I admit it: I love the auction atmosphere and the hope of making big money. But while I've sold a few cars this way in the past, I'm always learning something new. With that in mind, I decided to share some tips and observations from my latest auction adventure, which came at last November's Kruse-Leake Collector Car Auction in Dallas.
Before entering your car in an auction, there are a number of items to address. For starters, it's always important to get a good run number. I knew I wanted my car to run midday on Saturday. Why? There are usually around twice as many people at an auction between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday than there are at any other time. To ensure my car hit the block during this critical period, I purchased a premium run number. It cost more money and required an additional 10 percent commission on the sales price if my car sold.
(Author's note: This particular event would prove to be something of an exception, in that some of the cars auctioned on Friday brought fairly good prices. These sellers saved quite a bit of money, since their run numbers cost less and they didn't have the after-sale commission to pay.)
The auction faxed me a standard registration form. Take your time when filling out this form, as what you write will be announced when the car hits the auction block. Obviously, the more interesting the car sounds, the more money it will command. But remember: You will be held responsible for the contents of the announcement. An inaccurate description is one of the very few reasons for which a sale can be canceled.
Next, it was time to schedule a hauler. Whenever possible, it is better to haul your own car-even if you have to borrow a truck and trailer. If your car doesn't make it to the auction in time, you will still be responsible for your run-number fee, which is usually between $200 and $700. A hauler who arrives late, as mine did, is the last thing you want to worry about.
Even with the delay, the Vette arrived on Friday in time to check in. Entrants must have been lining up all night, however, because the line was already some 50 cars long. People were already previewing the cars in the lineup. I had never noticed this before, but it made sense. Showing up early gave prospective buyers a chance to see if the cars they were considering started easily, tended to overheat at idle, or had other mechanical issues.
Once at the front of the line, we were instructed to have our car's gas level checked. Anything over a quarter of a tank would be siphoned out for safety reasons. A buyer's guide was attached, explaining that all cars would be sold "as is." Lastly, the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) was inspected to make sure it matched the title. This is very important, because if even one digit is off, your car will not be allowed to run. Luckily, my Vette passed the tests, and we were cleared to pull into the auction building.
I was ushered to my parking space and instructed to hand over my keys. The workers promised to keep them in a safe place until it was time for a driver to take the car to the auction block. After seeing how the keys were stored, however, I decided that next time I'd bring an extra set.
I placed flyers on the car explaining more about it. The flyers also included my phone number, just in case anyone had additional questions. Oddly enough, at Kruse-Leake auctions, prospective buyers are not allowed to start or drive the cars. Leaving information allows them to feel more comfortable about what they'll be bidding on.
Signage can also be helpful. Bring whatever you have-car-show awards, copies of original documentation, restoration photos, or anything else that help shows why your car is special.
Finally, it was time for the car to make its journey to the auction block. To my dismay, it wouldn't start and had to be pushed into the lineup. After a few awkward moments, an auction worker with a jumper box came to my rescue. The '73 joined the parade to the block, but for some potential bidders, the damage had been done.
There seemed to be a lot of interest in the car while it was on the block. The action was intense as two bidders battled it out. I really thought one of them would hit my reserve, but neither did. The ring steward was courteous enough to lower the seller's fees to help me sell the car, but it still wasn't enough.
After returning to its parking spot, a "No Sale" paper was placed in the Vette's window, alerting people that the car had not sold and disclosing the reserve price. This allowed potential onlookers to make a post-auction offer. It's a great concept, but I can't attest to its effectiveness. From my perspective, all the energy is on the block.
While this particular trip to the auction didn't end in success, I hope you won't be dissuaded from trying it for yourself. If you enjoy a car-show atmosphere infused with a hint of high-stakes gambling, then auctions are for you. They're invariably fun and fast paced, but be forewarned: You just might get addicted.
Ten Auction Tips
- Make sure the VIN on your title matches the one on your car before registering for the auction.
- Estimate all of your expenses-from run-number fees and commissions to travel and hotel costs-ahead of time to make sure the trip will be worth the investment.
- Check previous auctions to see how much money similar cars brought. Prior-year results from the same auction will give the best indication.
- Register early. This will ensure your car gets maximum exposure in the auction's catalogs and mailings.
- Try to get a run number scheduled for midday. Numbers that run too early or too late will have you auctioning to an empty house. Saturdays are usually best, although Fridays seem to be getting more action as of late. Try to avoid Sundays, as there are usually few buyers around.
- Make sure your car doesn't have any leaks. They'll be quite noticeable if the auction is held indoors.
- Make sure your car has no more than a quarter-tank of gas.
- Check your car in on the first day of the auction, even if it's scheduled to run later in the weekend. Many potential buyers show up early to preview cars.
- Bring signs, trophies, flyers, or anything else that might help your car stand out from the crowd.
- Make sure you're on the auction block when bidding starts. More often than not, the auctioneer will have more questions about your car. As the bidding starts to slow, the ring steward may want to discuss lowering your reserve, cutting auction fees, etc.