25th October 2021

Guide to buying and selling classic vehicles

At first glance, the process of buying and selling a classic should be easy. You see a vehicle you like, visit it, have a look over it, maybe take it for a test drive and then if you like it you buy it. But before you do any of that, it’s important to think about where you are buying from. Information sourced from the Classic Trader, Classic Car Buyers Guide in association with Footman James.

There are a lot of choices when it comes to where you buy your vehicle from, each carrying its own risks and costs along with them. While it may be seen to be easier to just go with the cheaper or the fastest option with minimal preparation, the reality is that doing so may result in you being out of pocket.

If you’re looking for a classic vehicle that’s going to become a loved member of the family then to rush in and buy without the proper preparations makes no sense. But how do you ensure that you don’t become a victim sale that you may end up regretting? A large part of the answer is down to where you buy from in the first place.

Private Sales

It’s great to be able to meet the owner in person, hear about the vehicle’s history first-hand and get a feel for how it’s been looked after. If you’re after a bargain, then this is the place to be, but unless you are able to really inspect the vehicle closely, get under the bonnet and go out for a test drive then it could be a gamble! An independent assessment could mitigate any risk, at a price. It’s difficult to receive compensation from a private seller if things go wrong after the sale, so it’s very much ‘buyer beware’ territory.

Dealer Sales

Before buying from any dealer, you should obviously do your homework. How long have they been trading? What are their reviews like? Do they go out to shows or advertise anywhere that you may have noticed? What’s their record like on Companies House? All reasonable steps to take to ensure you’re going to a dealer that you can trust. If you buy from a dealer that’s appeared from nowhere or that you don’t know much about then you are asking for trouble.

You will, of course, pay more for a classic from a dealer, but a good dealer will have bought the vehicle initially at a shrewd price and taken on the initial risk, so the mark-up on price may not make the vehicle as expensive compared to a private sale as you expect. Or, the vehicle may be offered on behalf of a client, with a dealer taking a share of the profits.

When buying from a dealer, you are protected by consumer protection legislation, enforced by Trading Standards. This means dealers can’t give false information and must give an accurate description of the vehicle.

Richard Wrightson from The Classic Motor Hub says that consumers have the opportunity to look over a vehicle at their own leisure at a showroom, but with a private seller they may hover around and are also less likely to stick to any code of conduct that would apply to a business with a reputation to uphold.


The world of auctions is not what it once was. There was already a mix of auctions taking place in person and online and since the pandemic, auctions have very much moved toward the latter.

Mark Livesey, Head of Operations at The Market by Bonhams commented, "Viewing of internet auctioned cars is always encouraged, which are physically located at The Market HQ near Abingdon. We’ve already developed an enviable reputation for giving users the best online experience possible, and we've now made a significant investment to back this up with a similar, industry leading physical experience too. Our facility includes enough space to store more than three times as many cars as our previous hub. The new HQ houses a dedicated photography studio, vehicle detailing and customer lounge areas, ensuring that both cars and customers are given the highest level of care and attention with its unique concierge service. Furthermore, when cars are stored with us, we’re able to accommodate viewings much more easily than private individuals can, which again leads to much more confident bidding.”

What attracts many to auctions is the sheer volume of vehicles available and the chance of picking up a bargain. The buyer will have to pay a percentage of the sale price to the auction house, which could mean that the reserve on an item may be slightly higher than its worth.

Any vehicle descriptions are usually signed off by the seller, and the auction house can’t usually confirm the condition of the vehicle mechanically. The buyer must inspect the vehicle thoroughly before deciding whether to take the risk of putting in a bid, although misrepresentation can be claimed if a vehicle is found to have been wrongly described with regards to its condition. Check auctions terms carefully.


Selling a classic vehicle is not something that we like to think about as owners, but if it needs to be done for whatever reason, make sure you do it right!

Other than the obvious washing and waxing, make sure the engine bay and the undercarriage are cleaned too. First cover the battery, fuse box, fuel and ignition systems, and alternator with plastic bags.

Any small repairs, chips, blown light bulbs signs of rust or paint blemishes should ideally be sorted out to or at least reflected in the selling price, with any potential buyers made aware of any outstanding work that needs to be done. Make sure that the vehicle is in top mechanical condition and all fluids are fresh too – unless the reason you are selling is because of a blown head gasket or rusty exhaust.

Being upfront about any impending service items is also important, you would expect the same if you were a buyer. Dig out any spares and related books and be prepared to add them to the sale as a final encouragement.

Be sure to take good quality pictures on a sunny day. Obviously, you want to show your classic in its best light, but it’s important to show any bumps or dings here too so there are no surprises when prospective buyers start knocking to have a look in your garage.

As far as timing is concerned, convertibles do best in the summertime, exotic vehicles tend to do well when it’s close to end-of-year bonus time and it’s a good idea to avoid listing around Christmas time.

Some will insist on a test drive so make sure you see their license and know their insurance status before you agree. Make sure you are in the vehicle with them and plan out an enjoyable route for them if you can!

When your vehicle does sell make sure all funds have cleared before you hand over the keys and finally part ways with your classic. Putting together a one-page document, highlighting the key points of the sale and including ‘Sold as seen’ would be a good idea too.

Was this guide helpful? Do you have any tips we haven’t mentioned? Let us know in the comments below.

The information contained in this blog post is based on sources that we believe are reliable and should be understood as general information only. It is not intended to be taken as advice with respect to any specific or individual situation and cannot be relied upon as such.