How to Sell a Corvette

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Step 1 – Introduction

Corvette For Sale
Swap Meets can be a good place to make a quick sale, but you probably won't get top dollar. Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

Most Corvette owners tend to hang on to their cars for many years, and often for decades. And when a Corvette owner does decide to sell, it's usually to make room for another Corvette.

Selling a Corvette is not like selling an economy commuter car. The potential market is much smaller and more selective. Someone shopping for a Corvette is probably not also considering a BMW Z4 and a Jaguar XK as alternate possibilities. So the competition for the sale is almost exclusively from other Corvettes. That changes the way you market your car to best effect.

If you're thinking about selling a Corvette, here are 9 easy steps to help make the process as smooth as possible and to help you get the most out of the sale.

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Step 2 - Do Your Homework

Back window sign
You need to research the baseline market price for your year and model. Your location also plays a part in pricing. Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

You need to know the fair market value of your car. If your car is less than 20 years old, you can find a good estimate in the Kelley Blue Book site online. If your Corvette is more than 20 years old, you can also find good information in the Pocket Price Guide from Corvette Market and Sports Car Market magazines. You can download a free PDF copy of the Sports Car Market 2007 Pocket Price Guide.

It's reasonable to ask the members of your local Corvette club, but if someone responds with a comparatively low price and then follows up with "and I'd be willing to offer you that much for your car," you should be extremely suspicious. However, it's more likely that owners of similar Corvettes will quote values on the high side of reasonable, since they often hope that their own cars are appreciating in value.

Here's something you need to know - the values given in most price guides and blue books are pretty optimistic. Most cars in the real world sell for less. So before you take the values in any price guide to heart, there's some more research to do.

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Step 3 – Evaluate Your Car

Trashed C1 Corvette
This Corvette is an example of Poor condition. The fiberglass was mismatched and delaminating in areas. This car may require more investment than it will be worth when it's restored. I still wanted it, though. Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

You need to make a highly critical evaluation of your car. And you are not the best person to do that evaluation. If your Corvette is more than 20 years old and in good to excellent condition based on the Kelley criteria listed below, your best bet is to get an appraisal from a classic car expert. Ask around your local Corvette clubs and the local chapter of the NCRS to find someone with good credentials for Corvette appraisals.

In case you don't have an expert handy but you'd still like to get started, here are just some of the criteria that Kelley Blue Book uses to classify cars based on their condition.

An Excellent condition Corvette, according to Kelley Blue Book, is one that "looks new, is in excellent mechanical condition and needs no reconditioning. Never had any paint or body work and is free of rust. Clean title history and will pass a smog and safety inspection. Complete and verifiable service records."

Kelley Blue Book says that fewer than 5% of all used vehicles can be classed as excellent. A Corvette that has been meticulously cared for or restored could be excellent, but most will just be good.

A Good condition Corvette is "Free of any major defects. Clean title history, the paint, body, and interior have only minor (if any) blemishes, and there are no major mechanical problems. Little or no rust on this vehicle. Tires match and have substantial tread wear left. A "good" vehicle will need some reconditioning to be sold at retail.

Below good, there is the Fair condition. According to Kelley Blue Book, this means "Some mechanical or cosmetic defects and needs servicing but is still in reasonable running condition. Clean title history, the paint, body and/or interior need work performed by a professional. Tires may need to be replaced. There may be some repairable rust damage."

Unrestored original Corvettes from the 1970s and 1980s often fall into the Fair category.

Poor condition cars are also known as basket cases, projects, fixer-uppers, and the ever-popular "Needs TLC" euphemism. A Poor condition car has "Severe mechanical and/or cosmetic defects and is in poor running condition. May have problems that cannot be readily fixed such as a damaged frame or a rusted-through body. Branded title (salvage, flood, etc.) or unsubstantiated mileage."

Most price guides (including Kelley) will not offer a value estimate on a poor quality vehicle. With these cars, the real value is often in the serial number or VIN plate, because pretty much everything else needs to be replaced. If that serial number is to a 1967 L88 convertible, then even a poor condition car can have high value. But if it's a 1984 coupe, you're looking at parts value only.

When you have a realistic evaluation, use the price guides as an upper end for your target sale price. Remember this - if you don't honestly evaluate your Corvette, the buyers will do it for you, and they may not be happy about the results.

