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Article: Selling A Beetle
Last updated: 10/31/01
Symptom- You have to part with your Beetle ONLY because:
These are the ONLY valid reasons for selling a Beetle. Spousal/family pressures, financial problems, natural disasters, other interests, relocation's, etc. are NOT valid, and should never be considered. If you do not fit into one of the above bulleted categories, you have no need for the information below, read no further. Just keep your Beetle.
Seek counseling if needed.
You should really read the "What
to look for when buying" article for the "other" perspective on selling.
Introduction- Basic business principles
Let's start with a basic lesson in business economics. To sell something, you need four things:
Take milk for example. How big is the milk market, how many people buy milk? Lots. How scarce and/or unique is milk? It's pretty damn common. A gallon of milk is a gallon of milk, pretty much. The result is that milk prices are pretty stable. Yes, everybody needs it, but as soon as someone tries to raise the price, some other guy with cows will come in and cut him out.
Now what about Beetles. How many people out there want one? Compared to milk, almost none. But there are some who do. And how unique or scarce are they? Well, we all know the answer to that one. So what that leaves us with is a very small market for a somewhat scarce/unique commodity. What does that mean perfessor Henry?
It means that to optimize what you get for
the car you have to optimize the buyer. You need to find someone who is
dying to have YOUR Beetle. That year, that same condition.
You need to find that lone perfect buyer; or you just plain give it away
(see "Tragedies", below)
Ok, enough already. The pool of Beetle buyers
is pretty small. You can "fish a bigger pond" via the internet and multi-state
classifieds, but this may take time and be a logistical nightmare. (see
below) But take from this that you need to find a Beetle buyer to
sell your car for a good price, not just someone looking for any car thinking
"hey, I hadn't thought of one of those"? You want to find that buyer that
is dying to have YOUR Beetle.
More about buyers
Put yourself in the shoes of the person who you think would really want your car, it will help you try to find them.
Your best buyer would be: A true vintage
VW enthusiast who would have and good appreciation for the originality,
completeness and correctness of your Beetle; and know what the "market
value" of such is. (BTW, if he says he wants to make it into a baja or
"choptop" out of it, tell him that your father who owed a lot of money
to the mob boss has suddenly vanished and this Beetle used to be his daily
Your best buyer would be: A true vintage
VW enthusiast who would have and good appreciation for the work done on
your Beetle. Probably someone who was mechanically inept, but really just
had a lot of cash to throw into a complete car (most people who can
want to restore a Beetle, won't be interested in buying
one that is already restored). If you really put your heart (and wallet)
into this car, you will want to be sure that they respect Beetledom before
Your best buyer would be: A true vintage
VW enthusiast who is looking for a bit of a "project"; someone who can't
afford to buy that ultimate restored or original one. Must have an appreciation
for and unique or hard to find aspects of your car.
Your best buyer would be: A true vintage
VW enthusiast who is looking for a "ground up" project Beetle
Remember those four "classes" of Beetles above, we'll refer to them below as:
What to DO with the car before selling
First of all, there is one thing that you should do to ANY car you are selling, no matter what the condition: CLEAN IT!!
I can't believe how many people try to sell cars and don't take the time to do this. I am convinced that it makes all of the difference in the world. First impressions are very important. If your car has months-old french fries on the floor in the back, windows so filthy that you can barely see out of them and some old clothes under the hood that even you don't know where they came from, what does this say about how you take care of the rest of the car?
"Original" and Resto Beetles
Remember who you want to buy this
car: the Beetle enthusiast. This person will lift up carpet and mats, will
crawl under and will look carefully at the engine. You are not trying to
hide anything, you just want to get as much "wow" out of your car as you
can. Especially if you are asking top dollar. It will pay off. (Admittedly,
it may be hard to keep this standard if you have to drive the car while
you are trying to sell it)
Still clean thoroughly, especially if it is a "driver". If it is a "project" car (sometimes known as a "pasture" car), it still pays to clean up. If it is all rotted, pull out all of the carpet/mats and liners and get out there with the Shop Vac. Make it easy for the buyer to see what is rotted and what is solid. The informed (enthusiast) buyer in not going to overlook rot.
Might help to mow the tall grass around it too.
Be careful about fixing stuff or buying things "just to sell it". Cosmetic (paint, interiors, etc.) things are generally best sold "as is" since most buyers want to have the latitude to fix it however they want. Mechical/drivetrain things also warrant caution. Just because you spent $300 for a new set of radials doesn't mean that you will get $300 more for the car. You probably won't. You should fix small (inexpensive) things to make the car as functional as possible, but leave the bigger stuff open to the buyer. As a general rule, I never put much of anything into a car just to sell it. I just am "up front" with the buyer and say, "this will need to be fixed" and give them some idea what it would cost if they don't know. I once sold a car with a leaky radiator (yeah, it wasn't a Beetle). I told the guy who bought it that the radiator leaked, a new one cost $180. I told him that if he bought a new radiator and brought it to me, I would put it in for him, then sell the car for what I was asking. He did, that radiator was his "deposit".
