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How to Sell Your Collector Car on eBay

Setting up saved searches on eBay
is informative and fun!
I began buying and selling cars on eBay when eBay Motors launched in 2000. Since then, not many days have gone by that I haven't checked in on my watched auctions and saved searches. It's become a hobby that I now do on a daily basis in about 15 minutes or less.

I've also helped many collectors successfully sell their cars quickly for market value to buyers both nearby and across the country. Being a car enthusiast and web developer I became quite good at it, so good that collectors from all over would contact me to help them sell their cars.

Along the way, I've learned what makes for a successful car auction on eBay versus what makes for an under-performing auction that might require several relistings and might not ever result in a sale. The end goal is to leave as many potential buyers with as few questions or concerns about your vehicle as possible. Buying site-unseen is a leap for most people. Build them a bridge of confidence with your preparation and presentation.

There are a thousand ways to do it wrong, but what follows is how to do it right.

Fix It!
(most profitable fixes first)

Few people, especially older collectors with the means and the motivation to pay top dollar, want to buy a problem for themselves. You've heard of a no-stories car?  That means no stories like, "I think the wheels are original, or very close replicas" or, "It was repainted by the previous owner and I'm pretty sure there is no filler" or, "The previous owner raced it, but I think the chassis is still solid."

Uncertainty lowers value. Know what you have backwards and forwards.

Now, if you don't want to fix everything, that's fine, but you might be leaving money on the table. In otherwords, depending on the fix, it might be profitable to invest in repair/reconditioning.  

For example, if you are selling a Ferrari, it is highly advisable to get the major service done before the sale.  If you're selling a Porsche 911 SC, make sure you have the tensioners updated.  Selling a Jaguar XKE Convertible? Make sure the top is in excellent shape and the weather seals are supple and (reasonably) watertight.

In short, make a list of what needs repair and what will need service in the next 5,000 miles. Research what it will take to make a no-stories car and invest wisely, erring on the side of fixing rather than story-telling, or worse, hiding flaws.  A no-stories car will likely more than pay for the cost it took to get it there.

Clean It!
(outside, inside, engine bay, trunk and undercarriage)

Enough said, right?  Well apparently not. You've probably experienced it, you find a car that you're interested in buying online. Maybe the outside looks good enough but the inside is dusty, messy or even stained.  This a red flag to potential buyers. If the owner doesn't care enough to clean the interior, how can one be sure the car has been maintained mechanically.

Answer common seller questions up front, like, does the car smell inside? Has it been smoked in? Any water damage? Any sun damage?

Depending on where you live, a decent quality full car detail can might cost around $250, but rarely higher than $500, and it is worth it, especially if time is money for you.

Photograph It!
 (good quality photos and lots of them)

It baffles me why people trying to sell a complex big ticket item like a collector car would think a few quick snaps with the smartphone would be all they need to do the job. You're listing will most likely be viewed by potential buyers hundreds of miles away or more.  They probably won't be coming to see the car in person before placing a bid.

Your goal should be to show the most discerning collector every angle, every nook and every cranny of the car, inside and out, top to bottom, engine bay and undercarriage.  Take closeups of the coolest, most important parts, and don't be afraid to highlight the flaws as well.  All cars have flaws and collectors understand this. Be up front about them with detailed photos, perhaps even including a ruler in the shot to show the scale of the imperfection.

I was once selling a low-miles Cadillac Allante for a client and did not show all the flaws.  The winning bidder was flying in and I agreed to pick him up at the airport with the car all ready to go. Unfortunately for me, and my client, the buyer walked up to the car, took a good look at it, then turned around and got back on the plane.  It was a most unpleasant experience. Had I done a better job of showing the imperfections, it would have saved both of us time and money.

Video It! (that video camera in your pocket will work fine for this) 

It only takes a few minutes to take out your smart phone walk around the car, start and rev the engine, open the engine bay, sit in the driver's seat, get in the back seats (if applicable), pop open the trunk, look at the wheels, etc.

If you really want to go the extra mile, then go the extra mile, literally, and take it for a drive. Run up to speed from a stop.  Brake quickly. Shift through the gears.  Of course, it's best if you have a passenger to do the filming!

Document It!
(you can never have too much documentation)

So, your car is in great shape?  Prove it with service records, as many as you can collect, from the beginning of time (or your car's time).  Beyond seeing, touching, smelling and driving the physical car, there is nothing that raises value more than comprehensive documentation.  I once bought a Jaguar and found the factory upholsterer's certification document fixed to the underside of the seat. It was like Christmas morning and made me feel that much better about my purchase!

Of course, the basics are the owner's manual, factory and dealer literature, purchase documents, registration records, repair manual, original window sticker (or factory reproduction), etc.

Beyond these basics, you can go show how serious you are by contacting the previous owners (if you can find them) to fill in the gaps orally, if not with paper or photos.  Does your make/model have a registry?  Can your local dealer dig anything up for you?  How about the manufacturer? Have you checked with the owner's club?  Online forums? Magazine articles?  Web sites?

The idea is to back up your claims with as much paper as possible.  When you buy a house, you actually pay a significant fee for the title company to check the history of the property by swimming through all of the available documentation.  Impress your buyers by having done that work for them already.

Write Well 
(not good)

What do I mean here?  Well, I'm no English professor, but low quality copy on an auction page makes me wonder about the quality of the car, or the quality of the experience I'll have working with the seller.  There is simply no room for sloppy spelling or incorrect grammar.

Some common offenders include the overuse of dots (..........), exclamation points (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), question marks (???????), asterisks (**********) or any other character on the keyboard. This looks cheap and easy.  And for the love of all that is good and holy in this world, DON'T USE ALL CAPS!  THEY MAKE YOU LOOK LIKE A DUMMY, OR AT LEAST LIKE THE STEREOTYPICAL USED CAR SALESMAN.

