It should come as no surprise that competitively priced vehicles sell faster than ones with uncharacteristically high or low prices. You should begin by searching for vehicles of the same year, make and model. Study the photos and descriptions carefully and make note of how your vehicle compares in terms of mileage, restoration history, engine size, and overall condition. Write down the prices of vehicles in similar condition and similarly equipped. If there are enough examples of your specific vehicle, narrow your search even further by Zip Code and a broad radius. Certain regions, such as the Desert Southwest, command higher prices than others. Within a few minutes you should have a good idea of a fair asking price for your vehicle. Even if you opt against publishing an asking price, you should have a pretty good idea of the least you’re willing to sell for.
Step 2: Think about what makes your car unique
Every classic car or truck has a story, and your ideal buyer will be very interested in yours. Are you the original owner? If not, what can you remember about the previous owner? Gather any maintenance, repair or restoration receipts and be prepared to discuss what you’ve had done to the vehicle. Especially to prospective buyers too far away to visit personally, any evidence or documentation you can provide to back up your vehicle’s story is very important. Buyers expect that well organized, meticulous records reflect a caring and diligent owner. If your vehicle shows its age, however, don’t be bashful about it. Many buyers prefer a gracefully aging “survivor” vehicle with a fine patina to a fully restored car sporting showroom-fresh paint.
Step 3: Take effective photos
Take many photos showing the entire car as well as showcasing specific areas—exterior, interior, engine bay, trunk and even the undercarriage if you can. Park your car in an open gravel lot or some other wide-open area where the surroundings such as trees and parking lot lines won’t be reflected in the windows and body panels. Try to take your photos when the sky is cloudy—the soft light will flatter your car by minimizing harsh shadows. Your primary image should be a front 3/4 view. Take close-up, legible shots of your odometer and identification plates. When photographing dents, cracks and other imperfections, include a ruler or some other familiar object (such as a coin) to clearly convey the size of the damage.
Step 4: Create a short video walk-around tour
They say if a picture is worth a thousand words, then surely a video is worth a thousand pictures. We agree. Grab a smartphone and record as you walk slowly around the car. Finish with a flourish by sitting behind the wheel and then starting the car. Give it a few revs and turn off the ignition. That’s your video! There’s no need for narration or background music because your car is the star.
Step 5: Gather your vehicle’s paperwork
In order to facilitate the sale, be sure to have your vehicle’s title (unless you live in a no-title state) and registration documents. If your title isn’t clean, you’ll need to disclose that in your listing so that your buyer doesn’t mistakenly buy a vehicle that’s not street-legal. Owner’s manual, original window sticker and maintenance records are always appreciated by buyers.
We allow you to upload up to 100 photos, and we’ve found that the most effective listings have at least 50 photos. We recommend adding at least this many and keeping dozens of additional close-up photos for prospective buyers hungry to see more. Remember, your 24/7 access to your listing means that if you are pressed for time you can start with a few photos now and add more later as they become available.
Step 2: Link your walk-around video from YouTube
Upload the walk-around video you created to YouTube (ask your child, grandchild, niece or nephew to help out if necessary) and use the embed URL provided by YouTube to link the video to your listing. We’ll reward your hard work by noting in search results that your listing includes a video clip!
Step 3: List all your car’s options and data
When creating your listing, there are numerous fields asking about your vehicle’s drivetrain and other equipment. Be sure to check off all that apply. If your vehicle is a pre-1981 model, enter the manufacturer’s serial number for the chassis in the VIN field; otherwise, enter the VIN. If you have anything supplemental to say about any of the equipment (such as a disclosure that the odometer reading may not be accurate), be sure to mention it in your description.
Step 4: Write (and proofread) a great description
This is where all that research you did earlier pays off. Even though you may no longer be enthusiastic about your vehicle, rest assured that somewhere out there is someone who considers it their dream come true. Write your description for that person. Write in full sentences and avoid abbreviations (for example, air conditioning rather than A/C). Hearken way back to Mrs. Whipple’s English class and write an essay she’d be proud to read, complete with proper capitalization, spelling, grammar, and so on. We give you virtually unlimited space to tell your vehicle’s story, so make use of it.