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Step 4 – Make Your Corvette Beautiful

40th Anniversary Corvette
This C4 is a 40th Anniversary model from 1993. It showed well at the sale because it was clean and well-presented. Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

Even a fair condition Corvette deserves a little beauty parlor action before you attempt to sell it. You can improve your sales results measurably by simply making sure that you have cleaned out the old candy bar wrappers and mouse nests from the interior. You should at least wash and wax the outside and clean the wheels before you get ready for the sale.

Be sure to take a vacuum to the interior and try to get rid of any stale or musty smells. A discreet air freshener might not be a bad idea, but take it out before showing the car! You might consider taking the 'Vette to a detailing professional if it's a higher-value model.

At this point, it's also a good idea to take care of any low-cost deferred maintenance. Windshield wiper blades, burned out lights, leaking tires, and so on should all be fixed. If possible, make sure that everything works, from the stereo to the cruise control.

Note that any required certifications such as emissions testing or vehicle safety inspections are your responsibility to provide, and having them performed and ready will really set you apart from other sellers.

Finally, a fresh oil change and a full tank of gas have a good psychological effect on buyers.

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Step 5 – Take Good Pictures

Corvette on Trailer
A mid-60s Corvette like this one can still be expensive in only Fair condition. You want to show the good and the bad points in your sale photos. Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

Most online classifieds and auctions (and printed car sale publications) will run a picture. You don't have to use a professional studio unless you're going to a really high end collector car auction, but you do need sharp and well-lit photos that honestly present your car.

Don't run photos of how the car looked before you backed it into a fire hydrant, or photos from the last time you had the car painted 10 years ago. That will only make buyers angry when they see the truth. Above all, don't run a photo of some other car with the statement "it could look like this if you had it restored."

Assuming that the car runs and drives, take it to a nice, well-lit place first thing in the morning. Large parking lots work well, or even just your driveway. But make sure you can get far enough away to get the whole car in the shot. Then take ¾ front views from both sides, front and rear views, and some good pictures of the interior. If there are major flaws such as crash damage or broken fiberglass, take detail pictures of those things now.

Here's a tip that most people miss - if you're putting the pictures in print on paper, you need to set your camera to its highest resolution (usually "Fine") and the largest image size. This will mean fewer shots on your digital card, but they'll print well.

But if you're putting the photos online, then "Normal" resolution and a smaller image size is preferred. No one likes waiting 10 minutes for a 2 megabyte photo to download. Set your camera to the small or medium image size for online shots.

Above all, make sure that the photos are in focus and that they honestly represent the car's condition.

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Step 6 – Decide if You Will Use an Auction House or Consignment Dealer

Yellow For Sale Sign
Pricing your Corvette for sale depends on the year and model, overall condition, and location. An auction house or consignment dealer can help you with pricing. They get paid more if the sale price is higher, so their interests are aligned with yours. Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

If you have a rare and valuable Corvette, you can consider the collector car auctions. Advantages to these auctions include a range of buyers with ample amounts of money who are explicitly looking to buy collectible Corvettes. These buyers will compete with each other for your car if it's what they want today.

However, the disadvantages to auctions are also numerous. You have to send the auction company the title to your car before the auction and sign a contract that allows them to sell it for you. Once that title leaves your hands, your Corvette is effectively sold and if you change your mind it can be hard to get your title back. You also can't sell your car outside the auction if a buyer turns up through another channel. You'll pay seller's fees (up to about 10% of the sale price) to the auction house. Finally, even with a reserve price auction, there's little guarantee that you'll get the money you really want or deserve. The car could fail to sell, but you will likely still owe the auction house some money.

If you want to take some more time to sell, you can place your Corvette with a consignment dealer in collector cars. Here again, the people with money will come by to look at your car alongside others, and the dealer will ensure the sale goes through. The dealer will probably also handle the photos and marketing in exchange for his share of the purchase price. Downsides include the possibility of waiting a long time for the sale, and of course a large commission for the dealer.

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Step 7 – Decide if You Want to Try to Sell Online

Corvette Chassis and Drivetrain
If you are selling only part of a Corvette, Craigslist is probably your best bet for finding a buyer. Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

If you want to avoid the big commissions to dealers or the auction houses, you have to sell your car yourself. You can reach a large worldwide audience with an ebay auction, and ebay allows you to set reserve prices, end the auction early if you sell the car off-line, provide as many photos as you want, answer questions, and set the length of time for the auction. You can do all this for $100-$150 dollars. Many collectors have listed their cars on ebay with an absurdly high reserve price just to see what kind of bids their Corvette will draw. That's one way to get an objective appraisal!

