For my past builds, I’ve had good luck selling private party – leveraging this blog, forum sites, and a combination of Facebook Marketplace & CarGurus/AutoTrader to success…but this time around, I decided to list with one of the auction sites, namely Cars & Bids.
These auction sites have built MASSIVE audiences, getting millions of visitors each month, largely full of enthusiasts and car collectors that are willing to pay top dollar for unique & well-kept vehicles. They’re not a good place to sell a run-of-the-mill Camry, but if you have something special that appeals to enthusiasts then selling on an auction site is almost always the way to go.
Read on to hear my experience listing and selling my XP8 – but if you want a summary, it was both incredibly fun, and more importantly I set a new record for the car despite having relatively higher miles, proving that unique/special vehicles can command a HUGE premium if done right.
Check out the result here: https://carsandbids.com/auctions/3vN1oy6k/1998-ford-explorer-saleen-xp8
Cars & Bids versus Bring A Trailer
While Bring A Trailer (BaT) was the first mover in the space and is most well known, they have become so large that it could almost be a problem – at the moment I’m writing this, there are 818 auctions live that you’re competing against for eyeballs with their community. The site, originally built as a WordPress blog to advertise project cars that might need some work (hence the name, bring a trailer) has become difficult to navigate and somewhat difficult to use. It’s still a great platform that I visit pretty much every day, but the chances of a car falling under the radar are high as even as a buyer I find it very difficult to sort through 800+ listings and find cars I’m interested in. They also sell cars on the weekend which almost always tank (or at least, generally have lower sale prices than comparable listings that end on week days) and they’ve been known to take a lot longer to turn around an auction listing. That being said, they have pretty much cornered the market for older cars (C&B doesn’t accept anything older than 1980) and tend to do very well for the blue-chip collectors as well, leaving C&B with the meaty-middle of everything in between.
Cars & Bids has a much better interface, quicker turnaround times, no listing fees, and cheaper buyers fees, making it an attractive platform for anything that isn’t in BaT’s sweet spot. Furthermore, with the power of Doug DeMuro and other automotive influencers behind it, your unique/special car is likely to get a higher reach if it catches their editorial team’s eye – whether it’s in a video by Doug, Kennan, or other team members, or simply blasted out on Social to their engaged following. Likewise when you compare comps between the two platforms, there are countless examples of C&B outselling BaT on the same cars and/or setting records for a specific platform – so both sites are seeming to thrive with plenty of buyers checking both.
I chose Cars & Bids in part because they’re a local company to me in San Diego, and then the icing on the cake was Doug being interested in the car enough to shoot a video featuring it, which has topped 700K views as of writing it and continues to grow. If you’re selling a very rare, unique, or newsworthy vehicle, then there is no better way to get the word out on it than tapping into their incredibly huge fanbase and community via the various influencers that work for and help promote the site:
How to Maximize Your Sale Price on Either Site
The biggest thing you can do to get a high number is to focus on your presentation of the car.
Just by looking at an auction you can tell if it’s going to be bring an above average or below average result by the amount of time and care the seller put into their photography and documentation. Spend some time looking at results that are outliers (either positive or negative) and it is uncanny how often well presented cars bring a premium, and likewise how poorly presented cars tend to do poorly. In this case, it is not just correlation but causation – for someone to buy your car site unseen, the presentation of the car is everything.
I hired a professional photographer to take pictures – he charged $300 although I paid a generous tip to ensure he was motivated. The pictures were UNREAL and got more people to click on my listing, and more importantly to trust the car was accurately represented. Having an impartial, professional photographer meant buyers could trust the pictures more, and frankly get more excited about the car seeing how cool it looks in all its glory. I took my own photos as well using a DSLR camera, editing in Adobe Lightroom, and spending probably 3-4 hours on it in total – and I can tell you my photos absolutely suck in comparison, and I thought they were pretty decent up until I saw the professional ones.
In addition to photos, the next biggest thing you can do is to gather up all of the reciepts and documentation you have on the car to show you’ve taken care of it. I uploaded tons of service records showing no expense was spared in the maintenance & upkeep – this is all stuff you NEVER get when buying from a dealer and rarely from a private party. For best effect, get a service done right before listing it, and ask the shop to do a full inspection of the car which serves as a clean bill of health, much like a PPI.