Step 5: Respond to inquiries immediately
Great photos, a video clip and a full, rich description will attract both attention and inquiries from prospective buyers. Those inquiries will be sent to the email address you provided when you created your membership. It is crucial that you reply to inquiries in a timely manner, as most buyers contact multiple sellers when they are ready to purchase. Once you connect with a buyer and make the sale, let us know the good news by logging in to your dashboard and marking your listing as sold. We’ll immediately mark your listing as sold and hide it so you don’t receive any additional inquiries. If your deal falls through at the last minute, don’t worry—just let us know and we’ll put your vehicle back on the market in a jiffy.
When it comes to buyers and sellers of classic cars and trucks, two rules are absolute:
Rule #1: A seller never wants to leave money on the table.
Rule #2: A buyer never wants to pay more than what something is worth—preferably, much less.
It’s Rule #1 that often leads sellers of classic cars to ask, “Should I put my asking price in a classified ad? After all, someone out there may be willing to pay more than I’m asking. If I show my price, I will miss getting that extra money.”
To Price or Not To Price?
But this isn’t a game show. If a prospective buyer responds to your listing, they’re not going to start shouting out what they think your car is worth. At some point early on (perhaps as soon as the initial buyer inquiry form) they’re going to ask, “How much?” If you want to sell your car, you will need to name your number. So, why not put it right in the listing?
In the world of buying and selling classic cars, there’s also this rule: Be transparent with your selling process. When advertising your vehicle, describe all its features, good and bad. And while features vary, the one that comes on every single car is price. It’s either a good feature or a bad one.
If it’s not included in your listing, prospective buyers will come to the most likely conclusion that it must be bad (See Rule #2). And…what else about the car is the seller hiding?
Think about it: whether your car is a flawless show queen or a rust-ridden heap, with just a few Internet searches, a prospective buyer already knows your car’s approximate market value. If there’s something about your vehicle that puts it well above market value, put it in the listing along with the price). The potential buyer will be the final judge as to whether it’s worth the extra money.
Name Your Price…And the Reasons Why
Of course, there’s the seller who’s thinking the prospective buyer won’t understand the extra value from reading the ad. “I just need to get them on the phone and I can argue with them that it’s worth every penny.”
Don’t count on it. A car listing with a price is much more likely to get views than one without. So, with no price, fewer people are looking at the ad. Those who do may question its integrity.
Now, the opposite of the above could also inspire a seller to not include an asking price. “What if I’m pricing it too high? No one will call,” they tell themselves. Alternatively, “If I put in a price, someone will just undercut me and get the sale.” This line of thinking is understandable, but don’t forget that classic cars are one-offs—eacb one with its own distinct history and current condition. If you really think your car commands a premium price, be sure your listing explains why, as suggested in our Help Center article about creating an effective listing.
There is no mystery to classic car pricing. All the information is available on the Internet with resources on ClassicCars.com and elsewhere. Just a little bit of research will show you where the market currently values a car like yours. If you are truly objective, you won’t overshoot the price when you list your car. However, if you want to be certain, hire an expert and get an appraisal.
Keep in mind, if your phone isn’t ringing and the emails aren’t arriving, it may be more about your listing than your price. You may not be doing a good job explaining important features or history, or perhaps you need better photos to document your vehicle’s condition. Try rewriting the description. Take better and/or more photos. Worst case, lower your price.
Yes, when you publish a price, someone could undercut it. But in the classic car world, serious buyers are looking for the best car for the price (once again, see Rule #2). Most buyers assume every asking price is negotiable. If there are several comparable cars within their range, they will likely contact each owner. They will want to learn more about the car, negotiate, and then buy the car that best matches their needs. You will get your shot.
But, if there isn’t a price in your listing…you might not make their call list. You don’t get the chance to negotiate.
