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6 Tips for Selling Your Classic Car at Auction

Barrett Jackson, Mecum, Gooding & Company, Russo & Steele, the list goes on and on.  And chances are you have seen one of these classic car auctions on TV or maybe in person.

They are exciting to watch!  The cars roll across the auction block, the auctioneer does his best to hype up the crowd’s interest in the car and then they let the bidding begin.  It doesn’t take long for a winning bid to drop the auction gavel and then they start the process all over again.

If you think it is exciting to watch, it’s even more exciting when you are auctioning off one of your own classic cars or bidding on the next car for your collection.

If you are thinking of selling a classic car or truck at auction, we have six tips that will help you get most out of the bidders and the auction house alike.

1) Pick the right auction company and event.  Its all about getting your vehicle in front of the right crowd at the right time.  A classic Mercedes probably won’t do too well at a car auction that focuses on muscle cars.

Once you have narrowed down an auction house, get in contact with them to see if they want your car in their next event.  Their terms may be in your benefit or they may tell you that the car must sell at no-reserve.

Auctions don’t make any money from your small entry fee, so if your car doesn’t sell, it is often considered a loss for the auction.  There are only so many run spots available and they want to make a commission on each of those.

2) Negotiate reserve price and run position.  Getting an auction house to agree to sell your vehicle is just the first step.  Once you are the docket, you need to negotiate when your car will cross the stage and what the reserve price will be.

In large events like Barrett Jackson auctions that can go all week, run position is huge!   These run lists are meant to start off slow with lower priced cars crossing the block to build up momentum with the buyers.  This build up leads to the big show with the more exclusive vehicles being auctioned off during the height of the event.  The last day is usually planned to taper off the event with lower priced vehicles crossing the stage once again.

Imagine an auction that begins on Tuesday and ends on Sunday, much like the annual Barrett Jackson auction in Scottsdale.  Ideally you would like your car to be on the Thursday, Friday or early Saturday run list.  Of course, the big-ticket items will be reserved for “Prime Time”, but it sure is nice to get your car in front of mid-week buyers that have big money to spend.

Reserve price is best set when you can make some sort of profit including the cost of the entry fee and the seller’s commission.

3) Write a description and take photos that will sell.  Get to the point when writing the description.  Buyers want to know how many were made, what is still original, the number of owners and its basic history.  Be sure to include the “factory build sheet” or any other documentation you have on the car.  Buyers want facts, not a carefully crafted description of buzz words.

Do yourself a favor and get high quality pictures taken of your vehicle.  It is worth the money you may have to spend to attract interest in your car before the auction begins.  Many buyers are skimming through the docket looking for the perfect buy.  The right pictures can spark interest, bad pictures will turn most bidders off when researching.  Here is a great article we wrote about getting great pictures of your classic car.

4) Pay attention to the details.  Once you have accomplished getting your car in the auction, at the right reserve price, in a good run position and have the description and photos taken care of, make sure you carefully review the docket listing.  There are no second chances with buyers so make sure you double check everything.

Before delivering the vehicle to auction make sure you also cover all the common-sense bases.  Fill it up with fresh gas, make sure it will start and drive with ease.  You don’t want any issues to arise come auction day.  Its also a good idea to have copies of all documentation in the glove-box or elsewhere in the car.  Just copies however.   Lastly, make sure to have the car detailed.  You want it looking its best come showtime.

5) Determine your bottom line.  You have already determined your reserve price.  That number should include what you need to get out of the car to make a profit.  It should include all the expenses of shipping and attending the auction as well.  The reserve price may or may not be your absolute bottom line.  If it isn’t you need to determine what is the lowest price you are willing to take and memorize it.  Remember, if it doesn’t sell, you will be stuck with shipping expenses there and back as well as any monies you spent attending (hotel, airfare, etc.)

Come auction time, a “Grinder” or “Seller Ambassador” will be assigned to you.  Their top priority is to get you to sell your car.  They will surely know what your reserve price is, but they are also going to ask you what you actually need to get for the car.  That number is your memorized bottom line.  Hopefully it is the last time you ever have to repeat that number.

If the current bid is over your number, but hasn’t reached the reserve price, the auction house may be willing to re-negotiate their commission in order to make the sale.  This will often happen when the bidding begins to stall.  Remember, it is everyone’s best interest to make the sale.  That’s why you are all there.

6)  Keep the faith.  Just because a car doesn’t sell when on the block, there is still hope.  Most auctions will have team of people trying to make a deal with buyers even after the car crosses the block with no sale.  It ain’t over til its over!  Again, it is in the best interest of the auction house to sell your car.  That’s how they make their money.

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