 thoughts on “Appraisal: What to Expect

  1. Thank you for explaining that an appraiser will look at lots of things such as the paperwork, mileage, the exterior, interior, even doing a drive test. My sister has been wondering what she can expect when she goes to get her car appraised next week. I’ll have to share this with her so that she’s ready with all of the information before she goes.

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