Long story short: to sell a vehicle, always include a reasonable asking price in your listing and back it up in your description.
There are many advantages to buying from a private seller. First of all, private sellers, unlike dealerships, don’t have the overhead and facilities costs of a business. Their principal motive is getting a fair price for their car rather than earning a profit. Additionally, private sellers won’t be interested in selling you any extras, such as extended warranties, maintenance contracts, or other add-ons. The upshot is that any given car is purchased most cheaply directly from a private seller.
Purchases from private sellers are generally exempt from state and local sales taxes. Depending on your state, this can save you considerable money.
Most private sellers are enthusiasts just like you and are intimately knowledgeable about their cars. They usually can answer even the most detailed questions. This is especially important for classic cars, where many decades of history may be important to consider. Most private sellers aren’t professional negotiators so buyers tend to feel more confident in their ability to strike a fair deal.
Most private sellers are quite happy to allow you to test drive their vehicle or to have an inspector test it on your behalf. The vehicle won’t be parked inside a showroom or on a crowded lot, so access should be easy.
Disadvantages of Buying from a Private Seller
There are some downsides to consider when buying from a private seller, however. Because the seller isn’t a business, don’t expect help with services you may need to take ownership of the vehicle.
Two reasonable adults can disagree widely over the condition of a classic or collector car that is many decades old. It’s up to you to rely on your own research. What the seller thinks is in excellent condition may not meet your definition of the term, or vice-versa. If you are unsure of your ability to thoroughly evaluate the vehicle we suggest you hire a third-party inspection service.
Private seller transactions aren’t regulated. You are accepting the vehicle on an “as is” basis without a warranty or even protection from “lemon laws” or other consumer protection legislation. Once you pay for it, it’s yours!
The Certificate of Title
Buying a classic car from a private seller involves minimal paperwork. It’s important that the seller’s documentation be in good order and demonstrates the seller’s right to sell you the vehicle. This is the purpose of the title certificate. Be sure the title correctly displays the seller’s name and the vehicle’s VIN. If the vehicle’s model year is earlier than 1981, the serial number should be displayed.
The title should not list any third parties, such as finance companies, as lienholders. If there is more than one titleholder, all titleholders must be present when you buy the car or else the sale won’t be legal.
Also important to note is that the title should not display any designations indicating that the vehicle has had a troubled past. Such designations include words such as “salvage” or “rebuilt.” These designations indicate that the vehicle was once deemed ineligible to drive on public roads in the state where it was titled. If the vehicle does have a salvage title, be aware that you may have considerable trouble getting it registered and insured for street use.
On the back of the title certificate is a transfer-of-ownership form that needs to be filled out by you and the seller. In some states, this form needs to be notarized before the vehicle can be re-titled in your name.
If you are searching for a very specific car, you will have myriad questions—factory options, documentation, repair receipts, matching numbers, and so on. Whatever these important bits and pieces are, write them all down in a shopping journal. In the passion of the moment, even seasoned buyers forget to ask about something that was once deemed important. Not all of the following questions to ask a seller about a classic car will apply to every situation. These are conversation-starting questions you can ask over the phone as a preliminary screen. At a minimum, they can save you time and money by avoiding needless inspection trips. More importantly, they can help reduce the chances of purchasing a nightmare.
1: Do you have the title?
To get started, you might as well get the paperwork questions out of the way. Depending on the responses, you may not have to ask another question.
The older the vehicle, the greater likelihood the seller won’t have a title. For many, this would be the aforementioned nightmare, especially if the intention is to turn around and title/register/license the car. However, the matter of titles varies by state. As an example, New York does not issue titles for cars built before 1973. Be familiar with your state’s titling and registration requirements for vehicles of the type and year you’re considering.
2: Is the title clean and clear?
