How To Sell Your Classic Car
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
For classic car owners, unfortunately Old Father Time has a nasty habit of calling time on our love affair with a particular classic car. Circumstances change, partners complain, children come along or you just get absolutely and totally fed up with the rusting pile of unreliable junk that once captured your heart.
At Great Driving Days we field a lot of calls from owners who are ready to offload their classic car. That's not because we sell classic cars, but because selling them is such a painful business. Often owners want the simple route - find someone who buys classic cars (like a classic car hire business) and get them to buy it.
Selling cars used to be easy. You placed an advert in the back of Classic & Sports Car (other classic car magazines are available) and sat back and waited for the phone to ring. Usually it did, the line busy with fellow enthusiasts who shared your passion for 1976 Wartburgs.
No so now. The market has fragmented into dealers, auction houses, classified listings and many, many of each one of them. There's never been more choice. And yet it's never been less easy.
I'm not a dealer but running Great Driving Days has enabled me to buy and sell a lot of classic cars. So here's my quick guide to selling a classic car.
Choose Your Sales Medium
The range of ways to sell your classic car is undergoing a quiet revolution. Buyers now mainly search online, although this doesn't mean you should forget the traditional car magazine listings, particularly those offered by the specialist clubs. They are a good way to reach a specialist audience, but will be slower and more limited than online options.
Online listings sites like Car & Classic are great resources as they generate significant traffic and are now the go-to option for anyone looking for a classic car. The daddy remains eBay, where you'll find thousands of classic car listings. With these listings you are fully in control - you photograph and describe the car and you deal with buyers. Many listings are quite poorly done so with some care it is possible to really make your car stand out (more on that below).
The real revolution in this sector is in online auctions such as those offered by The Market and Car & Classic. These sites are filling the gap quickly being vacated by eBay, whose failure to police the many scammers has given new entrants an opportunity. These new sites tend to focus on higher end cars and offer a more personalised service than eBay so they cost more. But they get good results.
Traditional auctions are also worth considering as they take the hassle out of dealing with buyers - your car sells for what the people in the room decide it's worth. No comeback, no hassle. You can set a reserve too. Traditional auctions like H&H provide an easy way to sell by hand-holding you through the process: if you need to sell quickly and don't want a premium price, this is a good route.
Specialist classic car dealers will also sell your car on commission. But they will be choosey about what cars they take and it may take longer to sell due to the higher retail price.
Several companies offer a classic version of the popular 'we buy any car' concept - they agree a price with you and emphasise that they'll buy your car simply, quickly and without hassle. You may not get the best price but if you want to sell quickly, seemingly without too much hassle, then this is another option.
Your choice of medium comes down to how much you want to get involved in the buyer/seller interaction, the nature of the car you're selling - its desirability and condition - and how much you want to spend on the selling transaction.
Be Precise, Be Honest, Be Comprehensive
Whether you're writing your own advert or selling through a third party - such as a dealer or auction site - set yourself some clear first principles: be precise, be honest and be comprehensive. It might appear counter-intuitive, but being transparent about the condition of your car will get you the best price and save you hassle.
Take a leaf out of the online auction websites' book: they write extensively about the condition and heritage of the cars they're selling. For three reasons: firstly, most buyers won't come to look at the car, so they want to know as much about it as possible. Secondly, anyone interested in the car is probably very interested in reading about it in depth and thirdly, taking the time to be comprehensive reflects well on the seller.
Most sellers make the mistake of being brief. They think it will encourage buyers to pick up the phone. It doesn't. Being brief smacks of disinterest - if you can't be bothered to describe the car, why should anyone be bothered to pick up the phone and call you?
Phone calls and emails are gatekeepers - they require effort and that action has to be earned. You can do that by writing a full description of the car. Warts and all. Let the buyer clearly understand what they can buy. Generate interest by describing the car. Whittle out casual time-wasters by being clear on the condition. Set out your stall.
The description should cover the car's history, the condition, why you're selling and any faults. You can also indicate the type of buyer the car might suit - a running restoration to enjoy now, a concours example to shine and show, and so on. Avoid adjectives - just describe the car honestly and without emotion.
If you're unsure of your car's condition it would be wise to ask an expert. Your local classic car garage or MOT test station are often good places to start and may provide an assessment for a low price.
You don't need to be David Bailey to get the photography of your car right. In fact, making it too professional can also send out the wrong messages: what are you trying to hide?
But there are some rules to follow. Imagine your car through the eyes of a buyer. Clean it thoroughly, inside and out - there's nothing more off-putting than a grotty pair of floor mats. Start with rotating the photo to the correct upright. Show every side - in full. Highlight any defects that you mention in the text. Photograph the engine bay and interior. If you've got a great history file, show it. Unless you live in a nice house with a gravel drive, find a decent backdrop, but make sure it doesn't detract from the car itself.
Be Realistic About The Price
This is, of course, the hardest part. Valuing your car can often be a very personal thing.
Most cars can be valued within a range of low and high prices dependent on condition and general demand throughout the year (for example, convertibles are always more value in the summer). Start by deciding how quickly you want to sell it. This will help you pitch where on the scale you want to start.
Research the price of similar cars in the classified adverts. You can often see how long the adverts have been listed, which will indicate how realistic the price is - and how buoyant the market is.
Take some time to follow eBay auctions for your car model: the price they achieve is often a far better guide to the 'real world' value of your car than static classified listings.
Ask around on Facebook pages and forums - but be ready to be more confused rather than less.
If you decide to sell on eBay, I recommend setting a 99p no reserve auction start. This might feel scary but if you follow the tips in this article, your car will achieve what the market thinks it's worth. And there is always the option to end things early. The 99p start has the added advantage of the buyer only paying exactly what they've decided the car is worth - if they buy without viewing, they're responsible. Make use of eBay's scheduled start facility - auctions that end in the early evening tend to do better.
If you're still unsure, you can ask an expert - there are several classic car valuation experts out there such as Classic Assessments. They may also give you a detailed assessment of the car's condition.
When you list your car be clear and firm about the price. I don't recommend including 'Or Very Near Offer' or 'Offers' or even 'Make Me An Offer.' If your advert is clear and honest and your price is a fair reflection of the car's condition, don't undermine your position by inviting haggling. Buyers will haggle anyway - they don't need encouraged.
Be Open, Friendly & Clear With Enquirers
Every car buyer has experienced it: the seller who doesn't actually seem to want to sell. Who imagines they're doing you a favour.
Don't be that guy. That doesn't mean you shouldn't sift out the dreamers from the serious buyers, but be friendly, open and honest with each enquirer. This is relatively easy by phone, where a conversation can quickly establish rapport. By phone, gauge their interest and be honest: describe the car's good points but also refer to things you'd possibly improve if you kept it. That helps to build trust.
Where many sellers tend to fall down is by email. Email is an enquiry, and needs to be worked towards a purchase: be friendly, use decent grammar (opening with 'hello' is always a good start) and answer any questions fully. Use the opportunity to expand on points you want to make about the car. Keep it fairly brief.
Some sellers insist on the buyer seeing the car before committing. I don't recommend that: let the buyer decide, but if they do commit without seeing be clear that it is a commitment.
When someone comes to look at the car, be friendly but give them space. Leave them to look it over, then go back and offer to answer any questions. Don't be pushy, don't lie about other people being interested in it but do go for the close before they leave: what do they think?
These tips are just the start of selling a car, but they will hopefully give you a better chance when you do.
Graham Eason, Great Driving Days.