“Buying and selling online has fundamentally changed the dynamics of the collector-car market. Presentation plays an essential role in this. Comprehensive photo galleries, videos that range from simple to truly inspirational, and the ease of being able to provide more photos and footage moments after a commenter’s request give buyers all the confidence necessary to make significant purchases from the comfort of their couch.”

— Zac Beatty, Director of Auction Operations and Customer Experience at Bring a Trailer

In any vehicle sale, preparation and presentation are key, but especially in a car auction. Not only do potential buyers rely on the photos, videos and documents you upload, but commenters will be scouring through them, looking for reasons to pick your car apart. While some of these members of the peanut gallery are neophytes, others can be concours judges, marque experts or experienced mechanics. A seller must be willing to be fully engaged in this process.

Service and records

Certainly, a vehicle’s mechanical condition should be supported by documented service history, including the most recent work done to make the vehicle ready for sale. A seller is just begging for ridicule with statements such as “The a/c just needs a charge” or “The tires are just a few years old.” If a seller is not willing to have the a/c system recharged and pressure tested, it should be described as untested. Similarly, date codes for each tire will take a seller less than a minute to check and should be reported in the vehicle description.

There is a direct correlation between a vehicle’s rarity and value, and the amount of scrutiny it is put under. Compression and leak-down tests on the engine are common requests on all type of vehicles like those at this adult and quad bikes and questions regarding whether the vehicle was ever tracked are likely for higher-performance cars. Photos of engine-block and transmission stamps may be requested as well as proof of a Certificate of Authenticity from the manufacturer. If a seller is claiming that a car is wearing 100% all-original paint, photos showing paint-meter readings have become the norm.

Photography and video

Most top online sellers use two types of photography when representing a vehicle. The first is “Glam Photography,” which does touch upon condition, but its primary goal is to show the beauty of the vehicle. Some sellers go to great lengths to find locations for photos that would be suitable for a magazine cover. When shooting outdoors, lighting is key; harsh shadows and overexposure should be avoided. Glam photos should be taken in the soft light of early morning or just before sunset. A partly cloudy day with filtered sunlight can also work.

Although a beautiful landscape or a location near the beach serves as a great backdrop, it is not always needed. I shoot all of my cars in a facility where the pink cinderblock and modest landscaping provides just enough background to accentuate the lines of the vehicle. When shooting a vehicle, you do not want it to become camouflaged by the background. A dark green car can almost disappear in front of green bushes and trees. The same holds true for a white car in front of a white fence or wall. Find contrast that will bring the eye to the lines and color of your vehicle.

Condition photography is literally a walk around your vehicle showing every conceivable angle. Having the vehicle properly detailed is important for these photos. If it is not meticulously clean, it will pose a challenge for a buyer to determine the actual condition. A prospective bidder will want to see everything from every conceivable angle, including shots from the ground showing the condition of the lower bumper covers, rocker panels and each wheel. Condition photos should show most flaws, such as stone chips, scratches on the finish and brightwork, and larger chips in the glass. A highly detailed engine bay and undercarriage shots demonstrate a lack of corrosion.

The interior also needs the same glam shots and close-up condition photos. Once again, consistent ambient lighting is important. When photographing an interior, common areas of wear and those subjected to damage from UV light should be well documented. The driver’s seat bolster, top of the dashpad, entry sills, carpeting and the condition of wood surfaces are important.

Video presentations range from a basic walk-around that highlights the vehicle’s strong points and flaws, either using a smartphone or a GoPro, to more cinematic productions. Some sellers hire professional videographers and even employ the use of drones for aerial footage. The “drive video” is typically a ride along to demonstrate how the car performs on the open road. I have recently found that narrating these videos can be even more useful to potential bidders.

Some high-volume sellers now have a dedicated vehicle studio. Anthony Serra, who sells cars as “1600veloce,” has listed more than 650 cars on Bring a Trailer. Due to the winter climate in his area of New York, he now shoots indoors in a studio with high-tech lighting. This is no small task; there was a learning curve in creating an appropriate backdrop and using indoor lighting. This is not to say that you need to build a photo studio to sell your car, but this sort of practice represents the state of the art.

Detailing and reconditioning

Showcasing a clean and well-detailed collector car in both photographs and video is simply essential. Cosmetic rejuvenation takes place after mechanical work has been completed, and these steps require a great deal of effort. Detailing the engine bay and undercarriage allows a potential buyer to see the condition of the recesses of the engine compartment and actual condition of the undercarriage, minus the 30-plus years of dirt, grease, oil, and road tar covering these components.

Recently the use of dry-ice cleaning or blasting has become commonplace. There are numerous ways to use dry ice, as it works without water and does not harm sensitive electronics. It can pretty much clean a vehicle inside and out.

Scott Ales of Dryce, a supplier of dry-ice-cleaning machines, is one of the top authorities on this new technology. Ales describes the advantages of dry ice in a recent video: “If you can see the dirt, we can clean it. So there’s a lot of places where you might be able to see that dirt but you can’t physically get to it with any tools or brushes or devices, and we can. We can clean that in the deep recesses of your car that you might not have been able to before. It’s like when the car rolled off the factory line. You’ve cleaned it back to that condition.”

Exterior detailing is also a high-level process, much more than just a simple wash and wax. Detailing techniques can be used to prep the exterior to “showroom-new” quality. A three-step paint correction uses machine compounding and polishing prior to the application of a ceramic coating. Different high-speed machines are used during this process to ensure that all exterior surfaces are properly prepared. Every square inch of the vehicle’s painted surfaces is prepped, right down to under the door handles, rocker panels, A-, B-, and C-pillars, as well as behind the license-plate brackets.

Ceramic coating or nano coating bonds to the vehicle’s clearcoat, creating a molecular bond of protection. These coatings are likened to adding an additional thin layer of clearcoat and are extremely hard once cured onto the surface. They also add some degree of gloss but are primarily applied to lock in a show-quality finish and protect the car from environmental contaminants and chips and scratches. These are advertised by most manufacturers as lasting from two to five years, whereas most conventional waxes and synthetic sealants last from a few months to a year.

Most sellers that do not have an in-house detailing team will hire independent detailers to perform this time- and labor-intensive task. My own detailer will spend up to 15 hours perfecting a vehicle’s finish prior to applying ceramic coating.

Even more

Paintless dent removal (PDR) is a technique used to remove dents and dings rather than refinishing damaged body panels. If painted surfaces are not broken, many dents and dings can be completely removed. A skilled PDR technician uses numerous tools and metal-heating techniques to manipulate the body damage, returning the panel to its original form.

Leather and vinyl restoration is also employed by most top sellers to rejuvenate a vehicle’s vinyl or leather-covered surfaces to showroom condition. Once again, the skill level and experience of the technician will ultimately be the key factor in determining the quality of the repair.

There is no doubt that selling a collector car online can be a lot of work. This is why many owners who wish to sell opt to consign or list their vehicle with a successful, high-volume seller. But the good news is that with a little planning and some hard work, you can also employ these same techniques yourself. Presenting your car fully prepared with supporting documentation and compelling media will make a strong case for top bids.

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