You know what you paid for it, and you probably have a figure in your head about its current value, but if it’s an older collector vehicle, it’s possible that your insurance company will have a far lower figure in mind if something should happen to it.

Even if your insurance provider doesn’t insist on a professional appraisal, you should still get one done for your own protection. “If you don’t have an appraisal, you don’t have insurance for replacement value,” says Wayne Copeland, an appraiser and vice-president of business development for Antique and Classic Auto Appraisal Service in Ontario. “You can get normal insurance like on your regular car, but all they’ll pay you is what their adjuster feels it’s worth. Having an appraisal puts an agreed value on it.”

Once your vehicle is appraised, you’ll pay an insurance premium that’s based on that value, of course, which will probably be higher than if you don’t have one. But once you’ve insured your vehicle at that agreed-upon value, “they will insure you at that,” Copeland says. “In case of a loss where the vehicle is stolen or completely destroyed, they’ve agreed to pay you the amount that’s on the appraisal, because they’ve accepted it.”

Appraisals aren’t just for antique cars and hot rods, either. Just about anything can be appraised for its value, within reason, including motorcycles, ATVs, boats, and even tractors. And it isn’t always just to get insurance coverage.

Copeland has also appraised for estate sales and divorce proceedings, and has assessed vehicles when a potential buyer can’t get out to see it for himself, or if he’s not sure what he should be paying for it. Appraisals can also be necessary for provincial sales tax when buying or selling an older vehicle, when applicable.

Overall, that’s the easy part. What can sometimes be difficult is finding a good appraiser. There are no government standards for the job, and in reality, anyone can hang out a shingle and say he’s a professional. Not only do you run the risk of getting the wrong value, but your insurance company is within its rights to refuse your appraisal – even though you’ve paid the appraiser for his service – if it isn’t done properly.

“I’ve seen appraisals where a guy has taken a piece of paper, written out by hand saying that the car’s in good condition, and just put the year and serial number, with no mileage, and just the price on the page with one picture,” Copeland says. “A good appraisal includes the year and make of car, serial number, mileage, license number, condition of the vehicle, multiple pictures, proper wording, and is signed by the person with his name, address, company name and phone number so he can be reached. And it can’t be done over the phone. It has to be total involvement with the vehicle, and the appraiser must see it personally. It will usually take about an hour per vehicle.”

There are a few ways to find a good appraiser, Copeland says, starting with asking your insurance company. Many of them will be able to recommend someone, especially if the company does a lot of work with collector cars. Conversely, you should also be able to find out if the company lists any appraisers whose work it will not accept.

If there’s a car club in your area, ask members if they have any recommendations, especially if they specialize in the type of vehicle you own. No one is an expert on everything, so ask your appraiser if he’s familiar with your type of vehicle. If he isn’t, see if he can recommend someone who is. With any appraiser, ask to see examples of his work, and make sure it’s good quality and includes everything that the insurance company will require.

Once your appraisal’s ready, you should receive two copies: one to send to your insurance company, and the other to keep for your files. Mistakes and typos can happen, so double-check such things as the mileage and serial number before handing it in.

Your appraisal should be updated every few years as car prices change, or whenever you do something that adds to the value, such as a new paint job or interior. You’ve spent a lot of time and money getting your vehicle looking just right. Now spend just a bit more, and give it the protection it deserves.