Ask Petrolicious: What’s The Best Way To Sell A Classic?
Our new series, “Ask Petrolicious” has really taken flight. You folks are fueling us questions and we’re doing our best to burn off answers in an efficient manner. After looking through the submissions, one particular inquiry about selling a classic caught my attention. Why? I’d just sold my beloved Toyota Century at auction.
“Tell me about what it’s like selling a classic car, and getting the most value for it. I’d like to know whether they trade hands privately; are they sold at auctions; or do they stay on the market for months before finding the right buyer?”
I’ve purchased and sold a lot of vehicles over the years, but earlier this month was the first time I’ve bid farewell to a classic automobile. There are essentially endless ways in which you could approach selling a vintage car, but I’ll do my best to break the process down.
Are You Sure You Want To Sell Your Classic?
This might sound like a black and white question with no grey answers, but that’s not always the case. How many times have you seen a, “For Sale” sign in the window of a parked classic or listed online, called the number, and had an apprehensive seller answer?
“Well, I’m only willing to let it go for the right price and that price is [insert double the market value here]…and not a penny less!”
Let’s call this elderly seller Rick. Rick doesn’t actually want to sell his car. He’s probably had that ’67 Mustang Fastback since high school and, dammit, he’s not going to let it go unless it’s enough to double his 401k savings. Basically, be sure you’re emotionally ready to sell your car before listing it.
How I Determined It Was Time To Sell
I purchased my 1984 Toyota Century with the intention of never selling it. It was a souvenir from my time in Japan, an addition to the collection I swore to never let go of. Unfortunately, I’m not Jay Leno. I have limited garage space (and money) and other projects took priority. Although the Century was extremely reliable, the thought of sourcing parts was nightmarish—nearly everything has long been discontinued and its 5VE 4.0-liter V8 is unique to the car.
One day, I said to myself, “The absolute last thing I want to do is put another dollar into this car”. That’s how I knew it was time to go. I had my fun with the car but I was over it, the car needed nothing, and it was a blissful three-year ownership: the optimal time to sell!
How Much Is Your Car Worth?
Now that you’re serious about selling your classic, you need to do some research. Hagerty is a great place to start for up-to-date market trends via nifty graphs, as is Patina. Keeping a tab on the market is easier than ever. Surfing the common auction websites and online listings can give you a pretty good view on the selling range of your particular car: take into account condition, originality, documentation, and mileage (though, with classics, mileage isn’t nearly as important as the other factors).
If you really want to sell that rusty Alfa Romeo, be real with yourself: list it for what it’s honestly worth with a reasonable premium to allow for negotiation. Obviously, everyone wants to maximize their ROI, but there’s a balance between breaking even and the car never finding a new home because of a laughable asking price. If you set a realistic amount you’d take for the car, you’ll have a more enjoyable selling experience. It’s hard enough to let go of a beloved jalopy, don’t make it harder than it needs to be by setting yourself up for disappointing offers.
Reflect: Is everyone a low baller, or are you being too stubborn?
How I Determined What My Car Was Worth
Being an obscure grey market vehicle, digging up previous Toyota Century sales in the United States was not easy, as there were only a handful of archived posts on the w-w-w. Unlike more popular Japanese imports, like the R32 GTR Skyline, there’s not a huge demand for the Toyota Century, and even less information on what their market value is in North America.
My car was special. The finish was astonishingly good for being 30+year old factory paint, the interior was nearly flawless, and the car ran like a top. I made a few small aesthetic modifications to the car, but kept all the stock equipment—always a good idea. The car had extremely low odometer digits, around 26,000 kms (~16,000 miles) since new.
After watching a similar Century, albeit slightly newer and in a less traditional color scheme, fetch ludicrous money at the Fort Lauderdale Auctions America, I felt my car’s value was in the same ballpark. I attempted to list the car on a certain enthusiast-aimed auction website, but they simply would not work with me on a reserve. So I decided against auctioning the car online.
Where’s The Best Place To Sell A Classic?
Selecting a venue to sell an automobile use to be limited to lemon lots, classifieds, and word of mouth. Auction houses weren’t seemingly as abundant as they are today and before the internet, sourcing rare old metal was challenging, especially depending on where you lived (especially in a rust belt).
Regardless of where you post the car for sale, just know “local pickup only” is limiting your potential buyer bucket. I’ve bought several vehicles cross-country and many others are willing to travel and pay a premium to get exactly what they want—you don’t want to dismiss these types of buyers. The extra logistical coordination tends to work in your (seller) favor with these folks.
Determining where to sell your car is a decision that should be weighed against a number of factors. Auctions generally charge a consignment fee, a reserve fee, and (oftentimes) a buyer and sale fee (against the seller). Obviously, if the car isn’t worth all that much, you could be spending a lot of coin just to get the car on an auction block—and there’s no guarantee it’ll sell/meet your reserve.
If listing online, do your best to disclose everything. No buyer is going to be upset with an overwhelmingly honest seller. Wherever you choose to post the car, write a thorough description of the vehicle. Lay the information out in an easy to read format—perhaps break up by interior, exterior, mechanical, and history/documents. Also, leave some form of contact information interested parties can reach you at with ease. The slightest irritant can turn off a potential buyer so do everything you can to make communication effortless.
Do you really want to get that call in a few months from its new owner wondering why something is off?
How I Determined Where To Sell My Classic
After seeing the aforementioned Toyota Century sell at Fort Lauderdale, I rang up Auctions America (AA) to see if they’d be interested in listing mine at the upcoming Santa Monica event. Within minutes, I knew: this is how I wanted to (attempt to) sell my Century.
The Car Specialists at AA were very professional, detail oriented, and best of all they had no problem with my reserve. In fact, they encouraged me to raise my reserve—an unexpected but welcome gesture. We settled on a reserve, they mailed me the required documents that I filled out and returned, and then I nervously waited for the auction date. The set-up process couldn’t have been easier.
I’ll save the auction experience for another story, but I’m happy with the sale. The Century went to an enthusiastic couple that are in love with the car—what else could a seller ask for?
“Tell me about what it’s like selling a classic car, and getting the most value for it.”
Selling a car doesn’t have to be a painful severance, but it can be if you’re in a rush and let it go for less than what it’s worth to you. We’re caretakers, not permanent owners destined to spend eternity with a gaggle of wiring, rubber, and steel. Just be the best caretaker you can, which includes being upfront with the ones who are in line to take the reigns of your vintage machine.
If you want to maximize your return on an automobile, be honest with potential buyers, be as thorough as possible when describing the car, and don’t be in a rush to get rid of it. You’ll have a better chance of finding the right buyer if you’re patient.
“I’d like to know whether they trade hands privately; are they sold at auctions; or do they stay on the market for months before finding the right buyer?”
A lot of über-rare collector cars trade hands in private deals between the financial elite. The rest sell through auctions or various forms of advertising. Classics that sit on the market for extended periods of time are either not very desirable, too far gone (in need of a restoration/rusted beyond worth saving), poorly listed/advertised, or simply overpriced.
There is no wrong way to sell a classic car. It can be a pretty emotional experience but at the end of the day: it’s just a car. We petrolisti tend to treat automobiles like something more than what they are. However tall the pedestal upon which we value, cherish, and lust after the automobile, it’s just a machine. Buy a classic, take care of it, enjoy it, and sell it when it’s time for a new automotive experience.