How much should I ask??
The tough question. You should read (have read) my "What to look for when buying" article. The market values that I suggested in there are still valid. But they are my opinion. Investigate your local Beetle market. Read the classifieds, go to VW shows if you can, even call on some ads just to get more information.
But realize that one reason that Beetle restoration/preservation is so popular is that they are inexpensive. In my opinion a top notch Beetle, restored or original, any year from about '52 up, is worth at a maximum, about $10k-$13k. Were not talking about '54 Corvettes, or '57 T-Birds or Porsche 356s here. To loosely "bucket" the market values various types of rectangle rear window Beetles ('58 and up) I would say:
I'm not talking about trick stereo installations
or smoked taillights. I'm talking about major, irreversible body modifications
and alterations. Just set your expectations accordingly.
Again, these are MY opinions. I add them here for the benefit of that guy who just inherited his grandmother's '66 Beetle and has no idea what it might be worth. If you have been around Beetles a few years, you should have some idea before you read this.
Pick what you really "want" to get for the
car, add 15-20% and float some ads. Be flexible, don't be too firm and
tell the buyer what it is worth. On the other hand, if your
heart is in the car, don't give it away.
Finding that buyer
This is really what it is all about. Think about it this way, if you were looking for a Beetle, where would you look? Local classified ads? "Auto Trader" magazine? Local car club newsletter? Internet? Remember that you are looking for a minority buyer (no, I don't mean that he has to be Asian, I mean there are few buyers) for a relatively unique/scarce commodity. Your are not selling milk.
I have had the best success via 2 channels:
Let's say you have a '64 that is mostly complete, solid body, but is missing the interior and engine and has a rusted floor.
What is positive about this ad??? NOTHING.
"obo" (or best offer) means that you are desperate. I can almost see the
weeds growing up through the floor....
All this text and it really says nothing. ALL Beetles were reliable drivers at one time, what about dents in the rest of the car, and oooooooOh, an AM/FM Cassette!?
Objective, aimed at "the Beetle enthusiast":
This ad is very objective, truthful and is assumes that the reader knows something about Beetles (like the difference between the pan and heater channels). To the novice, it lends credibility to the seller.
I thought I would ad a blurb to lay some guilt on you about being bad and not finding the best home for your car. Yeah, you are selling the car because you want money for it, but secondarily, you want to make sure that it finds a good home and has as much of a chance of any Beetle to survive. Many of you know my biases. While I still don't really have much respect for a '73 Super, I still believe that every Beetle, in the end, should be restored to vintage, or at least with some minor, irreversible modifications.
Now I'm going to rant and vent a bit here (but it is my page, I can do that if I want). Below is the penal code for Beetle abuse:
Cutting holes in any part of the dash of a '67 or older Beetle for stereo equipment or gauges. (removal and use of the grill areas on either side of the dash is OK)
Intentionally abusing any Beetle such
that damage is done to the body. Instances include, but are not limited
to, using the car as farm machinery, a junkyard truck, or in a demolition
derby. [note that a "Beater exemption"; doc. P3254, para. 65, l. 876, may
apply to the farm machinery violation]
Neglecting to change the oil or check
tire pressures for greater than 6 months or 8000 miles.
Using off or "no name" brand gas and/or oil
Allowing the interior of the Beetle to
achieve a level of filth and decay that rust formation is accelerated
Selling via the Internet
Couple of things came to mind that I felt warranted a section on this:
Bad reasons to sell a car on the Internet:
Best case, you make contacts via the 'net, exchange a lot of e-mails, chat on the phone, and eventually the buyer might feel comfortable enough to send you a deposit so that you will "hold" it for him (see "Taking a deposit or holding", below) and maybe travel a great distance to see your car. The air-cooled VW newsgroup rec.autos.makers.vw.air cooled is a good place to post an ad, but be warned, it is a non-commercial newsgroup. It is ok to post an ad a couple times for a personal sale, VWs only. But most newservers only keep posts active for 3-7 days. DO NOT post a picture of your car on this group. Post it to alt.binaries.vehicles and point the buyer there from your ad.
Many VW hobby web pages offer free classified ads, and these will usually stay posted for much longer than the newsgroup posts. Jump into a strong "VW links" site and go from there.
And lastly PLEASE remember to include
your car is located in you InterNet ad. So many people forget this. Net
access is literally boundless, a reader might be in the next town over
from you, or in Malaysia. It is very frustrating to have to reply to an
ad and ask "WHERE IS IT!!!". That does have some bearing on whether or
not your buyer might be interested in your car.
