MILEPOSTS Garage - The Online Classic Car Magazine

Image: 1963 Ford Thunderbird Convertible and the Norman Bates residence"It says to make an offer. Do you think we should? This might be a once in a lifetime would be nice with a little bit of work.

I think someone is home, I just saw a woman in the window upstairs.

Everything from Hood Ornaments to Tail Lamps
Return to Index

Vol. 1, No. 4
April 5, 2002
(Updated January 11, 2009 and February 9, 2011)

Selling A Classic Car
by John Lewis

Image: MILEPOSTS Garage

No matter how much you like a car, eventually there may come a time when you want to sell it. Whether it's to make room for a new project, or just reduce the number of cars you own, selling a classic car can be a challenge. We'll look at the various marketing options available to sellers, including putting the car on consignment or putting it in a classic car auction, and discuss a few things that you should consider if you elect to sell your car on your own.

You might decide to put the car on consignment with a dealer to sell, which means you'll be paying a fee to the dealer when the car sells. This can be a flat rate, determined at the time of consignment, or a percentage of the total sales price. Some dealers include advertising as part of the deal, while others charge extra for it. Placing a car on consignment allows professionals to sell the car to potential buyers, and gives you the freedom to live a normal life without having to answer phone calls, respond to E-mails, and wait for appointments that sometimes don't show up.

Other benefits to consignment are maximum exposure for your car, as buyers interested in other makes and models might spy your car and decide they like it well enough to buy it, even though they didn't set out to buy one like yours. Your car is on display in a showroom with other cars, and keeping your car clean and presentable is the responsibility of the consignment company. Depending on the consignment agreement, it may not cost you anything if your car doesn't sell. Be sure to read the fine print, and make sure you understand the terms and get any clarifications or special arrangements in writing from a party authorized to make commitments for the company.

Consignment has its drawbacks as well. If the car is special to you, you might not have the opportunity to meet the new owner if it sells. Often the deal is made and the car is in the hands of the new owner before you have the chance to speak to them. And since no one knows your car as well as you do, potential buyers might not be aware of all the special aspects of your car. This information can be important, as a complete history on a vehicle, even if it's just a record of each owner's name and address, is very desirable on collectible cars. You also must be patient when consigning a car, as it can take many months to sell, depending on how aggressive the company is at promoting your car.

If you need to sell your car quickly, an auction might be for you. There are many auctions around the country, and some of them are very well known and draw huge crowds. When you auction a car, you may place it in the auction with a reserve price, or with no reserve. When you specify a reserve price, that means the car doesn't sell unless the top bid meets or exceeds the reserve you have set. This is the safest way to auction a car, but some potential bidders won't bid on a car unless they know it will sell. A no reserve auction means that the car goes to the highest bidder, regardless of the price. This sometimes increases interest in the car, and more bidders will be interested in it because they know it's going to sell to the highest bidder.

Selling a car with no reserve can be chancy, as I once saw a 1965 Buick Riviera GS sell for a ridiculously small amount. The car was mostly original paint and interior, both somewhat weathered but very presentable. The mechanics of the car had been completely redone, and a nice job at that. The Riv was going up for auction on the last day of the three day event, and I watched the owner drop the car off and set it up the day before the auction began. He left very detailed information about the work already done, but I know he lost a lot of money on that car, as the sales price of $1,750 surely didn't even come close to covering his expenses. Why he decided to sell it at no reserve is a mystery, perhaps he hoped that there would be quite a few Riviera enthusiasts there that would compete against each other to get the car. Such was not the case, and it is a chance you take when you sell a car at no reserve.

If you decide to sell your car at auction, with no reserve, you can not be certain the car will sell. If it does sell, it might not be for the amount you really want, but unfortunately circumstances sometimes make this a necessity. There is also the chance that bidders might get caught up in the moment, and bid much higher than they normally would. Impulse purchases are commonplace at auctions, and greed does get the best of some people. In this case, it's to your advantage, but there is a risk involved. Make sure you're doing business with a reputable auction company, there are many very good ones out there, and check to see what similar cars have been bringing at other auctions. This will give you an idea about the demand for your vehicle's make and model. And make sure you are prepared to take a loss on the car, if for some reason bidding doesn't go as high as expected.

If you want more control over selling your car, you might decide that selling it yourself is the way to go. This allows you the opportunity to "screen" potential buyers, and present your car to interested buyers in the very best way possible. Prepping the car for a sale becomes your responsibility, as does responding to telephone and E-mail inquiries. You must be prompt, as buyers quickly lose interest and move on to something else if they don't get a prompt response.

You can advertise your car in your local newspaper, or in one of the publications dedicated to the old car hobby. There are also lots of Internet sites that specialize in listings for vintage and collectible vehicles. Often, a combination of advertising venues gets the best results. But don't overlook other opportunities to sell your car. If there's a local car show, you might consider entering your car and let it be known that the vehicle is for sale. Sometimes just placing a "For Sale" sign in a window does the trick. You can be as aggressive as you want.

Selling your car yourself affords you the opportunity to explain in detail everything that's been done to the car, and determine that the buyer has honorable intentions it. We've all heard the horror stories of nice cars being sold and then parted out, or entered in a demo derby. The latter happened to a friend of mine back in 1986. He inherited his Aunt's 1972 Imperial LeBaron Coupe after her death in 1978. Carefully maintained since new, he made sure the car was tended to lovingly. When he learned he was about to become a Father, and would need to remodel his house in preparation for the baby, he decided he could no longer afford to maintain the Imperial. He wouldn't have the time or the funds to preserve the car. He decided to sell it, and didn't bother to make sure what the buyer's intentions were.

