Next to your house or apartment, your next-most significant earthly possession is probably a car. Unless it’s a complete hunk of junk, your car is probably worth a sizeable chunk of change. Which, in turn, likely has you wondering how to make the most of that value — especially when it comes time to sell. If and when you decide to dive into the used car market to offload it — either to upgrade or make a lateral purchase — you’ll want to get every penny for it you can. But selling a car for the most money possible isn’t as simple as uploading a phone pic and listing its mileage on Craigslist and sitting back to watch the bids flood your inbox.
Randy Nonnenberg, founder of massive (and still-growing) online car auction community Bring a Trailer, has seen his fair share of successes and failures. At any given moment on BaT, you may see a 1967 Toyota 2000GT listing at $560,000 next to a 2002 Volkswagen Eurovan Westfalia Weekender going for $10,000. However, as stunning and jaw-dropping as your car may be, it takes more than looks to sell.
“It’s not just about the car magazine glamour shot, with the sun going down behind it,” Nonnenburg says.
In spite of his busy schedule, Nonneberg took a little time to explain to Gear Patrol the nuances of listing and selling a car, regardless of whether it’s a gem or a junker.
Photos, photos and more photos. “They don’t necessarily have to be professional photos. We have a tutorial on the site about how you take great photos of your car with lighting and pretty low-tech cameras. The presentation is important, but on BaT, we also ask for photos underneath the car, the technical details, under the hood, under the carpets and all through the car. Our bidders love to see that stuff and we place a high bar on the seller being able to do that.”
Keep detailed service history. “Given that a lot of these cars transact long-distance, the more information out there, the better. You don’t want any mystery or weird questions remaining — bidder confidence is what makes the price go up. Historical records are really important. Paperwork, more photos are key in BaT listings. They’re not really glamorous, but they provide a lot of information about maintenance, accidents, repair work or restoration.”
Did the car live an interesting life? “Sharing a lot about what the ownership of the actual car was like is really important. Stories that go along with the car do amazingly well on BaT too, like the old lady who bought a ‘Vette brand-new and owned it for 60 years. That backstory went across and people go totally wild for those and bid those cars really high when they have a seller story to go with them. So digging into the history and story of a car is helpful, if it has one.”
Where has your car been? “Has your car been in a salt belt area, or is it a California or Arizona vehicle? It’s okay — wherever the car has been, but if it’s been in more rust-prone areas, taking extensive photos and learning where your car might be particularly susceptible to rust [is necessary]. And showing it. Because if you can show that your car is either rusty or clean, it really helps with bidder confidence.”
Transparency and friendliness are key. “Once contacted, the seller needs to have an open attitude, to be responsive. We have the comment section, and we coach and encourage sellers to be in there all the time and just be friendly and available because potential buyers usually pull back from mysterious or absent sellers. Being a cool, even-keel person is something the car industry needs more of these days. Engagement is paramount, which is why eBay auctions can be shady and Craigslist is super scary. You don’t know who the seller is.”
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