The Recipe to Successfully Selling a Classic Car

Author: Frank Capparelle         Publication Date: 05/11/2019

A classic car with a for sale sign

When selling a classic car the goal is to get a buyer to pay top dollar for the vehicle as soon as possible. This is not as easy to achieve as it might sound. The internet has opened us up to a myriad of methods to sell a classic vehicle, and allows buyers all over the world to see yours. Like with any wonderful new option this massive exposure has positives and negatives. The positives are obvious. A lifetime owned Jaguar XKE, Ferrari GT330, Camaro or Bronco in your garage in the U.S. can now be seen by people in the Netherlands that are just aching to cruise the streets in your car. The negatives are not as simple to navigate. The days of a buyer showing up with an envelope of cash and taking off with your car are gone. Here’s my personal recipe on how to have a successful sale.

1. What do you have?

Everyone knows their vehicle’s year, make, model, and VIN number. But what makes an automobile unique? It has been around for years. It has been babied, maybe even restored. What options did it have when it was new? How many productions of this model were made? This may not matter if it is a resto mod or a hot rod, but even a modified car can be worth considerably more if it was rare to start with. Detail in an ad creates value which means research prior to a sale is imperative. The internet is a treasure trove of information. There are now experts and certifications available for a plethora of vehicle brands. Below are some of the resources I find helpful.

A. Jaguar Heritage can be slow to get but is a fantastic way to show a buyer what the car is now, and what it was new.
B. Mercedes Build sheet This is a great tool to pull up an original build sheet.
C. Porsche Build sheets This is for newer cars.
Porsche also offers Certificate of authenticity, but these must be mailed in. There is a PDF online.
D. Mopar-Galen Tag Service Galen will give you a complete list of your cars options, and the build production numbers of your car.
E. Camaro Chevelle Nova Jerry Macniesh Certification
F. Ferraris over 20 years old

Other research options include third party reports. For powerful vehicles a dynameter reading is great for documenting torque and horsepower. Leak down tests for compression can also be extremely helpful. Newer cars such as Porsche GT3, 911’s , McLaren and Ferraris have the ability to print out complete DME (Durable Medical Equipment) reports. These are reports that are from the cars ECU (Engine Control Unit). They tell a buyer what this car has done since it was new. It will list overrevs. It will tattle tale on a seller about track days. This comes in handy when determining a vehicle’s performance history.

2. What is your time frame and how should you sell?

This is really a question of your tolerance / patience level - Now that you have researched and obtained your vehicle’s details, you need to decide whether you’re going to sell it yourself, consign it, or sell it to a dealer.

As per my first statement- “pay top dollar” indicates that we always want to get as much money as possible for a classic vehicle’s sale, however getting top dollar takes more work than most would expect. It takes time to advertise and sell a rare vehicle. The photography and writing that go into an ad are crucial (We will go into these steps in more detail below). Once you have a draft for your advertisement you need to place it up on several platforms to get maximum exposure. Be prepared to talk about your car with a few people. Some buyers are unable to speak on the phone and prefer to text or email when negotiating a sale. Most buyers who reach out will be grinding dealers, or inept buyers. The process of finding a buyer is often slow and grating. Pick your buyer if you have a choice. The guy that says he will pay the most is not always the best buyer. Many times I have refused to sell to someone I believed would be difficult.

Smashing a phone with a hammer
Here's one strategy to help you deal with those pesky cold calling low balling autodealers

If you don’t want to deal with all this by yourself, the second choice is to place your car with a dealer on consignment. This has many benefits. You do not need to deal with the whole crowd of buyers. You will pay for this service, and some consigners are far better than others. I prefer services that allow you to keep the car and its title during the sale, but every dealer has their own process. Make sure you have a contract, and make sure you understand its terms. I have heard nightmare stories of cars being sold and sellers never getting their money. In my personal process, when I sell a car the money goes directly to the seller. I am paid my commission after the sale is complete. I’d recommend you look for a dealer with a similar process. The easiest way to find a consignment dealer that’s right for you is to call a few classic car dealers as well as standard dealers and try to get their valuations for your vehicle. Most will ask you to bring the car in so they can appraise it. I suggest not leaving your car or title overnight if you bring it, just in case. There’s all kind’s of nightmare stories out there. This method of sale can result in fast money, but usually less than if you sell it yourself or consign it. A dealer has overhead. He must make a living for what he does.

The last choice is to sell directly to a regular dealer. If you decide to sell to a dealer congratulations. You made a choice, and you’re done. No need to read the rest of this article. In all seriousness, don’t expect much from regular dealers. The cash may be quick but it is a fraction of what it could be.