Buyers for 1972 Imperials can be an elusive breed, and when one finally came along after 2 months of advertising it for sale, he jumped at the offer, even though it was low. He later learned that the pristine Imperial was used as a demolition derby car a few weeks after he sold it, and that it had actually won the two derbies it was in! The second derby was its last, as the now almost unrecognizable Imperial was battered and smashed to the point of being inoperable. Needless to say, this broke my friend's heart as he felt he had betrayed his Aunt.

The moral here is make sure you talk to the buyer long enough to determine what the future of the car is. While they can certainly not be honest with you, many will tell you right off that they intend to part it out or derby it. If you don't believe the buyer has honorable intentions, you can always decide to not sell the car to them. This can become a problem if they've traveled a long way to see the car, so it's best to express to them that you won't sell the car under certain circumstances from the very beginning.

If you do decide to sell your car yourself, here are a few tips to help you sell quickly and get the highest dollar amount for the car:

Be descriptive about the car when placing an ad. Describe the car in detail, including interior and exterior colors, options, and any equipment the car might not have that would be expected. For instance, a 1972 Thunderbird without power windows or air conditioning would be a drawback to many, as most of them came equipped with these options. If there are areas of the car that need attention, it's best to say so, as extensive rust will eliminate a lot of potential buyers, and will save you a lot of time answering questions about the car, only to discover the buyer wants one that doesn't need any work.

Be honest and don't gloss over any areas of the car that need attention. If there's previous rust repair or a sporadic electrical problem, point it out. If the upholstery isn't factory original for the car, let the potential buyer know up front. Many won't care, and the ones that do will be appreciative of your honesty. True aficionados will probably have already spotted the areas that need attention anyway, and will be more confident in dealing with you if you are honest with them.

State the location of the car. You don't have to publish your address, but a city and state would be nice, as transporting a vintage car can be very expensive, especially if it isn't running. You will save yourself and others lots of time and money by including this information in all ads. You will also find a few people are more interested in your car because of its location, if you are in close proximity to them.

Prepare the car for inspection by potential buyers. Clean it up as well as you possibly can. Even a non-running car that needs a lot of work looks better washed and vacuumed out. If it has been partially disassembled, place the parts neatly in the trunk, or display them close to the car so they can be viewed along with the car. Just because a car has been sitting for 10 years isn't an excuse to show it covered with dust and dirt. You will be surprised at how much better it looks cleaned up. Buyers looking for a fixer-upper probably have already seen several in dirty condition, and yours will definitely get points for being cleaned up.

Prepare yourself for the day when the car does sell. Many vintage car enthusiasts become emotionally attached to their cars, and it can be difficult letting go of them. After all, in many cases you've spent hours cleaning, polishing and restoring a car. Make sure you are selling it for the right reasons. Sometimes you will live to regret selling a car, and there might not be another one like it coming along in the future. I'm reminded of the story of a guy with a 1966 Thunderbird Convertible. It was Candyapple Red, red leather, white top, 428, speed control, factory air, stereo tape system, power vent windows, etc., it had about every extra you could get. After spending many years restoring this car, he sold it for a good price and has regretted it ever since. It's been 20 years, but he still moans about selling that car.

Photos sell cars online! Be sure to include a photo of your car, regardless of the condition. Make sure it's in color, and the car is the focal point of the photo. The photo should be properly focused and edited for use online. Many photos show up too dark when viewed online unless they're adjusted for this purpose. Even if including a photo in an ad is extra cost, it's worth it. A photo adds some degree of validity to what you're stating in the ad, and shows potential buyers what the car looks like.

Don't overlook the option of networking to sell your car. Your friends and contacts in the old car hobby make great sales people. They can promote your car to interested parties they meet, and even endorse it if they are familiar with it. This type of recommendation means a lot to buyers, so be sure to utilize all of the resources available to you.

Be careful to not spam mailing lists with your news of a car for sale, unless it's permitted by the list. This type of pushy sales tactic is unwelcome to other list members, and will not be appreciated by most. It is easier to sell a collectible car today than ever before, and as interest in collectible cars grows, so do potential buyers for your car. Consider all your options before you make the first move to sell, and spend some time preparing your car for inspection by potential buyers.

Generally, it is not recommended that you spend great deals of money putting a new paint job on a car to sell it. Parties interested in a restoration may prefer to do the body prep themselves, and won't be willing to pay a higher price for a new paint job. Rarely do expensive improvements like this increase the value of a car enough to cover the cost of the improvement. If you can fix small items inexpensively, for instance a good tune up so the car runs better or repairing an inoperative power window, that will often increase the value of the car, but don't make major changes or improvements just to sell the car.

There are many other details to consider, but this will get you started in the right direction, and ensure a long and happy future for your car in the hands of its new owner.

Copyright © 2002 Automotive Mileposts, Inc.
If you have advice, tips, technical ability, or just know a secret or two about old cars, and you'd like to contribute, click here and tell us about it. We'll help you write it, and give you the credit for it! It's the perfect way to help out your fellow enthusiasts in the old car hobby. Image:
MILEPOSTS Garage Index | Automotive Mileposts

Recent Updates | Main Contents | AUTOPOSTS Forum

Vintage Car Care | Parts | Books | Magazines