Selling a classic car can be a difficult task or a simple one. Recently I’ve sold several vintage cars with great success and I thought I would share how I’ve done it to, hopefully, make your life easier if you’re selling a vintage car. I’ve also talked to a number of people who have sold classic cars recently and gotten their input as well.
One of the things many auto nuts love to do is sit and watch the Barrett-Jackson auction on TV. This is great entertainment and may be just the right vehicle for you to sell your car if the timing is right, but probably isn’t for everybody. Neither are the prices you see on those auctions unless you’re the seller.
Barrett-Jackson has people out in the audience who goad the interested parties and appeals to people who bring big checkbooks to the show so they know they can use the power of persuasion to help raise the bidding price. One rich guy doesn’t always want to be outbid by another rich guy so while you think you’re watching an auction, you’re really watching a pissing contest by rich people.
While it is great television, the Barrett-Jackson auction is also not a solid footing to use to set the price of your vehicle.
Valuing Your Car
How much is your car worth? The simple answer is ‘whatever someone’s willing to pay for it.’ But there are guidelines. Your first stop will always be the Internet and eBay has been my best resource for pricing. I look for vehicles as similar as possible to what I’m selling and see how they closed in price.
I also look at craigslist.org and see if I can find similar cars to what I'm selling and what they are selling for. Nowadays I’ve also found that almost every special-interest car has a group on facebook.com. If you’re not already part of Facebook and you have a special interest car it’s time to just do it.
Facebook has a billion users and there is a special interest for almost everything. Join already, it’s free and you can find others who are interested in the same thing as you are and might be the right person to buy your car. You can certainly post pictures there and get some idea of what your vehicle might be worth.
I already belong to all sorts of special interest groups on Facebook including groups for those who love AMC products, Corvair fan clubs, people who like Mustangs in general and those who like specific Mustangs. There are groups for ’57 Chevys, groups for tri-five Chevys and just about anything you can imagine. In those groups you will find others who share your passion no matter what you drive. They also will have great ways to restore your vehicle and also ideas on its value. Facebook is incredible.
One thing that’s always tough for owners of vintage cars is that the prospective buyer will not have the same emotional attachment to the vehicle as you did. The buyer doesn’t care that this car reminds you of your first car or that your kids went on life’s road trips in the back seat. Unfortunately the memories that you made with the car have no value on the open market. That’s reality.
However vintage cars do tend to hold their value and some really go up in price. Typically I have found that restored cars tend to sell for more than modified cars. The modified cars are more a canvas for someone’s creativity that may not strike the fancy of a buyer whereas cars that are restored to as close as original condition as possible are generally easier to sell.
Of course this isn’t always true and there are some modified cars that can go for a fortune, especially if the builder is a known entity. Imagine cars by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth or George Barris or so many other known people in the hot rod business - so each car is a unique case.
Prepare Your Vehicle to Sell
Your vehicle is not ready to sell right now. None of them are.
Your first step is to find a cloudy day and detail the vehicle so that it looks as good as possible. Then go out with your camera and take as many pictures as you can possibly stand. Take interior pictures, exterior pictures, close-ups of any damage to the vehicle (paint chips, minor dents, etc.). Take pictures underneath to show that it’s not rusty or to show how rusty it is. Take good pictures of the engine compartment and trunk.
Take pictures of anything that makes your vehicle unique. You can't have too many pictures and a cloudy day really shows off your vehicle well. If you have a lousy camera or don’t know how to take good pictures find someone who does.
I actually avoid professional pictures; however, because they always send a message that they’ve been doctored up in Photoshop. Great amateur pictures and lots of them are the best. Honestly, the best camera I’ve ever used for this is my iPhone 6+ so your camera is not as important as the subject matter. Lighting is also important - shadowy, dark pictures do not tell the story you would like told.
If you have receipts or documents that are relevant to the sale scan those into your confuser and have them available also. Add the best pictures to the listing and then upload all the pictures onto a photo sharing service like flickr.com or picassa.com and let prospective buyers know that they can see more pictures there. These services have no limit as to the number of pictures you can share and the more the better. Oh, and don’t forget a photo of the odometer, especially if you’ve got a low-milage vehicle.
Where to Sell
Frankly, the best place I’ve found to sell a vintage vehicle is on eBay motors. I’ve sold vehicles internationally and here in the US on eBay and it’s proven to be the best resource for me time and time again. However I also have an outstanding reputation as an eBay seller and alway have things listed there from really inexpensive to really pricey.
Once I list an item on eBay I then post links to that listing on craigslist.org and also in any special interest group that I can find on the Internet. There are lots of little local throwaway classified ad papers and such but eBay is the entire world and cars that I have sold have traveled the globe to find new owners with the most recent sale having headed to France.
I’ve heard that some cars do really well on Hagerty’s website also. Of course if there is a special-interest publication for your car or a group, naturally, that’s can be a good place also. If someone likes your specific type of car already then they are a more natural customer for it.
I’ve definitely posted ‘for sale’ signs in the windows of cars but usually find that the people who contact me are tire kickers and not really interested in truly signing a check.
Oh, and speaking of checks, don’t take one. Unless you can do the transaction at the buyer’s bank and you end-up walking out of that bank with green, American cash. The eBay purchases that I’ve done have always been through PayPal with zero regrets but I always set up rules for the transaction and the first hint that someone is having trouble with the rules I’ve established means that they don’t get the car.
Don’t take checks, cashier’s checks, money orders, wire transfers or any of that ever. Ever. My only exception to this is taking a check from someone I can see face-to-face and I take that check at their bank and cash it on the spot. Once I have the cash we talk about getting the car down off the trailer.
No matter what you’re selling, your probably talking more than a few bucks. So safety is also a concern. I like doing the transaction with 2-3 of my friends with me and at the buyer’s bank. Most banks have notaries which means you can have the transaction papers notarized, if you’d like.
There are also escrow companies such as escrow.com. The buyer can fund the sale there until conditions are met that release the money for you.
I do not think it unreasonable that a prospective buyer have the opportunity to have the vehicle inspected by a qualified technician but the money would have to be in an escrow account before I would release the vehicle to a shop. If something isn’t right details can be adjusted at that point but this is perfectly reasonable.
A lot of old car guys hate the Internet because it isn’t something they’ve been doing for the last 50 years but this is the absolute best place to sell a special-interest car, period. With over a billion people just on Facebook alone you greatly expand the possibility of selling your car at the right price when you use effective means of selling it on the Internet.
As I mentioned, I’m a huge advocate of eBay but if you’re inexperienced there you can get severely burned. So, it would be wise to consult with someone who’s very familiar with selling items on eBay.
Of course these are general guidelines and there are variations and specifics that can change this. I hope your experience is highly successful and appreciate any input and feedback.