Letting the buyer "test drive"
This is an area that is often not thought of until it is an issue. If your Beetle is a daily driver, registered and insured, call your insurance agent and ask them if you are covered for damage incurred by your vehicle if you allow a buyer to test drive the car. Usually, you will not be covered (my agent said, "No, the policy follows the driver, not the car. Unless you drive someone else's car". huh?!). You will be at limited risk if the buyer gets into an accident (he is liable, even if he is driving your car, but it might get messy with liabilities and stuff, and your Beetle may be total loss, you may never recover damages). One thing I have done is to drive the car, and the buyer to an empty lot and let them test drive it there. Granted they couldn't get the car up to highway speed, but they could test the mechanicals.
If the car is not registered, insist that the buyer bring a plate to affix to the car for a test drive. Many states have provisional laws that allow you to transfer a plate to another vehicle in a sale situation for up to a week before actually going to the registry and filing. Check with your local DMV.
I generally always go along for a test drive with them. I have had people offer to leave money, licenses, wallets, keys, kids or girlfriends while they "just go around the block". I almost always decline and say "I'll just hop in and go with you". In fact, what I prefer to do is drive them first for a bit and then switch off. I've always felt that, especially with the quirkiness of the Beetles, I could show them how smoothly the car could be driven before handing them the keys and watching them stall it out 3 or 4 times before they get going. This is especially important with Beetles if the buyer does not currently drive one him/herself. We know how "funny" they feel to the newbie.
Basically, the test drive logistics involve
a lot of trust and "gut feel". If last minute, you have a really bad feeling
about someone driving your Beetle and they are in your driveway, just tell
them that the car suddenly stopped running right before they came over.
"There was a loud grinding noise in the back, then it just stopped. You
can still buy it, I'll help you push it onto a trailer...."
Aaahh, the finest of business arts. Again, put yourself in the shoes of the buyer when you are thinking about what to ask for your car and what "face" to put on that figure. Historically, car prices are always negotiated. That doesn't mean that you will never get what you are asking, it just means that buyers will come to you expecting to negotiate.
A have always added 10-15% onto the price I really wanted for "negotiation room", but sometimes, if the phone rang endlessly the first few days after an ad came out, I stuck to my price. Pick your bottom line and go from there. If you are unsure if your price is realistic and you are not in a hurry, inflate it a bit and try it out.
As for "obo" (or best offer) in the ad, be careful. The message it sends is that the seller is looking for a quick sale and/or really isn't sure if his price is realistic. If neither of these are true for you, don't put "obo" in your ad. "Firm" on the other hand can send the wrong message too. It says, "I know the value of my car and I'm not budging from my price". That is fine, but if "your value" is way above the "market" value, you make yourself look haughty and nobody is going to call. "Firm" usually works best in mass market dealings where prices fluctuate wildly and broad negotiation is common. I have never used it in a car ad. Best to just state you price, that's all.
Let's play out some scenarios: You have a solid, mostly complete '66 Beetle for sale, you don't really want to sell it, but you have to (in order to receive approval to go buy and Oval that a cousin has promised to sell you). Not many 60's Beetles in your local area have sold recently or are for sale, most look like basket cases and are selling in the $800-1800 range. But you know that yours is much better than most. You would really like $2200 for it, would probably take $2000; so you decide to run an ad for $2450 and see what happens. You really have time on your side, no real pressure to sell.
Tactics: He's probably trying to "steal" the car from you. You should watch for signs of hidden excitement. Flashing the cash is actually a good tactic if you are a buyer and trying to undercut a sellers price, I have done it a lot myself. But if he is the first buyer to come along, especially if he showed up the day of the ad, you'd be crazy to let it go for $1500.
He says "Ok, I've got $1800 here, that's all I can offer. Take it and it will be out of your hair today".
He's trying to undermine the value of what
you have by making it seem like it is a nuisance to you. You think that
$1800 ain't too far from the $2000 your bottom line, but then again, he
the first buyer. Keep in mind that it is possible that you could
still be sitting on the car 6 months from now, asking $1700 with no bites
and wondering where this guy is. Here's what I would do, "Ok, tell ya what.
Give me your name and phone number, and if I don't get a better offer in
2 weeks, I'll call you and you can have it for $1800". This works well.
A buyer truly trying to undercut you knows that the car will be
gone in 2 weeks. He has to either up his offer or walk.
Buyer #2 "The Talker/Whiner": Some buyers will come out, talk, nit pick, talk some more, tell you all about the other cars they have looked at, complain about problems with your car but never actually make an offer. Then they will stammer and tell you that they are not sure they are really even looking for a car. These people waste your time.
