Online vehicle appraisal tools are becoming more popular, with savvy dealers using them to attract customers.

So says Mike McFall, president of Black Book Online, a vehicle value-setter that offers appraisal applications on dealership and auto maker websites.

Conventionally, customers take their currently owned vehicles to dealerships for on-site determinations of value as a prelude to trade-in transactions.

But a website tool using a “Value Your Trade” button can fairly accurately value the vehicle, sight unseen, if the shopper enters relevant and correct information.

“We provide a range that allows the customer and the dealer to negotiate,” McFall says. “A used vehicle’s condition is a major factor in determining its value.”

Online appraisals empower the customer and aid the dealer’s cause, he says. “The customer gets an appraisal, the dealer gets a lead. We tell dealers, ‘Do the trade first, not last. Use it to get the customer to the store. It creates an appointment.’”

Timing matters.

“If customers are asking trade-in questions, it’s not the time to talk about the car you want to sell them,” McFall says. “If someone enters the buying funnel as a trade-in appraisal customer or a credit-interested customer, that’s how they should initially be treated.”

Black Book relies on various ways to set used-vehicle values. Those include analyzing auto-auction and trade-in data.

The firm also sends representatives to auctions to assess what’s going on in the bidding lanes. Their field reports also go into the value-setting recipe.

“A lot of the people doing that for us are retired policeman,” McFall says. “They are good at filling out reports, are detail oriented and know a lot about cars.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com