How to sell a classic car

There’s more to selling an old car than you may think. AutoClassics shows you how to get the most for your pride and joy

In an ideal world we would never have to part with our beloved classics, but financial considerations, time constraints or the prospect of something new may see us listing our cars for sale.

The classic world differs in many respects to the modern car scene, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the sort of thing to which owners ascribe value when it comes to parting with their vehicles.

While a good wash and a stamped service book are enough to secure most daily-driver sales, classic buyers can be an altogether more demanding bunch. Subsequently, a bit more effort is required to ensure a smooth transaction.

Wax on, wax off

A quick hose down may be good enough for a five-year old Mondeo, but that 1984 Ferrari 308 GTS you are trying to sell will need a little more attention.

Other than the obvious wash and wax that goes with any sale preparation, the engine bay and undercarriage should be thoroughly cleaned, too. Spraying water onto an old motor is asking for trouble, so before you get started cover the battery, fuse box, carburettor, distributor and alternator with plastic bags.

Apply engine degreaser to the oily bits and wash it all down with a low-pressure hose. Use a damp cloth on sensitive components, and be sure to put a drip tray underneath the engine to collect any oil and grit.

Minor chips, blown light bulbs and tatty pieces of trim should be sorted out, too. Paintwork blemishes and evidence of rust should either be patched up or factored into the asking price.

Mechanical maladies

Unless you are specifically selling the vehicle because of that blown head gasket or rusty exhaust, make sure the car is in top mechanical condition and that all the fluids are fresh. Clean the battery tray and apply a dab of grease to the connectors, as this helps prevent corrosion.

Being upfront about any impending big-ticket service items is important, as you would expect the same if you were on the buying side.

Dig out those old spare parts that have been sitting in your garage for all those years and add them to the sale; they may even be of use to the next owner.

Where (and when) to sell your car

Well, of course, the best place to advertise your classic car is right here on the AutoClassics website. We offer exposure to an international audience and you can easily see what similar vehicles are selling for. Take good-quality pictures on a sunny day, and if there are dings and dents then include these, too, as nothing puts a buyer off as much as an unexpected ‘surprise’ come sale time.

Convertibles sell best in the summer months, although AutoClassics’ international exposure ensures demand remains strong throughout the year. More exotic vehicles tend to sell better when they are listed near to end-of-year bonus time. List your car too close to the Christmas period, though, and few people will be seriously considering a purchase while on holiday. Economic uncertainty can also have a negative effect on values, and even a recent fuel-price hike can lower demand for a gas-guzzler.

When it comes to the advert’s wording, be clear and concise. Also cover all the salient points such as mileage and history without going into too much detail.

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Setting the price

Pricing is a complex algorithm when it comes to the rare and ancient, but a good starting point is to check what similar vehicles are selling for.

Unusual features, rarity, low mileages and originality (matching numbers) are the strongest influencers of classic car prices, but things such as a chequered history (famous owners, movie appearances) and the colour all have a bearing on the final value. European buyers tend to be more interested in left-hand-drive cars, and the currently depressed Pound means British-based classics are now even more appealing to foreign shoppers.

It may also be a good idea to have a respected specialist or car club provide an official valuation of your vehicle; some charge for this service, but it is often a worthwhile expense. Do not put too much stock in the insured value of a classic car, as these are rarely accurate and few insurance companies (save for a handful of classic car specialists) will have the expertise to conduct a proper evaluation.

D-Day

If you are not shipping your car off to a far-flung destination or selling it through a broker, then it’s quite likely that the buyer will be coming to see your vehicle in person. Let the potential purchaser inspect the car on their own once you have shown them around it; a classic car purchase is more often than not a personal thing, and they will appreciate the gesture.

Some people will insist on a test drive, and this is fine as long as you have verified their insurance status and seen a current driver’s licence. Always accompany the buyer on the drive, as this allows you to talk about any peculiarities the car may have as well as lowers the risk of theft. A pre-planned route is also a good idea; scenic roads and smooth surfaces will leave a better impression than a trip along a traffic-congested city street.

Show me the money

Conducting a sale over a weekend does limit your ability to verify the validity of a personal or bank cheque, so make sure ahead of time whether the buyer is happy to wait until the funds are cleared.

Cash is not the most common method of payment when it comes to pricier classics, but it does happen. A more likely payment method is an electronic transfer. Unless the funds can be cleared immediately and are visible in your account, it is worth contacting the bank to verify the deposit.

Paperwork

Perhaps above all else, a fully documented (and verifiable) history file is the best method to ensure that a smooth transaction takes place. Classic car owners want to know exactly what they are buying, and the muddying effects of time and unverifiable model specifics will have you at loggerheads about the price.

Originality, low mileages and regular maintenance all positively affect values, but a lack of the corresponding paperwork will greatly reduce your ability to charge for them. Contacting previous owners and collecting online information based on the engine and chassis numbers can bolster your documentation and make for a more representative listing.

Unless you are selling a project car or non-runner, a valid MoT is essential. Evidence that any advisories have been attended to will also reassure the buyer.

Prepare a one-page document to be signed by both parties that details the salient points of the transaction. Both the seller’s and buyer’s details, as well as the car’s specifics, should be listed.

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