Obviously the downside of selling your car at an online auction is that no one's there to pre-screen your buyers or act as a middleman to make sure the buyer's money is real. You need to be careful not to accept a counterfeit cashier's check or money order, and make sure that the buyer is not just a prankster who will disappear when the time comes to close the deal.

You can sell your car at low cost or for free using many of the online auto sales sites. Some of these may charge a fee, and their results may be mixed. In general, if an online site wants money to help sell your Corvette, make sure that you owe money only if and when the car actually sells.

The cheapest way to sell a car in the modern world is to use Craigslist. This is a free classified advertising site that has exploded in popularity in the last few years. Because Craigslist does not charge individuals for classified ads, allows photos, can keep your e-mail hidden, and allows people to search only for what they want, this website has decimated newspaper and local bargain sheet classified advertising in North America and around the world.

But if you guessed that there are trade-offs to using Craigslist, you're right. Craigslist acknowledges the dangers at the top of every screen, and has a dedicated page to teach you to avoid the scams and cheats that prey on the naïve and trusting. Mostly, the scammers will respond to your ad with some strange story about how they're out of the country right now, but want to send you a cashier's check and have you deliver the Corvette (and the title) to some third party. Be extremely suspicious of any strange transaction that doesn't involve cash and the kind of reasonable caution on the buyer's part that you would expect from someone laying out a large amount of money.

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Step 8 – Negotiating With Buyers

70s Corvette for Sale
When you're negotiating with buyers, you want to have some room to haggle, but you don't want to give your car away. Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

Negotiating with buyers is often a long and stressful process. If you read my advice to buyers, I tell them to have your car checked out by a professional mechanic, and I advise you to let buyers have the reputable mechanic of their choice perform the inspection. On the flip side, I would advise you to be careful that the mechanic chosen is an established and reputable business - not someone's buddy who "knows a lot about cars." You should stay within sight of your car while the inspection is performed if you don't know and trust the mechanic. You don't want to watch your Corvette drive off and not come back.

The inspection report belongs to the person who pays for it, and this should be the buyer. However, if the buyer claims that the report says many bad things about your car that you didn't know, but he or she won't show you the report, that's a danger sign. You should suggest that the buyer move on to consider better cars, because you're not dropping the asking price without seeing that report.

One thing you can do to expedite the sales and inspection process is to get a Carfax report on your car before the sale. You can show that report to the buyer and once again, this sets you apart from other sellers and supports your asking price. (Unless, of course, the Carfax report has many bad things to say about your car. But that's good to know in advance, too.)

Be skeptical if the buyer claims that there's a much lower-priced comparable Corvette of the same condition as yours. If the car has been advertised on Craigslist or in your local paper, you will probably have seen the ad in your research. It does happen that way occasionally, but phantom cheaper cars are usually just phantoms.

Be aware that if you don't have the title to your Corvette for any reason, it's probably unsellable at more than scrap metal prices. Get the Corvette's title replaced, cleared, or straightened out with the lien holder before you try to sell.

Above all, know your bottom line price. Have a fixed idea of the price below which you'd rather keep the car in your driveway, and don't budge or you'll regret the sale later.

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Step 9 – Close the Deal

C2 427 Corvette
This mid-60s 427 big block convertible will be worth some money in any condition. It was priced at $42,500 at a swap meet in April, 2010. Photo by Jeff Zurschmeide

You may not know this, but you are responsible for your car after the buyer drives away with it. I’ve sold a car and then had the sheriff call me because the car had been recovered after being used in a crime. That was an unpleasant chat, believe me.

Even if you file a notice of sale with your Department of Motor Vehicles or Registry, you are likely to be responsible for the car until the buyer takes the title to the official place and pays the fee to transfer ownership. Let that sink in while you consider the performance potential of your Corvette and the number of stories you can find about people who crash their brand new Corvettes. You should go to the DMV with the buyer and conclude the transaction there, or at least note the mileage when you sell the car, and get the buyer to sign a piece of paper acknowledging taking delivery at that mileage.

Make sure you’ve really got the money in the bank before you close the deal. Fraudulent cashier’s checks can come back and bite you weeks after they’ve been accepted. Finally, don’t drop insurance on your Corvette until the transaction is well and truly completed.

If you followed these steps, chances are that you got a fair market price for your Corvette, and you provided the car in the best possible condition to the buyer. You may even have made a new Corvette friend in the process. Now go read the advice on buying a Corvette as you go and start searching for your next one!