A clear title indicates there is no lien or other legal encumbrance on the vehicle that might prevent or complicate the sale of the vehicle. A clean title is one without a designation indicating the vehicle was severely damaged at some point in its life. As with paperwork regulations, terms and definitions vary by state, and even within states over time. Be aware that title and registration histories for very old vehicles may be inaccurate, lost, destroyed, or may have never existed at all. Records for a 1987 Buick GNX might not be a problem, but records for a 1927 Ford Model A might very well be. Even with the GNX, however, it’s possible the clean title really isn’t. Read on.
3: Is the title in the seller’s name?
If the title in not in the seller’s name, you could run into the same problems as not having a title at all. If the title lists more than one seller, will they all be available (and willing) to sign over the title to you? Some states require notarized signatures, so availability is critical to a smooth transaction.
4: Are you the seller, or the seller’s representative?
Speaking to a representative is fine, but they may not know as much about the car as the actual seller. If the transaction will be completed through a representative, the process to sell the car could be more drawn out than if you were dealing directly with the seller. If the representative is in another state, look up and understand all the paperwork requirements for the seller’s state and your state.
5: Is the vehicle currently registered?
Another important piece of paper is the car’s registration. If it’s current, good. If it’s not registered, ask why, and then listen carefully. The car could be anything from a trailer queen (trailered from car show to car show) to something that has been sitting next to the house for years. Follow up accordingly.
On the topic of documentation, here’s one last word of advice. It’s possible for a seller to honestly present a clean and clear title that isn’t really clean and/or clear. A safety net is having a signed bill of sale. You can read more about bills of sale in our Help Center article about buying a classic car from a private seller. Consider including wording specifically indicating that the seller pays all legal expenses for any lawsuit relating to the seller’s actions and/or representations in the transaction.
Now, onto the car itself. The objective here is to identify any mechanical, structural or cosmetic deal-breakers.
6: How long have you owned the car?
Unless there’s a pretty good reason for short-term ownership, such as a baby on the way, a quick turnaround in ownership often points to someone trying to make a quick profit. They will have very little real knowledge of the car. Or perhaps the quick turnaround is because the seller didn’t know to ask the right questions before buying, and now they’re just trying to dump their nightmare. Assuming you’ve made it this far into the conversation, be sure to verify the length-of-ownership response when you see the title.
7: Does the car have any rust?
A “yes” would be a deal-breaker for many people. With anything other than an unhesitating and unqualified “no” as a response, it’s time to follow up and take good notes. Is it structural, or only surface rust? Is any rust visible through the paint, or causing the paint to bubble up? If you visit the seller to inspect the car, bring a few refrigerator-type magnets—the one with your dentist’s phone number is just fine—along to test all the body panels for body filler. Think it doesn’t matter because you’re interested in a sweet fiberglass-body street rod? Think again. Floor pans, gas tank, frame and many other parts are still critical to the vehicle’s value.
8: How often and how far is the car typically driven?
There are many reasons for a classic to be driven infrequently or for very few miles. Your job is to ask enough follow-up questions to determine if one of those reasons is related to mechanical issues or overall unreliability. If you do take an inspection trip, a seldom-driven car is your cue to scrutinize engine oil for signs of water condensation or similar warnings—not a good thing.
9: What condition code would you give the car?
A one-to-six condition code is often used in determining the value of vintage cars and can be helpful here if your seller is knowledgeable enough. The condition code provides clear definition to terms the seller can use in describing the car’s overall condition to you:
This by itself should give you a pretty clear idea as to whether an inspection visit is worth undertaking. This leads us to the last of our questions:
10: Can I test drive the car? Can I drive the car to a local shop for inspection?
The answer to both questions should be a very responsive “yes.” If the seller hesitates…so should you. By this point the seller should have communicated (either in the car’s listing or over the phone) the vehicle’s shortcomings, so why not allow it?
Don’t know where you should start? Our guide suggests you evaluate a few different important areas. If you still don’t think you know enough to properly evaluate a car’s condition, you might want to hire an inspector to do the job for you.
