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Open Diff: How NOT to sell your car

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Near mint survivor. Low miles. All original. Photo by Don O’Brien.

We look at a lot of classified ads in the course of pasting together each day’s Hemmings Daily, and over time, it becomes evident that some ads exist for the rather odd purpose of driving buyers away instead of attracting them.

Sometimes, we suppose, you NEED to sell the car, but you don’t WANT to sell the car, so an ad is dutifully placed, knowing full well that the sheer lack of information, absence of pictures, or absurd asking price will eliminate any bothersome phone calls from prospective buyers. When pressed by family members, or the significant other, you can truthfully reply, “I don’t understand why it isn’t selling–I’ve listed it in Hemmings.”

To spare you the trouble of conducting such exhaustive sale-blocking research on your own, below are five helpful tips to deter buyers from inquiring about your own not-really-for-sale vehicle.

1. Include just a handful of pictures. Good ads include ample photos of the car from numerous angles, such as front 3/4, rear 3/4, profile, front, rear, interior, and engine. The “I hope no one calls me on this car” ads include one or two photos, or sometimes (and more creatively), 35 of the near-exact-same photo.

2. Make sure the photos are as bad as possible. Whatever you do, don’t use a contemporary digital camera that takes sharp and properly-lit photographs. Instead, a borrowed camera phone from circa 2001 is what you want, and for the proper soft-focus effect, it’s best to buff the lens with 125-grit sandpaper first. We all know that good photographs sell cars, so they should be avoided at all costs; besides, properly photographing a car for a compelling classified ad takes a significant amount of effort.

3. It’s better still if the photos aren’t current. If your camera puts a date stamp on the image, you’ll want to set that as early as possible, so prospective buyers think the photos are five or ten years old, implying that the car is in much worse condition today. Better still, if you have some faded Polaroids of the car, snap an image of these with an old Kodak Instamatic camera, have the long-expired film developed, and then scan this on your desktop printer. Sure, that’s a lot of work to create truly horrible images, but art is really all about suffering, isn’t it?

4. Be as vague as possible in your description. Try to avoid details like model and trim level, when a rough estimate of the year and manufacturer will suffice. Use “original” as much as possible, even if the car has had several repaints and is upholstered with material that looks like shelf paper, or a tattered wool blanket. No one will notice that your vintage Jaguar is powered by a small-block Chevy, so why bring it up–it’s ORIGINAL, remember? Like good images, accurate and well-written descriptions draw in buyers, and that’s the last thing you want to do.

5. Set an unrealistic price for your car. Pay no attention to the classic car pricing advice that Hemmings offers, or Hagerty, or NADA Guides. Don’t hire an expert to appraise your car and give you an accurate value (or, better yet, an accurate insurance replacement value and an accurate market value). Instead, get all your pricing information from online auctions and reality TV shows. If you set a realistic price, someone might actually make you an offer at or near the amount, which is likely the last thing you want.

On the other hand, if you really DO want to sell your car, perhaps its best to do the opposite of the above recommendations. Include ample images of the car from multiple angles in your classified ad, and hire a photographer (or ask for help from a camera-savvy relative) if you’re not capable of shooting these yourself. Be sure these images are current, and accurately reflect the present condition of the car you’re trying to sell. If the car has problem areas, include detailed images of these as well.

Be thorough and truthful in your description of the car, and avoid using adjectives like “mint,” or “original,” since–in most cases–they simply aren’t accurate. Avoid writing the entire history of the model, but instead focus on important facts, like how long you’ve owned it, what restorative work you’ve carried out, and whether or not detailed maintenance records are available. Remember that a documented history adds value, while an inaccurate description does not.

Finally, price your car sensibly, as painful as that may be. It doesn’t matter what the purchase price was, or how much was spent on restoration or customization (the latter of which can actually detract value instead of adding it). Despite the hype of reality television shows and auctions, the market sets the price, so the more research you do, the more accurate your asking price will be, and the quicker you’ll likely sell your car.