Buyers Guide: Selling Tips – How to sell a classic Mercedes-Benz

Richard Simonds & Gary Anderson

How to sell a classic Mercedes-Benz
Article Richard Simonds & Gary Anderson
Images Wes Anderson, Jon Haverstick for Auto-Focused, Rider Design and Daimler Archive

The Buyers Guide in the September-October 2014 issue of The Star presented tips on purchasing a classic Mercedes-Benz. Selling a classic car such as a Mercedes can be more difficult than selecting one to purchase. Deciding to sell a car is often a tough decision in itself. Then you must confront the questions of how to ready the car for market, what price to ask, where to list it for sale, and finally, how to ensure you find a good buyer.

One constant in all of these questions is our biggest tip: It’s all about the money. In answering every one of these questions, you’ll compare the amount you need to spend with the money you could make or save. Anything that makes or saves more than it costs is worth doing; otherwise, it isn’t.
Should you sell your classic Mercedes?
To illustrate the point that “it’s all about the money,” we’ll start with the basic question of whether to sell your classic. Though this seems like an emotional decision, especially if the car has been part of your family and personal life for many years, the answer boils down to whether it makes sense economically to keep the car or sell it.
The family retainer
If you’ve owned the car for many years or it’s part of the family heritage, the fact is that it is now an old car. As such, it may be showing its age in the worn interior, the rusting and aging chrome or fading paint. As a car grows older, it also often starts suffering from neglect when an owner can’t find the time or resources to invest in basic maintenance or replacement of worn parts.

Even when you’ve maintained the car in fairly good condition, situations may arise when a part simply reaches the end of its life and is going to cost a significant amount to replace. In these circumstances, the question is how much will it cost to put the car back into a condition where it can be driven safely and reliably. To make this determination, simply pretend the car is one that you’re thinking about buying and ask a reliable mechanic to give you an estimate of the cost to return the vehicle into the desired condition.

With these costs in mind, you can decide whether or not the car can continue to provide transportation and pleasure at a cheaper cost than buying a newer car, particularly when depreciation of a newer car is considered.

Storage space for the car may also be an issue, sometimes alleviated by cleaning out the garage or disposing of a less consequential car. Of course, space can be rented nearby or at a classic-car storage facility.

 If the car isn’t needed for practical reasons, there are still things it can give back – tangible memories and emotional satisfaction – in return for the cost of reconditioning and its continued maintenance. In both instances, there’s no way to know what to do until you’ve made a rational estimate of the dollar cost to keep the car.
The hobby car

There is also the circumstance where the car is owned for its hobby value; it’s fun to drive on weekends or perhaps it was purchased with the idea that it would be a great project car to restore. Nevertheless, hobby-car owners eventually reach a point where they no longer have the inclination or physical condition to take an older car out for a spin, they realize they simply are never going to find time to restore that project car – whether stored in the the garage or out in back under the tarp – or the maintenance and repair costs exceed its fun-to-drive value.

Under these circumstances, particularly if the car is sitting under a tarp, a cost to be considered is its inevitable deterioration – silently stealing the vehicle’s value as the seals dry, fluids go bad and metal rusts. This cost needs to be compared with the value that can be realized if the car is sold immediately, with that money used for other purposes that offer greater practical or emotional returns.

The investment car

Through the years that we’ve been involved in this hobby – and more often than we’d like to accept – we’ve seen firsthand or heard about a classic car parked in a garage or stored in a backyard or vacant lot, with the owner having no intention of using or restoring it. Typically, these cars are owned by people who purchased or kept them because they heard that classic car values were increasing and expected that by keeping theirs longer, it would become more valuable.

Unfortunately, that is almost never the case. There are few examples of cars increasing in value that are not maintained and driven regularly. As a car sits without use, the cost to restore it to running condition increases – generally at a faster rate than the intrinsic investment value is increasing – so the longer it is  retained in poor condition, the lower the price at which it can be sold. It is only the exceptionally rare car that can be considered a barn find and sold at the same price as a fully restored car of the same model.
How much is your classic worth?
Having decided that it’s time to let your classic car go, you need to decide whether the car can (or should) be sold to a new owner, or merely donated to charity for a tax deduction. If you do decide to donate the car rather than going through the hassle of finding a buyer, look for an established charity that will give you written documentation on the value the charity realizes from it so that you can take advantage of the charitable tax donation.

Assessing the car’s condition requires more than just a pride-of-ownership decision about how much the vehicle means to you. The longtime owner tends to overvalue the condition while a person who is simply asked to help get rid of it tends to undervalue it. For that reason, you need to think about what the car will be worth to a new owner, rather than to you, which means considering more than its age, mileage, or money invested.

The first question is whether the car can be made visually presentable, and safe and reliable enough to at least be taken for a test drive. If that is going to cost more than a few hundred dollars, you’re probably better off advertising the car as suitable only to be dismantled for parts, and sold on an “As is and where is” basis or just donating it to charity.

On the other hand, if the car can be made visually presentable and safe and reliable to drive,  consider whether factors beyond condition and appearance may affect the sale.
If the car hasn’t been maintained or recently restored, is it totally original with the patina and wear that comes with years of use, or has it just been “driven hard and put away wet” when you ran out of simple fixes using cheap non-standard parts?

Is the car rare – a very special model? Can a buyer easily find another car just like this one that is in better condition, or is this a model that rarely shows up in the market?
Does the car have what appraisers call “provenance?” That is, does it have a documented history, perhaps with some significant previous owner, which makes it highly desirable?