Provenance and Awards
(time to brag)

While this is is mostly covered by the documentation, are there any interesting stories (positive ones) about your car's history. Who's owned it? Where has it lived? Has the car won any awards?  Any horsepower/torque readings? What makes it special to you and/or others?

Highlight the Highlights 
(information hors d'oeuvres)

You only have a brief time to capture the interest of potential buyers, so make it easy for them to see the most important information first.  They'll probably look at the photos first, but if you still have them after that, highlight in bold or in bullets the top five to ten attributes, repairs, awards, etc. that set your car apart from the rest.

(a worthy quest)

If your car is all original, then make a big deal about the lengths you have gone to to keep it original.  Is the dash original? If so, that's a huge deal, say something about it.  Original tires, well, it's cool to have them, but hopefully you're not riding on them still.  Engine never cracked-open for repair, pretty cool, but prove that it's still in great running condition with a video and compression test results.

(if you must)

For some, any modifications away from stock are a deal breaker, but only for some.  You need to decide what works for you.  In general, a completely stock, unmolested, all-original, numbers-matching car will fetch more money than a modified one, but there are exceptions.  

For example, the Porsche 911 models from 1965-1989, and even beyond in many ways, shared many parts.  Jeremy Clarkson famously criticizes the 911 every chance he gets for not changing much in the last 50 years.  That being the case, older models can be retro-fitted with newer parts to make them more reliable, and, yes, desirable.  But make sure you're doing the 'community-accepted' modifications for your car, if there are any.

Pricing Strategy (priced to sell, or not)

On eBay, you can choose to sell your car a few different ways. Below are the most common ways to do it, listed in no particular order:

  • Auction with a Reserve Price
  • Auction with No Reserve
  • Buy It Now
  • Buy It Now with Offers
  • Classified Ad 

The right format depends on a few criteria only you can answer:

  1. Do you really want to sell the car? 
  2. Are you just testing the market?
  3. How quickly must you sell the car?
  4. How firm are you on the price?

It's common sense that if your answers to the above questions are 1. yes, 2. no, 3. ASAP, and 4. not firm, then you should list your car as a No Reserve Auction.  In such a case, I always recommend the maximum duration to allow the word to spread around the internet about your exciting sale.

If, however, you answer 1. yes, 2. no, 3. 90 days, and 4. fairly firm, I'd recommend a format of Auction with a Reserve Price, and expect to relist your auction many times in the 90-day period, adjusting price accordingly as time goes on.

As you can see, I'm not a fan of Buy It Now or Classified Ads.  To me, that takes half the energy and some of the upside potential out of the listing.  Go look now and you'll see hundreds of collector cars listed as Buy It Now or Classified Ad format and priced at 25% above market value.  What is the point.  Personally, it's a turn off.  It tells me that in order to buy it, I'm going to have to expect to spend weeks or months haggling and prying information out of a stingy salesman.  Not fun.

What I think works best is an auction with a hidden reserve and a low starting price, even $0.  What that will do is get people buzzing about the auction and throwing in bids.  Most bidders, obviously, will not be serious enough to bid up to your reserve or close to it, but you will get eyeballs, and that translates to buzz which translates to free advertising in social networks and enthusiast forums.

Terms of Sale (work with me here)

Some times I'll find a car I want, but the seller has such strict and inconvenient terms of sale that it turns me off the car altogether.  Be as accommodating as you can be.  Airport pickup is a big plus, so if you are willing to do it, make it known up front. 

Do you really want to require a $2,000 deposit within the first 24 hours? The buyer is probably a busy person, take a chill pill and give him 72 hours.  

Will you only accept cash?  What are you, a drug dealer?  Some buyers prefer cashier's checks for security purposes, or even PayPal. What about pre-purchase inspections.  Most serious site-unseen buyers will want one, so go ahead and say up front that you are happy to take it to a nearby shop, within 20 miles or so, for a PPI.

Make/Model History
(cheap and easy)

This is, by far, one of the easiest things you can add to set your auction apart, even if it is to cut-and-past a few paragraphs from Wikipedia.  If you are selling a 1967 Pontiac Firebird, you probably know more about that year, make and model than most people on the planet.  Tell about how it's similar and how it's different to the Chevrolet Camaro.  How many were made?  Where were they built?  Where was yours built? How rare was the color combination of your car?  What were all the options and trims available? What movies featured it?  Was this model raced?  If so, how did it do?

Extra Parts
(parts is parts)

Most cars I've ever owned and sold include extra parts, either ones that came with the car, or ones I've purchased along the way.  Often I'll replace a part and keep the original, just in case.  Collectors love this.  It shows you care about your car and its originality.  I even keep original stickers, wires, belts, anything that might be original to the car, or useful to the next owner.

Putting It All Together 
(brought to you by CaliforniaClassix)

For over a decade, Bill and Bernard of CaliforniaClassix have created some of the best auction pages I have ever seen. Much of what has been outlined above was observed at one time or another in their auctions. Click through their Hall of Fame to see how well they do it. Below you can see an example screen capture of their work.

Example Photography (a picture might be worth $1,000 to your car)

Below are some examples of the best photos I've seen in recent auctions.  They more than paid for themselves in the final sales price.


  1. Selling a car is tedious task. Thanks for sharing such useful insights.

  2. You may find yourself selling only a few antique cars in the beginning, but when you finally learn how to think like an antique car collector, you'll be able to sell many antique cars.
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  3. Classic car sales tend to have a few reasons that are approaching stereotype status in the vintage car market.


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