3. Detail and Prep:

Can one simply take pictures of their dirty car and put it up on the world wide web? Of course they can! Please do, it gives me and many other car lovers hours of entertainment looking at dirty cars that are poorly presented. It makes our listings look better! It reminds of when someone puts effort into a beautiful bathroom selfie but forgets that in the background there is poo in the toilet. Is it funny? Yes. Does it sell? Buyers will not look past filth on any vehicle. In todays internet world collectors can find multiple listings of the rarest cars made. In fact, if you list a very rare car expect others to come out of the woodwork at the same time as yours. I’m not sure why this occurs, but it happens to me all the time. Be prepared to look at your automobile objectively. Can it benefit from a full detail performed by a professional? Will it make sense to have the chassis detailed? Years of grime could be hiding original paint that would otherwise make a rust belt buyer froth at the mouth. Now look at pending repairs. Do you have deferred maintenance? Are the tires bald? I am not saying this always makes fiscal sense but understand if you sold it to the dealer he would most likely have to spend the money to do so. Every car has some problematic issue that your buyers will know. Prepare to address these issues via admitting they are not done or paying to get them done. Great examples of these are the dreaded Porsche IMS bearings, and the Mercedes biodegradable engine harnesses. Buyers of these cars know these issues well and will pay solid money for cars where problems are addressed. On the other hand buyers may want to beat up those that do not address these problems and omit mentioning them in their ads.

4. Photography/ videography:

Classic car enthusiasts buy with their eyes. I have spent hours writing an ad for a car only to quickly find out that many buyers never read it. The pictures alone made them call. There are many web articles and videos explaining how to properly take pictures of your car so I will not go into detail, but make sure the pictures show as much of the car as possible. I suggest getting your car on a lift and showing chassis shots. The more detailed the pictures are the better. I suggest not getting stylistic. Stick to well framed properly lit shots.

5. Write the ad:

It takes me a couple of hours to write an ad for a classic or Youngtimer (new term for modern classics) classic. I like to pull up pictures and videos of the car while I describe each section of it in detail because it helps me remember any nicks or flaws that were photographed that may have eluded my memory as I write the ad. The research I did in the first step of the sale recipe gives me the details of the build. Build details should include everything you have learned about, what it was when it was new, as well as what has been done since. Buyers love information. If you have a dyno report, or a DME report buyers will be pleased for this information. My suggestion is to not shy away from the car’s issues or flaws. At this point you have decided not to fix them, so address them in the ad. A little honesty goes a long way.

Smashing a phone with a hammer
Wait! Don't forget to use a contract.

6. Pricing:

I have a complete article that describes how pricing works here, but for the purpose of this article I will simply say to price it correctly. Just because you want a particular amount does not mean the car is worth it. Be prepared to hear that your buyers think you are nuts. You will know when your listing is priced to high, trust me. Sellers will let you know via email, text, or phone. Other times you will know because the phone does not ring at all. Remember the recipe assumes you are ready to sell the car, and that you do not control the selling price. You can try to set a strict valuation for your vehicle, but the buyers inevitably determine the value when they agree to pay up.

7. Transaction:

When selling a vehicle, you must have it available for inspections. Once an inspection has been completed, and a deal has been struck the deal must be consummated with the exchange of money. Sounds like no big deal, but with the value of many of these classic cars as well as the escalating value of Newcomers hitting the mid 50,000 range. The transfer of money must be looked at closely. Many of you may have a fond memory of when people simply sold their car and walked away with a pile of cash. Today the concept of cash is far more difficult. The truth is if you are selling a vehicle for $50,000, and you ask the buyer for cash he will be unable to get it from his bank without a few days notice. I have had multiple situations where a seller was enticed by large amounts of cash, but the truth is that as a seller it is not safe to have that much cash in your home for even a day or two. The modern way of purchasing a vehicle is via wire transfer. Banks make it very simple. Most sales occur between buyers and sellers that are in different states. Its ideal if a buyer flys in, buys the car, and drives off. In instances where the buyer is not in the same state I have a method that can help create comfort. I suggest once a buyer and a seller have decided on a sale price they exchange selfies holding their state ID. This is not a perfect way to make sure your buyer or seller are who they say they are, but its better then no recourse. As a seller I suggest sending the buyer a picture of the car on the driveway of the seller’s house with the seller in the picture frame. If you chose to consign to a dealer then they are tasked with making sure the money and title are transferred without issue.

A person holding some cash
Remember the good ol' days when we had those paper strips called bills? Me neither.

Selling a classic vehicle in todays day and age isn’t easy. The internet allows us to show our car to a worldwide audience which for some vehicles is a huge advantage, but it also complicates what was once a very simple process. Getting the most money for your car requires a recipe of properly executed steps. For many, opting to sell to a reputable dealer might be a better choice. For others consigning is a great choice. For those willing to do it properly and take the risks selling your vehicle yourself, be prepared to be patient and diligent. Your results depend on the state of your vehicle, it’s inherent worth, the buyer you choose and most importantly the work you are willing to put in to selling it.

About the Author

Frank Capparelle is the founder of Treasured Transportation. As a classic car trader he has always had a love for unique and classic vehicles, and wishes they will one day be treated like treasured art instead of "just cars".

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