Deciding to sell your classic car is never easy, how far do you go with the repairs? Sometimes, selling it in a slightly distressed state is the best decision.
Fix classic car before selling? To get the very best price for your classic car here are 21 tips to prepare it for sale :
- Have all legal registration documents to hand
- Have all repair receipts ordered by date in a file
- Know the history of the vehicle
- Have owners manual and tools to hand
- Have any spare parts catalogued
- Car interior valeted
- Exterior washed and cleaned
- Tires pumped
- Charge Battery
- Use a battery maintainer
- Repair any electrical issues
- Oil level check
- Transmission oil level check
- Coolant level check
- Check brake fluid level
- Check and free up any binding brakes
- Clean fuel system
- Have fresh gas in the tank
- Use a gas stabiliser in the gas tank
- Have exhaust system checked and repaired
- Store car indoors if possible
I’m a mechanic for over twenty years and in this post, I’ll share my experience preparing classic cars for sale. When I’m buying a classic car, I’m looking for a structurally good car with a good engine.
The interior and bodywork need to be tidy, but I’m not looking for perfection. Classic car buyers understand that old cars carry the scars of everyday life.
To get a good price, you’ll need to have her running sweet and very well presented.
1 Have All Legal Documents To Hand
Obviously you’ll need all the relevant legal paperwork to hand when selling your classic. You’ll be surprised how many times a seller will have misplaced the paperwork, and without it, you can’t verify the chassis and engine numbers.
Verifying that the vehicle is correct and that all numbers match is one of the very first checks a seasoned buyer will make.
If the documents aren’t to hand he’ll likely walk from the deal. Even if he/she doesn’t, it’s not a good start and it won’t inspire a potential customer to part with your asking price.
2 Have All Repair Receipts In Order
The condition of the car is important, but so too is the history of the vehicle. Having a big fat file of old and new receipts shows a buyer that this car was really loved and that carries with it extra value in the mind of the buyer.
Personally, I love to pour over the file and check the maintenance and look for any big-ticket items like engine or tranny rebuilds.
Have the maintenance file organized by date, it shows that you’re proud of the car’s maintenance record and you aren’t hiding anything.
3 Know The History Of The Vehicle
Know the history of the vehicle and being able to recount it to a potential buyer might sound like sales talk, and it is but for us, classic car buyers are a nostalgic and sentimental bunch.
Most of us would be interested in the history of the car however dull it might appear. Or maybe your classic is a rock star, maybe it was owned by someone famous? Has it won any awards? Was it featured in any movies, tv, or publications?
These stories are important to the new owner, it’s part of the character of the car, and having a story even a dull one is more valuable than none.
Classic car accessories
4 Have Owners Manual And Tools To Hand
This might sound crazy but original owners’ manuals are very important, again it’s a sign that this car was respected and cared for.
Having the original tool roll, jack, tire iron, spare wheel and any other accessories like a first aid kit will add extra value. So if you’ve got them, make sure they’re in their rightful place in the car.
A savvy buyer will be paying attention to these types of clues.
5 Have Any Spare Parts Catalogued
Old cars usually come with a trunk full of spare parts. It’s really helpful to the potential buyer and another buying cue to have all the parts cataloged. Classic parts can be expensive and hard to get, so this is pure gold to the new buyer.
6 Car Interior Valeted
Just because the car is old doesn’t mean it has to be grubby. A good valet will set the tone, even a thorough vacuum, cleaning the windows, and dusting down the dashboard will allow the buyer’s imagination to slide into top gear.
If your car seats or dashboard is damaged, have a mobile repair guy take a look at it. Generally, these services aren’t expensive and they do good work. Try and have someone recommended to you, ask at your local classic car club.
I don’t like the smell of air freshers, like lots of classic owners, I actually like the smell of old cars. So I’d skip the air fresher unless your car smells like an old mackerel died under the back seat.
7 Exterior Washed & Cleaned
Even if your car’s bodywork needs cosmetic attention, having it washed will improve the tone of the whole car. Remember, unless it’s had a nut and bolt rebuild, an old car is expected to have blemishes.
Patina is a badge of honor, it adds character to a car. Obviously, if there’s structural corrosion, it will need attention.
Repairing this type of work can often get expensive because when you find one hole by accident, you’ll often find a lot more when you actually go looking for them.
If you’ve got a car with a lot of corrosion, repairing just some areas won’t make sense and will likely hurt the value of the vehicle. It’s a case of all or nothing.
8 Tires Pumped
Your tires might need more than pumping, but at least pumping them will make a better impression than four flats.
Tires that sit for years without moving cause flat spots. So even if the tire stayed inflated, the bottom of the tire where it takes the weight has become flattened. Driving these tires down the road will cause the car to vibrate badly and a potential buyer who isn’t experienced may think your car is a death trap.
Sometimes driving will work the flat spots back out of the tires otherwise you may need to replace them.
9 Battery Charged
You probably already know batteries that sit around die, so unless you’ve been using your classic or maintaining the battery it may need replacing.
Nothing worse than showing up to buy a car and the battery is flat, I’m like “you knew I was coming, right! “
If you hope to get top dollar for your classic and she’s a runner then you’ll need a healthy battery.
10 Battery Maintainer
A battery maintainer is a smart car battery charger, it charges the battery but also turns itself off and back on as needed. This constant cycling keeps the battery alive and fully charged.