If you believe that one or more of these factors may apply, then seek the advice of someone in your local club who has in-depth knowledge of the Mercedes-Benz marketplace, and if they agree, then paying for the advice of a professional appraiser (usually a minimum of $250 and often more if special research is required) may be warranted. Find a qualified automobile appraiser at either of the following: International Automotive Appraisers Association at or Auto Appraisal Group Inc. at

If the car is not completely original, rare, or with distinctive history, you can move on to setting a price based on current market rates. There are several good resources in published form and online that track current market prices by year and model for all major marques. Included among these are:
Hagerty Collector Car Insurance Valuation Tool, found at
Kelley Blue Book,
National Automobile Dealers Association,,

The classified ads in recent issues of The Star is also a very good place to review the range of prices asked for the same year and model of your car.
The biggest challenge in using one of these sources for price information is you have to determine the condition of your car because the listings provide a range of prices for each model – ranging from the worst to the best – from suitable only for use as a parts car to capable of winning trophies in concours shows. To decide where your car fits, you can use the assessment guide in the Sept.-Oct. 2014 issue of The Star.

But the general rule of thumb in deciding your car’s worth is that if the car can be started and driven out of the garage, it is better than the worst-condition category, and unless it has just left the shop of a respected restorer, it can’t be placed in the best-condition category. Stick to the prices in the middle categories and you’re most likely to find potential buyers with whom you can negotiate.
Getting the best price for your classic
At a minimum, when you advertise your car for sale and present it to potential buyers, you want it to look its best. Detail it by cleaning, polishing and waxing the exterior. Clear all the junk out of the interior and trunk, dust all the nooks and crannies, then vacuum and shampoo the carpets, clean and condition the leather and vinyl, and polish the plastic and trim. This effort will go a long way toward leaving a good first impression and can be accomplished with minimal cost. Even if you pay a detailer to do the work for you, you’re likely to recoup the expense in a quicker sale at a better price.

In particular, pay attention to the engine compartment. A greasy, dirty engine that looks like the Black Hole of Calcutta suggests – true or not – that the car hasn’t undergone regular maintenance. On the other hand, a few hours’ rubbing with a good spray engine cleaner and some brushes and rags – be sure to wear protective gloves and have some large pieces of cardboard underneath to catch the residue – can make a difference of literally hundreds of dollars in the sales price.
Assemble whatever paperwork you have on the car, including mechanical work records and original sales documents. A well-organized file of receipts and records can make a significant difference in the sales price, too.

Should you do any mechanical work on the car? The answer here is a cost-and-return consideration. Generally, the cost of getting the car to the point where it can be started and taken for a test drive is worth the investment. If the car can’t be moved from the garage, the buyer is going to assume the worst and may not be willing to pay more than the value of the parts.

On the other hand, if you know that the car needs new seals and engine work, or obvious paint and bodywork, be honest with the buyer in describing the car and factor the cost of repairs into your asking price – you know for sure the buyer will – and honesty goes a long way in securing a good sale.

Once the car is in good shape and ready to be advertised, snap a complete set of good photographs. The tips on automobile photography from the July-August 2013 issue of The Star that are available at are a good start, but be sure to take well-lit pictures of the interior, engine compartment, and trunk as well.

In particular, be sure to include a high-resolution beauty shot in a horizontal format in front of a plain background that contrasts with the color of the car. Classified ads for other cars will provide both good and bad examples.
Choosing a way to sell the car
Now you need to determine where you want to advertise your car. Because there are several different market channels, the choice depends largely on how quickly you want to sell it and whether you care about who buys it.

Your local Mercedes-Benz Club of America section newsletter or website offers you an opportunity to sell the car to someone who will appreciate it, maintain it, and enjoy driving it. However, because you’re reaching a limited market , it may take months to sell.

An ad at the website, which is also published in The Star magazine, will increase the car’s visibility to a much broader market. Members who aren’t in the business of buying and selling cars are eligible for a free ad at the website that runs for a period of two months and one listing in the magazine, but these ads can be changed and renewed every two months without limit.

Most used cars today are generally sold on the commercial online services of Craigslist and eBay. These postings reach a huge audience, get lots of attention, and might lead to a prompt sale. However, they could also introduce unsavory buyers who seek to scam you out of your vehicle and your money. A piece of good advice: If you use these media sites, never meet a potential buyer at your home – another good reason to get the car running so that you can meet a potential buyer at a neutral location.

With regard to scams, which do occasionally get targeted through ads, you should be careful how the transaction is paid for and completed. Never take the bait of accepting a cashier’s check and paying a shipper. It’s always best to meet the buyer or his representative in person. Payment should always be a cash transaction, or by means of a bank-to-bank transfer of funds, with your bank confirming that the money has been deposited in your account and is available for your use without conditions, before you release the car to the new owner and transfer the title.

What about classic-car auctions? For the classic car that has significant value because of its rarity, originality, or provenance, one of the organized auctions might be a good choice. However, for the average car, it is likely to be a bad choice for two reasons. First, most auction houses try to get owners, especially those with a lesser-value car, to offer the vehicle at “no reserve” – meaning the highest price offered will take the car, no matter what the set price might be – to ensure the auction house is compensated for its involvement. Second, most auctions charge premiums to both the buyer and the seller, so the seller is going to receive less money than what the bidder offered.
Good luck
In conclusion, good luck with your sale. Selling a classic car is as much a part of the hobby as buying one. Following these tips should help you not only get a good price for the car, but also allow you to enjoy the satisfaction of knowing the stewardship of your classic has been passed on to another appreciative owner. You might even convince a new member to join the Mercedes-Benz Club.