Nine ways you’re selling your classic car all wrong

Hannah Elliott

If you’re selling a vintage auto this year, there are some simple things you can do to capitalize on the wealth and all-time interest in car culture while avoiding the pratfalls of used-car malaise. Here are common mistakes people make when they try to sell their collectible car.

A variety of classic cars roll along Woodward in Royal Oak as Dream Cruise week gets underway Wednesday evening, Aug. 16, 2017.

You price it emotionally

We get it — the car was your baby, and you put a lot of money into making it just so. Maybe you rebuilt the engine. Maybe you upgraded the suspension and redid the interior. But the hard truth is you can’t put all that on the car buyer. It just doesn’t cut it to say, “I paid X for the car but am XY into it, so you have to pay me that much.”

“Overpricing the car by 5% will leave it in your garage,” says Carl Bomstead, senior market analyst for Sports Car Market, a valuation guide and newsletter for car collectors and enthusiasts.

By the same token: Each car is unique, even those that share the same make and model. So, just because a similar specimen sells for a certain amount, it doesn’t mean yours is worth that much.

Differences big and small between any two given cars will always abound and will always affect value. You should do a hard evaluation on your car of such things as mileage; the number of previous owners (the fewer the better); the amount of maintenance and repair; the purity and thoroughness of its record-keeping; racing history; the level of restoration (or lack thereof); the geography of the car’s whereabouts; the quality of its storage (inside, outside, climate-controlled?); and the rarity of its color (stock or exclusive paint-to-sample order?) — and then price accordingly. Those factors will make all the difference.

Each car is unique, even those that share the same make and model. So, just because a similar specimen sells for a certain amount, it doesn’t mean yours is worth that much.

Not prepping car before test drive

This should be common sense: Remove the child’s seat from the back, wipe out the ashtrays and vacuum under all the seats. Make sure the car is out of the garage, pointed toward the open road, and starts without a problem before the prospective buyer gets there.

“The car really needs to sparkle,” Bomstead says. “Give people a reason to buy, not a reason to walk away.”

Make sure the people who look at your car have the best drive of their life, so they’ll remember it and want to re-create the feeling by buying the car. It’s even worth warming up the engine to help enable a flawless test drive. You’d be surprised how often that doesn’t happen.

A 1949 Chrysler rolls in the Berkley CruiseFest Classic Car Parade.

You don’t fix the easy stuff

If there’s something on the car that you can fix before selling, fix it. It will be worth the effort. That means the leaky windshield washer hoses and the lock that doesn’t work. And you should repair the broken seat belt and the fritzy radio, too. It makes the car look like you’ve cared for it, that you’ve maintained it consistently, constantly, and confidently with pride of ownership.

If you’re the one doing the buying, be sure to ask, “Is there anything on the car that doesn’t work right now?” Don’t forget that, ultimately, caveat emptor rules: It’s your responsibility to ask that question and protect yourself from anything the seller decides not to divulge.

Classic car cruisers roll along Woodward Avenue among non-classic cars in Royal Oak this week as cruise activity ramps up.

You lack meticulous records

For special cars like vintage Ferraris and Aston Martins and Jaguars and Porsches, it matters a great deal who did the repair, maintenance or restoration work.

Only a small number of garages in the world are qualified to do even the smallest repairs on Ferrari 250s, Jaguar E-Types and other blue-chip vehicles. Document each visit. Even the most minor work can make the difference between a discerning, well-heeled collector buying your car or passing on it.

A stylish classic car cruises on Woodward near 13 1/2 Mile in 2010.

You ‘lock and walk’

This applies to people selling their car at a concours or rally or swap meet — or even advertising it at the local “cars and coffee” gathering. It will go much easier if you stick near the vehicle offering friendly greetings to potential buyers, rather than simply locking the doors and disappearing for the rest of the event.

Don’t make people track you down. Nobody likes trying to negotiate with a ghost.

A couple with a monkey cruises in a Spyder in the Berkley CruiseFest Classic Car Parade.

You don’t have a takeaway

It takes little effort to print off a quick list of your car’s high points. Include things like the year, make, model, engine type, miles, paint color, transmission and performance details.

Keep a stack of the printouts handy so you can pass them out. That way, whether you’re displaying your vehicle at a public venue or simply in your driveway, people will walk away with a reminder — a tangible, powerful prompt for later.

A classic car trails a blur of headlights while cruising Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak Friday night, August 16, 2019 before Saturday's Woodward Dream Cruise.

You’re in a rush

It’s Selling 101: Never come into a negotiation from a position of desperation. If you’ve got to sell your car today or even tomorrow or next week, it’s already too late. Experts advise it can take as long as six months for a good car to sell for a fair price, so plan accordingly.

Successfully selling a car is an art form of subtleties, posturing and sussing out the other guy. Kind of like a boxing match. You have to pick your timing and lead with a good punch — maybe a sucker punch, if that’s what it takes.

Being rushed will mean you don’t see the big picture of the transaction. Set your fair price for the car and let the buyer come up to meet it; don’t make him fish around for what he thinks it’s worth.

Cars on auction.

Ignoring online comments

If you’re selling your ride online, it’ll behoove you to stay on top of the comments section. Everyone knows how bad online trolling can get — especially in the world of car guys, where everyone deems himself an expert.

A personal grudge or gripe against a certain marque or model, or even an anecdotal story that doesn’t apply to anything based in reality, could affect the online perception of your car. “It can be a lot of fake news,” he says. “As a seller, you have to dismantle these people very carefully. You have to wade through it. You have to police your own listing. Be careful — they can destroy you.”

Two men drive south in a Chrysler 300 as some cars cruise on Woodward Avenue in Pontiac on Aug. 14, 2019.

You’re being a pig

Tell the truth about the condition of the car. If it needs an engine overhaul, say that. If it needs a steering column replacement, say that as well. If the brakes are on their last legs, admit it. It’ll save you time and grief later on — the truth will always come out, and it’s better to get ahead of it before you end up with an angry buyer on your hands.

Further: Tempted to quibble over the last $1,000 some guy is trying to pull on you? If you like him, let him have it. The good car-ma (har har) will come back to you tenfold.

And finally: Lighten up a bit. This isn’t brain surgery — it’s cars. Have some fun with it.