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Top tips for success when selling a collector car at auction


(Editor’s note: During September we’ve presented a series of articles about selling your collector car. To wrap up the series, Darin Roberge shares his tops tips for successfully selling your classic or collector car at auction.)

With their unmatched excitement, and frequent celebrity appeal, and with unique cars on offer and record-breaking prices, the popularity of collector car auctions has broken into the mainstream public’s line of sight. 

Auctions are a viable way to buy and sell cars, as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the most in-demand metal trade hands every year. In many circles, they have become the preferred standard of buying and selling for enthusiasts.

That said, it’s important to note that buying and selling at collector automobile auctions, live and online, is unquestionably a skill and perfecting your approach can mean a difference of thousands (sometimes millions) of dollars.

Here is a quick list of what to know going into an auction situation as a seller that will dramatically increase your chances of achieving your goals:

Get in early

Although more of a component of the live auction experience (online auctions run all the time), the truth remains that the more people know about your car, the larger the pool of interest becomes. 

As a former auction company executive who now represents several auction houses as the president of a specialty automotive-based marketing agency, I can attest that auction houses spend huge dollars on marketing and, as such, not only possess a large reach but know how to touch buyers across a spectrum of locations and in subsections of the market. 

Astute consignors take advantage of such early marketing opportunities. They don’t waffle in their decision-making and use these early opportunities when the pool isn’t so crowded and make sure they never wait until the last minute to offer their vehicles.

The pre-auction presentation

selling a collector car at auction
Online auction platform AutoHunter provides in-depth vehicle descriptions for each listing

Nothing assists you in selling your vehicle more than information, especially in an increasingly buyer-focused marketplace and in online formats. 

A thorough, detailed and correct pre-auction presentation containing a verifiable description with accompanying high-quality images allows you to highlight what is important and special about your particular vehicle and to get that information in front of the most discerning, best-equipped buyers. 

Bidders often have a very specific criteria. If you don’t take the time to properly present information to them in a manner that immediately helps them begin to take mental ownership of a particular offering, they become less enticed and less likely to make a top dollar purchasing decision. 

Additionally, with online auctions, a proper pre-auction presentation can help determine the level of confidence that a bidder/buyer has not only in your offering but you as an owner and custodian of that car. It’s critical that this step is taken seriously. 

Prepare — and don’t be afraid to ask for help

Something to consider: Collector car auction representatives do collector car auctions for a living. Although this may sound like a painfully obvious statement, it means that in the auction arena, they are the most experienced and knowledgeable collector car experts anywhere. Unfortunately, that’s taken advantage of by sellers to a shockingly infrequent degree. 

Auction reps live and breathe their respective auction companies and the marketplace day in and day out, and they know what they are doing. They also know the correct processes and procedures that lead to top dollar results. 

One of the smartest things you can do as an auction seller is to use the resources available to get your car into the best possible position to return the most profit possible prior to the event. Should you replace a door panel, source correct tires, or change your seat belts before the sale? Every car is different, but these are questions that auction company reps address every day, and they can accurately assist you in answering. 

Opening a dialogue with experts on staff helps ensure all the boxes are checked and your car is prepared to achieve maximum success. Creating and maintaining that relationship with the auction house offering your car prior to the sale is one of the most beneficial things you can do when offering a car at auction. 

Don’t offer personal information

This is probably the single-most overlooked liability that auction sellers open themselves up to once they arrive on site. Nothing puts a seller at auction in a weaker position than giving a potential buyer an opportunity to contact them on the side after the sale. 

Think about it, if I’m a potential buyer and I know how to reach you directly, I’m certainly not going to be bidding on the car when it crosses the block. In fact, I’m going to be rooting for the car not to sell, so I can reach out and lowball you as you are packing up to go home. 

Also worth considering, at this point as a buyer, not only am I out on the block, but I’m also not bidding up anybody else in the room, reducing the degree of competition surrounding your offering and hurting the overall result drastically. This especially holds true at smaller, regionally focused or local sales where everybody tends to know everybody. 

If I know for a fact that the beautiful, red ’57 Corvette sitting in the display lot belongs to Bob up the street, am I going to waste even a second entertaining a bid? Absolutely not! I’m going to keep my mouth shut, hope for a no sale, and then go knock on his door and ask for the “buddy deal” as soon as I see it back in his garage. 

selling a collector car at auction
Seller answering bidder questions on this 1941 Cadillac Series 62 in the comment section on AutoHunter

The same can be said for online situations. If you leave your email or phone number in the comments during the sale or you make it known that you will answer private correspondence if a buyer tries to track you down online somewhere, what’s to stop me from trying to lowball you if the car doesn’t sell there? 

The point is, don’t set yourself up to fail before your car even runs. Don’t offer personal contact information in or around your offering, and keep all of your communications public and in the comments.

Be “on the money”

The truth is, the best place you can begin your pricing at auction is at a real, correct, market-sensitive figure. Consignors that go in looking for a home run, swinging for the fences, often miss the real buyers, preventing them from getting in and getting excited on the block. 

Once a buyer becomes genuinely invested during that short period of time a vehicle is offered, they become primed to spend the big bucks and world record results become achievable. That’s the difference between an auction setting and selling the car in your driveway. Urgency is the reason that collector automobile auctions seemingly always bring huge results. 

Auctions put buyers together, face to face in an abbreviated situation, and they have to decide who wants it more. If buyers determine that the price a car becomes for sale at is unachievable, the opportunity for increased competition decreases. If buyers can’t legitimately get in, you lose the opportunity to engage the emotions and egos of those in the room or on the screen, and the result ultimately suffers.    

Come ready to sell

Unless someone is critically bored, attention-starved or a little loopy, they don’t generally bring a car to auction with the anticipation of turning around and taking it back home. Although sellers are certainly more inclined to test the waters a little more with online outlets, in most circumstances, the entire point of taking a car to auction is to sell your vehicle. 

This means you need to show up prepared with a clean, properly running offering and be ready to get the buyers invested from preview day until the car hits the block. Know your bottom number and understand when to pull the reserve, the minimum price (held in secret by you and the auction house) for which you’re willing to sell your vehicle. 

As a seller, the biggest strategic angle you possess is managing your reserve. Understand the real-world value of your car, what you are willing to accept, be present on the block and scan the room and gauge the correct moment to let go. 

If you are selling online, stay engaged in, aware of and continuously fanning flames in the comments. It’s not uncommon to see new bidders enter the fray once the reserve comes off, so pulling it at the right time can produce a drastic change in the achieved result of the sale.

Darin Roberge
Darin Roberge
Darin Roberge is president of Motorwerks Marketing and is a marketing and media consultant in the specialty, classic and collector automotive industry…. He also really, really likes Alfa Romeos.


  1. In general most of information provided is spot on. However, I did receive advice from an appraiser – seller and buyer to go with my car to Barrett Jackson and answer questions 3-4 hours a day standing at the car in the auction tent which I was by the salon cars as mine was high end. You never know if a buyer has a scout or if it’s the buyer themselves. While I didn’t provide my cell or other information- several remarked it was refreshing to know more about and see features on the car. Mine was the #5 sale of the day on the last Friday of the Scottsdale auction. Bam 💥

    • Great comment! This is absolutely correct. If you’re available to answer questions or to assist in generating excitement around your car on preview and auction days, it says a lot to potential buyers about what kind of custodian you were and it certainly can generate a lot of excitement as well as create tremendous piece of mind for potential bidders. With this said (and as you stated), you want to be very careful to not provide contact information for all the reasons listed above.


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