How to Sell a Classic Car Overseas
Where do you think the world’s largest show featuring American classic cars held? Los Angeles? Detroit? Chicago? Surprisingly, the answer is Lidköping, Sweden. The Power Big Meet has had as many as 25,000 American-made classic cars.
Why Sweden? Just as enthusiasts here lust after cars from Japan, the UK and Italy, there are people around the world who love American cars. Land yachts and muscle cars are so popular in Scandinavia that they spawned “raggare,” a subculture modeled after American greasers that continues to this day.
Around 30,000 American cars were shipped to other countries in 2016, and most of these were classic vehicles. West Coast Shipping, a specialist in container-based vehicle shipping, sent 14,000 cars overseas in 2018. 12,000 of these were antiques.
What makes America such a popular source for classic car imports? By the time the customer pays shipping, import duty and licensing fees, they’re usually adding about $2,000 to the asking price of a vehicle. Even if a model was sold locally, the relatively low shopping costs makes buying overseas an affordable option. Most of these cars go to Germany, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom, because they have lax importing laws. However, there are buyers around the world for these vehicles.
Why Do Buyers Want Cars from Other Countries?
There are three key reasons why someone would want to buy a car from another country.
The car wasn’t sold there: Buyers in Japan love classic American vans, buyers in Europe love muscle cars and land yachts, and everyone loves American trucks.
The car is rare there, but common here: French collectors love British roadsters. It may seem trivial to buy a car from the UK and drive it home. However, the United States was the biggest market for these cars in their heyday, and they’re left hand drive. This makes American cars cheaper and easier to drive in France.
We treat cars better: Better roads and better maintenance make for a better used vehicle. There’s a big market for off-roaders in Russia, Ukraine and much of Central and South America, because American vehicles are in better shape than those available domestically. Likewise, French buyers prefer roadsters from the US, because we don’t have the rust-promoting salt air that covers Great Britain.
How Does the Buyer Get the Car to their Country?
Sometimes, the buyer purchases the car while they’re on vacation, using it for their trip and then taking it to a dock for shipping. Other times, they have an agent arrange the vehicle purchase and hire an over-the-road shipping company to pick up the vehicle. It takes an average of 6-8 weeks for a car to ship overseas in a container. Shipping by plane is also an option, but costs can easily reach six figures. For this reason, overseas air freight is limited to rare and expensive vehicles.
Once the car is in the buyer’s country, it’s subject to import requirements. This includes import duties and material inspections. For example, asbestos is banned from importation into some countries. If a classic car still has a clutch or brake pads made of this material, it may not be allowed entry.
Before the new owner can drive the vehicle, it has to go through the same vehicle inspection as any other car on the road. Some changes may need to be made to conform to local safety and emissions requirements. Classic cars are usually exempt from many of these regulations, making them easy to license.
How Can I Use Websites to Sell Cars to Overseas Buyers?
International buyers and their agents look at the same sites Americans do, including free private seller sites like Craigslist and Facebook marketplace. Ebay Motors is also popular with these buyers, since the company manages the purchase process. Sites that focus on classic cars, including Autotrader Classics, ClassicCars.com, Hemmings and Dyler are also popular with prospective buyers from foreign countries.
If you want to market your vehicle to foreign customers, remember that they probably won’t be looking at it in person. The best way to get their attention is to offer as much information on the listing as possible. This includes several well-shot photos that highlight details and show the general condition of the vehicle. Supporting documents are also helpful, including maintenance records, vehicle histories, and manufacturing information.
How Does an Auction Sale to a Foreign Bidder Work?
Auctions are a great opportunity for foreign buyers, because they can hire an agent to look over and bid for several vehicles at a time. If they’re looking for a specific type of vehicle, they can hire an expert on that model, ensuring they get the best information on what they’re buying. The auction house also provides added seller protection. They want to earn their commission, so they’ll do everything the can to make sure you are paid before the vehicle is released.
Let’s say you have an antique car that you’re selling through a Barrett-Jackson auction. Potential buyers must register to bid. This registration requires that they have a payment system set up ahead of time. In most cases, they provide a Letter of Guarantee from their bank, which details how a wire transfer is handled. This letter must have specific language, including the requirement for U.S. funds, and a ban on stopping transactions.
Alternatively, buyers can put down a 10% deposit for their maximum bid. That means they need to give the company a $10,000 check to bid up to $100,000. Barrett-Jackson also collects the bidder’s personal information, so they’re easy to track down if something goes wrong. The car is only released when they receive the money. At worst, the sale isn’t completed, and you get your car back.
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