Just as with late-model pre-owned vehicles, mechanical condition is a big deal, but at a whole different level. A good place to start is whether the car is in safe driving condition. If it isn’t, then the question is whether the car is either restorable or a parts car.
A classic in good running condition with the original drivetrain (i.e., engine, transmission and rear end) is favorable. It’s less favorable if one or more of the three are replaced. If they are replaced, note whether the components have been replaced with original factory parts, factory replacement parts from a third party, or with components made for a different vehicle altogether. Note that an engine that has been rebuilt using original factory (also known as OEM) parts to original factory specifications should be considered an original engine.
Beyond the drivetrain, many components are meant to be replaced periodically, so consider the presence of replacement parts as a good thing. After all, each replacement part (that doesn’t itself require replacement) is just one less part for the new owner to buy. As with the major drivetrain components, OEM replacement parts are often preferable to non-OEM.
Check the operation of all factory-equipped option. Examples include air conditioning, turbo charger, power assists, convertible tops, radio, and so on. Having all the factory-equipped options working enhances a car’s condition.
Check for leaks anywhere fluids are present. Head gaskets, the rear main seal, the power steering system, brake lines, the water pump, radiator, all hoses, transmission, fuel system and gas tank—each tells its own story, and any leaks, even if they are minor, carry a potential cost. The fewer there are, the better the condition. For most classics, some minor leaks are expected.
Any blue smoke coming out the tailpipe could indicate an internal leak that is expensive to repair. Blue smoke often indicates serious problems with pistons, valves or perhaps even the engine block itself. If it’s coming from a relatively recent classic car, such as a muscle car or a vehicle of that era, it can be a significant issue. If you see blue smoke coming from a very old car, such as a 1930 Ford Model A, it might not indicate as much a problem, as these old cars often leaked internally, even when new.
Assessing the quality of a classic car’s exterior can depend on how original the body panels, bumpers, grille, badging, lights and other components are. An “all original” classic is viewed more favorably than one that is “fully restored.” Vehicles with their original exterior components intact generally indicate proper sheltering, a mild climate, regular maintenance, or a combination of the three.
Qualities that define an exterior in good condition include properly aligned body panels, matching chrome trim that’s not pitted, and body panels free of filler, dents or dings. The side mirror(s) should be secure. All badges and ornamentation should be original and free of bubbling paint in their immediate vicinity.
Speaking of paint, its evaluation is rather subjective. Some people insist on the OEM color, while others love custom paint. Either way, thin spots, scratches, peeling, drips or heavy oxidation can detract from the condition.
The biggest showstopper, of course, is rust. Minor surface rust on the undercarriage is inevitable, but any deep rust on body panels means that the affected panels will need to be replaced
Whether original or restored, the closer to “like new” condition, the better. Scuffs happen, so don’t worry about reasonable wear and tear. Conditions that make a difference in terms of a car’s overall condition include rips in the upholstery or headliner; thin, torn or worn carpeting, and a cracked or misaligned dash. As far as knobs, buttons and switches go, if it’s inside the car, it should be operable, mechanically and electrically. Windows, heater, air conditioning, interior lights, power seats, radio should all operate.
One of the more bedeviling trouble spots in classic cars involves the electrical system. The older the car, the less likely electrical problems are an issue, since there are few components and wiring is straightforward. Test the horn, lights, turn signals, fan, radio and dashboard gauges. The starter motor should turn the engine over easily and without hesitation. Check for frayed or exposed wires.
Evaluating a car’s condition is often done for purposes of buying or selling, so an evaluation of the vehicle’s paperwork should be part of the process. Are all the car’s service records since new available? That’s a big plus if they document a timely and professional maintenance history. Does the vehicle have a clean and clear title? A good title won’t add value, but the lack of one can certainly detract value.
Overall, even if a classic car is showing wear, it can still be considered in good condition if everything works, if the drivetrain is original and if there are no major cosmetic issues inside or out (and few minor ones). Such a vehicle is safe to drive, looks good, and should last a while before the new owner (whether that’s you or someone else) would have to effect repairs.