A guide to appraising cars like the Trade 

Appraising a car properly is a detailed and time consuming job. Just giving the car a quick ‘once-over’ can be risky. Some dealers these days use quite complex electronic appraisal systems.

There are three very basic rules:

  • Always carry out the appraisal in daylight
  • Always carry out the appraisal in the dry
  • Only appraise a ‘clean’ car

Of course if you evaluate a filthy car on a rainy night, your analysis will almost certainly be sub-standard. But sometimes it’s not practical or convenient to work around such a perfect scenario. This is where personal judgement or even ‘gut feeling’ can come into account, and the more experience you have the greater the likelihood of making the right decisions.

It is also preferable if the car owner accompanies you during the appraisal. They will be able to answer any questions and will also often be prone to pointing out faults, some of which you may have missed.

There are ten basic areas to look at:

  • Overview
  • Exterior panels
  • Wheels
  • Mirrors
  • Interior
  • Boot
  • Under the bonnet
  • Drive
  • Questions
  • Documents

Appraisal overview

Walk around the car slowly at least three times, talking particular notice of:

  • Bodywork – is it sound, any sign of accident damage or repairs
  • Paintwork – is it all the same colour, any signs of rust or damage, any signs of repairs or re-sprays. Pay attention to stone chips on the bonnet or key scratches by the door handles
  • Glass – any chips or scratches
  • Wheels – check all wheels for damage as repairs to alloys can be costly. Look for evidence of ‘kerbing’ or repairs

This should give you a ‘feel’ for the car. Does the overall condition reflect the age and mileage of the car? You will need to make an estimate of repair costs. If necessary go away and get quotes. Never feel pressured into buying until you are completely satisfied and comfortable.

 Exterior panels

Check every panel one by one. Look at each panel from different angles and get on your knees. Do not be afraid to get up and close and make notes or take photographs if you feel it appropriate.


Check each wheel carefully from 12-24 inches away. Alloy wheels are subject to damage. Check the tyre walls and tread depth. Are the tyres legal? Tyres can be very expensive these days.


You’d be surprised at the cost of a replacement mirror. I’ve heard some real horror stories – up to£1,000 (yes thousand!) for an all-electric replacement.


What does the car smell like? Smoking? Dogs?

Check the seat trim – any rips or marks?

Check the headlining – any rips or marks?

Are the seats OK, any sagging?

Do the seat controls all work?

Check that the seatbelts work.

Check the carpets for any damage, excess wear or dampness.

Check that all the controls and switches are in working order.

Check the glove box and doors for any damage.

Check the sun visors.

Check sunroof operation.

Check cruise control operation.

Check air conditioning operation.

Check heating and ventilation system.

Check the steering column adjustment.

Check all window operation.

Check wiper operation and the screen washers.


Check for spare wheel or space saver wheel and tools.

Check under the carpet for signs of repaired accident damage or re-spray.

Under the bonnet

Are there any signs of leaks?

Check the oil. Signs of sludge means water has got in the oil.


Does it start easily (from cold)?

Is the exhaust clear or smoking? Blue smoke means burning oil.

Is the exhaust blowing?

Is the clutch slipping?

Do all the gears select properly, including reverse?

Is there any transmission noise?

Does the engine run and sound smooth, without excessive revving or misfiring?

Is the suspension OK? No noises?

Is the steering precise? No noise or whine?

Are there any warning lights on on the dashboard?

Is the oil pressure OK?

Is the temperature OK?

Are the brakes working OK? No judder or squeals?

Are there any rattles or other annoying noises?

 Questions to ask

  • Will they be removing anything from the car:
    • Tow bar
    • Sat Nav/ICE

Once you’ve struck a deal you’re happy with and you’re ready to sign the necessary paperwork be careful to review the paperwork to make sure it reflects all the points agreed upon during your negotiation. If everything looks good, put your John Hancock on the dotted line.