Good photos + recent service history takes a ton of guess work out of the equation, and both of these will pay for itself with just one incremental bid.
Beyond that – show engagement in the comments. Answer every question asked, and be as transparent as possible. Nobody will believe “the car is perfect” or “it is showroom new” when the car has 100K+ miles, so you’re better off to admit any flaws, even if minor, to build the trust. Likewise if you can show off your knowledge of the car/platform, then it also demonstrates to buyers that you were a good caretaker of the car who had some expertise on that specific car and therefore were on top of your preventative maintenance and such.
Last but not least, stock cars tend to sell best – and modifications rarely bring any added value, and in many cases are a value detractor. If your car is modified, this may not be the best platform for you – or better yet, you may want to consider parting out the mods and trying to sell the car in stock format…you’ll make more money on the mods, and the car, this way.
No Reserve vs Setting a Reserve
This is actually one of the more important decisions you’ll make, besides where to list it. Once you submit your application to either C&B or BaT which includes some preliminary info and a handful of photos, both sites will determine if they even want to host the car or not (e.g. your salvage title Geo Metro probably ain’t making the cut). Once they accept the car, they will then propose a reserve price for you to accept, or you can chose to go no reserve.
The advantage of going no reserve is that it attracts more bidders, and typically gets more of a bidding war at the end as the buyers know the car is selling and one more bid can be the difference of taking it home or not. The difference of course is some risk involved, but it’s pretty rare for a good car to go insanely cheap – there are enough visitors on these sites that if a car is undervalued, someone will buy it. Both sites have TONS of dealers that buy (and sell) frequently, so worst case scenario a dealer will scoop it up until it gets past what they think fair market value would be.
If you are going to present the car well (see above) and have a unique/rare vehicle, going no reserve is almost always the best call. If your car is fairly “average” or readily available (e.g. someone could go on AutoTempest and find a ton of options nearby in similar condition or specification) then a reserve is the smart way to go.
It’s important to distinguish between a reserve, and the actual sale price. When BaT or C&B offers you a reserve, that doesn’t mean the car will sell for that price – that just means its the minimum it could potentially sell for in the worst-case scenario. You also don’t pay any sellers fees, so that is what is going to YOU. In most cases, the bidding goes well past the reserve price…so a reserve price should be one in which you’re maybe slightly disappointed but could live with it – knowing that the car, if presented well, should far exceed it. And if the reserve and your minimum are way off after talking to both BaT and C&B, then perhaps you need to re-evaluate if the number in your head is aligned with the market.
The Pre- and Post-Sale Logistics
Once the auction drops, the site puts you in touch with the buyer and gives you a step-by-step checklist to finalize the transaction included templates for bill of sale and acceptable payment options. They also give you discounted shipping rates, although you’re welcome to use whoever you’d like. In the event the car fails to meet reserve, they’ll put you in touch with the highest bidder in hopes you can come to a middle ground.
Before the auction goes live they require a certain amount of photos and details, and your auction writer will likely have some questions. You’ll also need to provide proof of ownership (e.g. picture of title) and a few other bits. Before the auction goes live, you’re sent a preview link to confirm the accuracy or suggest any edits as appropriate – and in theory if you didn’t agree on the listing presentation, or sold private party in the meantime – you could still pull out until the auction goes live (this is frowned upon and could get you banned depending on the circumstances, so don’t do this unless it’s absolutely imperative).
The Selling Experience
OMG it was so fun!
I will admit I was freaking out when there was 5 minutes to go and the car was only at $15K. While that would have been an okay result, I thought the car was capable of so much more. I waited eagerly by the keyboard to answer any last minute questions, and felt more nervous than I had in a long, long time.
Then with <2 minutes left, the bids started to come in. Each bid at the end adds another 2 minutes of action, and my auction had a solid 10 minutes of overtime.
In total, I had 31 bids, 79 comments, and over 50K views on the listing, which was really great to see.
Once the auction ended, I was ecstatic – what a rush! It took hours to come down from that high.
The buyer followed-through quickly, and before I knew it the car was being picked up and shipped across the country to Florida.
The C&B team was highly responsive and helpful, always there to answer questions and or nudge me if they’re waiting on me for the hold up.
Would I do it again?