By: PJ McKenna


PJ McKenna was born into the Motor trade. His father and uncle started a small garage/filling station in Emyvale, Co.Monaghan in 1949. PJ worked there from when he was a "nipper". Since then "he has done it all" from fixing punctures to car washing, car valeting, mechanical work, panel beating, buying, selling, retailing, trading etc. He bought his first car at "a fiver" (five punts) almost forty years ago and since then has bought and sold thousands of vehicles.

Recently he has developed OLU, a system for underwriting used vehicles on-line. Getting an accurate and swift part exchange valuation at the time of negotiation is one of the most difficult tasks facing garages and car salespeople. On the other side, the main difficulty with OLU is getting accurate descriptions from salespeople.

To try and help salespeople with appraisals PJ has put down some pointers from his years of experience here...


Always remember when you're appraising a used car you are buying a used car. Approach the transaction as if you were spending your own money! Take your time! Remember if the customer were to get an AA report done on a used car you were selling them, the engineer would go through it from A-Z, forensic style and it would take him approximately two hours. A Toyota Yaris is a lot easier to appraise than a Mitsubishi Evo, so if you’re talking to the customer prior to them coming in, ask them to allow enough time to demonstrate the new vehicle and appraise their trade-in properly. Also ask them to bring all documentation, VLC, VRC, service history, handbooks etc. with them.

Try and do the trade-in appraisal early on in the negotiations and get the details on OLU while the customer has tea or coffee.

Golden Rules

  1. If you are not proficient, get someone who is, to help you, preferably someone with mechanical or bodywork experience.
  2. The trade-in needs to be accurately/professionally appraised. Never examine a car if it is dirty, while it is raining, still wet, or in bad light.
  3. Always use a professional appraisal form. Have the customer sign the appraisal on completion. (They may damage the car before they collect their new one).
  4. Test-drive the vehicle. Check the vehicle on full lock for velocity joint and steering/suspension problems. Take the customer with you. They will be impressed if you adopt a thorough method of appraisal. If for whatever reason you cannot test drive the vehicle, start the car, leave it running, after a few minutes "rev" the engine to 3000-3500 rpm check for excess smoke from exhaust or abnormal sounds from the engine. If in doubt revert to Golden Rule 1.
  5. Establish the exact model e.g. is it an L, a Freedom, an LX or a Ghia? Do not take the customers word - check documentation. Also the Car Salesman’s Guide for model changes/facelifts in that year.
  6. Establish how many owners the vehicle has had (double-check documentation).
  7. Develop your own routine for examining a vehicle, slowly walk around the car, several times if necessary, taking note of paintwork abnormalities, panel alignment and gaps. Look down both sides of the vehicle, on your hunkers, to get a better view of shopping trolley type marks/dents "dings" as we call them. These types of marks are very difficult to repair and if there are several can result in the vehicle not being "sharp".
  8. Open bonnet, check visually for oil leaks, service stickers, timing-belt replacement markings. Cross check with service book.
  9. Inspect bonnet-mounting bolts, wing mounting bolts to see if have they been tampered with. Check side valances, headlamp mountings etc. for any abnormality. If in doubt, revert back to Golden Rule 1.
  10. Check the roof of the vehicle. If someone has walked across the roof, for example, it is almost impossible to repair properly, bar putting on a new roof-skin, which is hugely expensive or filling with Isopon. Both options depreciate the vehicle and most likely excluding it from retail sale.
  11. Open the boot, lift boot mat and check for any abnormalities.
  12. Sit inside car, check steering wheel for wear (shininess), drivers floor mat and pedal rubbers for excess wear, always a good indicator of a "high miler". Check cigarette lighter, has it been used?? If the car has never been smoked in, that's a bonus. Check the roof cloth, interior trims for wear and tear, cigarette burns etc.
  13. If the car is an import, be extra vigilant. Double-check all of the above. Check the chassis no. (VIN) if it begins with SABTVRO it means the vehicle was previously registered in Great Britain on a "Q" plate, which means the authorities cannot verify its origin.
  14. Spare key?? Make sure they have it or deduct accordingly. Always pay attention to number plate surrounds, rear window stickers, tax holder stickers, key rings, if they all match and are from a reputable dealer, good. "She came from a good stable"
  15. Always ask the customer has the car had any bodywork or paintwork? There is a big difference. Ask what was the cost of any repair? Ask to see receipts. Do not be embarrassed to ask! Be warned if the vehicle was damaged, you are entering a minefield. Has it had light damage and was badly repaired? Worse still, has it had major body damage and been expertly repaired. Vehicles having had repair suffer from depreciation to some extent. CHEAP BODYWORK IS FALSE ECONOMY. Was the car stolen and recovered? If it was, it is most likely registered in the insurance companies name claims department and recorded. Revert back to Golden Rule 1.

PJ Mc Kenna