That means whenever the potential buyer calls to organize a viewing, you won’t have to wonder if the battery is up to the job.
11 Repair Electrical Faults
Having all the electrics working when a buyer checks it out is a real bonus. Old cars and wiring faults are all part of the joy of ownership. On the upside, the electrics are usually pretty simple (depending on how old your classic is!).
Check over the car electrics, bulbs, heater, radio, wipers, etc, make a list of anything that doesn’t work. Faults usually revolve around blown fuses, bad grounds, or chafing wires. These type faults are easy to fix, just need some patience. I wrote a whole post about reading wiring diagrams here ” How to read wiring diagrams, beginners guide”.
12 Oil Level Check
Change the oil and filter, or at the very least check the oil level. Old engines as you already know burn a little oil. Classic car engines that sit around tend to gather condensation inside the engine.
That’s why recommissioning a classic car should always include an oil and filter change, no matter how little mileage since the last one.
13 Transmission Oil Level Check
Transmission oil and filter change will make for smoother and more timely shifts. If you have transmission leaks try one of the branded stop leak products, I’ve had good success with them.
I had a full ZF transmission rebuilt and drove the car all summer without issue, until it went into hibernation, bled out all over the shop floor. Seals had gone hard. The following spring I changed the oil and used a stop leak product that softened the seal – problem solved, I was well impressed.
14 Coolant Check
The coolant is crucial to the life of the engine, winter, and summer. It should be changed every two to three years. Old coolant doesn’t just fail to offer frost and heat protection it actually turns acidic and begins to eat your engine from the inside out. Ouch!
Older cars commonly have issues staying cool in summer. Radiator, rad cap, coolant hoses, hose clamps, thermostat, water pump, drive belt, cooling fan, and temperature sensor are all part of the cooling system and should be checked for faults.
15 Brake Fluid Check
Brake fluid often gets forgotten, sure people check the level but it goes off. Brake fluid should be changed every three years. The problem with brake fluid, it attracts moisture, it’s a hygroscopic fluid.
Moisture inside the braking system causes two main problems, it creates steam when the brakes get hot and the steam creates a spongy, soft brake pedal.
The second problem, moisture inside the brake system promotes corrosion, and that causes seals in the calipers, brake cylinders, and master cylinder to fail.
16 Binding Brake Check
Binding brakes is sooo common in classic cars. When a car sits, for even a few days, rust starts to build up on the rotors and drums. This isn’t a problem when the car is used regularly, using the brakes cleans them off.
But when a car sits for a few weeks, the rust gets to hold and it can contaminate the pads and cause calipers to bind. Other problems include dragging brakes, a frozen wheel isn’t uncommon and lots of brake noise when braking.
I never apply the parking brake when parking my classics, it reduces the risks of a frozen wheel. Make sure your brakes are in good shape, drive the car and perform several moderate braking cycles.
Avoid heavy braking, it can cause too much heat which warps the rotors. If this doesn’t solve your braking issues, you’ll need to pull them down and clean them the old-fashioned way.
17 Clean The Fuel System
Bad gas can cause all kinds of problems, nonstarting, lack of power, misfiring, stalling and the list goes on. Old gas starts to go stale after just one month.
Gas left in a classic car it will often evaporate and leave a gummy deposit behind. This sticky gunk will clog up lots of components of a carburetor or a fuel injection system, it’s not fussy.
If your classic has been sitting for more than a year, you can expect the gas to be stale. Where the car is stored will change how fast the gas deteriorates. A nice warm garage will help preserve the gas for longer. But if the car is stored outdoors winter and summer, expect the worst.
Drain the gas tank a rinse with fresh gas. Change out the fuel filter and drain the carburetor gas bowl. Sometimes this is enough to get her running sweet again, if not you’ll need to strip and clean the carburetor or fuel injectors.
You can use carburetor cleaner, but an ultrasonic cleaner is the best bet.
18 Fresh Gas In The Tank
I know, sounds too obvious, but old gas loses it Oomph. You’ll need fresh gas in the tank for a quick start-up, smooth idling, and sharp throttle response.
Keep the tank half full, old gas tanks may have crap in them, running a classic car low on gas runs a very real risk of sucking up some crap and stalling on a test drive, not the ideal sales pitch.
19 Use A Gas Stabiliser
A gas stabilizer is an additive specially formulated to keep gas fresh and prevent gumming for up to two years. It’s used in anything from lawnmowers to classic cars. I use it in all my kit that overwinters, old cars, chain saws, mowers, bikes, and quads.
Dump some in the gas tank, run the engine to get it through the fuel system and that’s it.
20 Check Exhaust System
A blown exhaust is one sure way to reduce the value of your classic car, the noisy exhaust and the fumes inside the car will convince the buyer that this car isn’t worth the asking price.
No, the exhaust will need to be repaired, you want a quiet, smooth idling engine, that’s the kind of sound that creates desire, and sparks their imagination.
21 Store Car Indoors
And finally, store your car indoors, if possible. A car that’s garaged, automatically tells a buyer that you value your car.
But more importantly, a garaged car is easy to keep clean, dry, the brakes will be rust-free, dampness won’t attack the ignition system and you’ll be able to plug in your battery maintainer.
When is a car too far gone to restore? A car may be considered too far gone for restoration if structural parts of the body such as the chassis rails are badly corroded.
- About the Author
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.