Tactics: Cut them short, offer them your
bottom line, and tell them that you really have to go. You mob boss uncle
is coming over for dinner.
Buyer #3 "The Staller": These people will come look at the car, sound all excited about it, say "I really think this is the one" and even lead you to believe that they will pay your asking price. But then they start talking about borrowing money from relatives and working some "extra shifts" so they can scrape up the money. Then they start talking about "maybe next month I'll call you..."
Tactics: Cut them short, give them you "deposit terms" (see below) and make sure they know that unless they leave you something, the car may be gone tomorrow.
One other (ethical) comment; never start asking more than your advertised price if begin to think that you underpriced your car. This is a personal thing with me, but I think doing that is very slimy. I actually had this happen to me once when I had found a pretty nice (watercooled) Cabrio. And the seller was a woman in her 50s! She looked like your first grade teacher. I test drove the car, decided that I wanted to buy it, I made her and offer a few hundred below what she was asking (and she wasn't giving it away). She stammered a bit and said that her son in law said that her car was worth more and declined the offer. Then I called her back a few days later and offered the asking price. She started rambling again about what her son in law had told her. I said "Do you want to sell the car or not?" She said, "Well, yes, make me an offer" I said "I did, I offered you what you were asking, now do you want to sell it or not!!" She went off again, basically saying that she wanted more money. I couldn't believe it, I thought that was very unethical. So if you have doubts about your asking price, start high, it only will cost you some time.
Go with your gut. You are the seller,
own the merchandise. You determine the value. If what you determine is
higher than what your buyers to date have offered, then you keep the car
(not a bad thing) and/or keep advertising.
Taking a deposit or "holding"
This is the final act of the negotiating process. Many people get in trouble here without knowing it. They make some vague commitment to a potential buyer and then get stuck in an ethical dilemma when another buyer comes along. Never make a commitment to a buyer to "hold a car for them" without:
The deposit is "good faith money" that the buyer offers to tell you that he/she is serious about buying the car. I usually ask for $20-$50, depending on the price range of the car. $20 my not seem like much of a commitment in the grand scheme of things, but put yourself in the buyer's position. Why would someone come to your house and hand you $20 if they weren't interested in buying your car? People just don't do that.
Write them a "Receipt for Deposit" that clearly states:
Make sure you get an address and phone number
where they can be reached. Obvious, but often forgotten. Make sure you
can get in touch with them if you have taken a deposit.
My basic rule: cash has never been refused by my bank
Now for the most part, I'm talking about selling cars under $3000 or so. Asking for cash is very reasonable. If someone is uncomfortable "carrying that much cash", take care of the paperwork, prepare a receipt, then go down to their bank with them and close the transaction there.
I got stung once taking what I thought was a cashier's check. It might have actually been a money order, but I had asked for a cashier's check and had every reason to believe it was. The guy bought my '67, then 3 days later had the car delivered to my house on a flat bed and said that he didn't like it. The next day, my bank notified me of "Insufficient Funds" on the cashier's check/money order deposit. The car was fine, I ended up paying a hundred or so in fees when it was all done. Since then, CASH ONLY for me.
Make sure you give them a receipt. Make one out ahead of time on your computer, include names, addresses, VINs, dates, etc. I always add a statement "Vehicle is sold 'as is' with no warranty, written or implied". Some states have lemon laws which might still preclude this, you might want to look into them. I was concerned about my exposure so I looked into Massachusetts law.
It states that the buyer has the right to
return the car to you within 7 days (I think, some short time) for a full
refund if it can be proven that the car requires repairs to pass state
inspections that cost in excess of 15% (I think) of the purchase price
of the car. What is really in the seller's favor is that in this state
to get a car inspected it must be registered. To get a registration, you
must bring proof of insurance. This means that someone must go through
an awful lot to get a car inspected, quite a feat to do in just 7 days.
It is very unlikely that someone is going to buy your car, trash it for
a few days and then bring it back and demand a refund (legally). Check
your local laws.
Post partem counseling
There was something about standing in my driveway and watching one of my Beetles fweem down my driveway (see the "BugMods!" article for the definition of this term), pause, signal and turn up the street, never to be seen again. My kids are a long way from going off to college, but I'm sure the feeling is the same. I turn and see that little oily spot in the garage and tears well up in my eyes. This is normal though, that is what makes us who we are.
I have found that the best therapy is immediately to immerse yourself in another Beetle. Maybe you have one out back, with high grass all around it. Go back and start cutting the grass down and putting air in the tires. Tell it "well, it's just you and me now...". If you are buying another, go get it . Camp out on the sellers front lawn until he lets you take it home.
Whatever you do, don't even think about going
to the Honda dealer that afternoon.....
Copyright© 1998; John S. Henry;