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The text following is part of a series of articles written by John S. Henry on the restoration and maintenance of air-cooled Volkswagens. While his experience is exclusively with the Beetle, many of the techniques can be applied to other models.

This text is copyrighted and duplication, re-distribution or publication is prohibited without consent of the author.

Article: Selling A Beetle
Last updated: 10/31/01

Selling A Beetle

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:

So #1 and #3 are defined for us, that's you and your Beetle. What you need is a #2 so you can get #4. As I state repeatedly in the "What to look for when buying" article, something is worth only what a buyer is willing to give for it. It's that "a buyer" thing that is the challenge when selling. And to take it step deeper, the ease with which something is sold is usually a function of the size of the market and the scarcity and uniqueness of the commodity.

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 just 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.

Now notice that the term "A true vintage VW enthusiast" shows up in every description of a "best buyer". Selling a Beetle to a high school kid who just totaled his '89 "Five point O" and wants to "just mess around with that thing" is grounds for horsewhipping in many states.

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

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:

Notice that I didn't mention "customs" here. I thought to add a blurb about customs in this article a few nights ago when I passed a car for sale in my neighborhood. It was a Nissan Pulsar turned into a pickup truck, with some other grill and head lights grafted in . It had a trick, multi color graphic'ed paintjob and look like it was very nicely done. As I drove past, I thought of two things; "How much did somebody spend to do that?" and "who in the hell would buy something like that?". Customizing a car is fun, I have done some stuff like that myself. But don't think that just because you spent $4000 on your wild, trick custom that you are going to get your money back. Chances are you aren't, for two reasons. One, one person's idea of the ultimate custom is very rarely the same as another's. And two, like the restorable class, most people who want a customized Beetle, will want to customize it themselves.

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 try to 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:

And about writing an ad. Be specific, direct and short. What you would you like to see in an ad? What would catch your eye? (in the "What to look for when buying" article I assess a few printed ads for Beetles that were published one week). Don't use vague, subjective words like "nice", "cherry" or "sweet". On the other hand, watch out for catastrophic words like "project", "missing" or "broken", even if it is. Up here in New England "rust" is also a very bad word, and should be avoided; unless it has "no" in front of it. You want people to call, so you can give them the details. Make the ad as positive as possible, without being misleading.

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.

Too negative:

Too positive/misleading/vauge:

Objective, aimed at "the Beetle enthusiast":

Your ad should invite questions about the car. Once a seller makes contact with you, you have a much better opportunity to "sell" them by telling them all about the car and making them feel good that you are a true enthusiast and know Beetles well.


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:

The bottom line is that, as seller, you are legally bound by the SETB (Society for the Ethical Treatment of Beetles) to insure that you do not sell you vehicle to persons of mal intent. Many sellers who have knowingly made sales to such individuals are behind bars in 37 of the 50 states. Be warned, be ethical, and make sure that your car has a fighting chance to survive.

Selling via the Internet

Couple of things came to mind that I felt warranted a section on this:

Bottom line is that while the 'net gives you a huge pool of potential buyers, they still have to come and see the car, and it is preferred that the final financial transaction is made in person. I have been selling parts, literature and even a Beetle via the InterNet for over a year now, and it has worked out well. But only because the buyers have (mysteriously) trusted me. I have sold goods, in excess of $100 in a few transactions, to people who have mailed me personal checks and waited until I deposited them and the funds cleared before I shipped the goods. But I don't think that you would ever sell a Beetle that way, the postage would be astronomical (although I always wanted to go to "Mailboxes etc."; they advertise that they can mail anything).

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 where 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.

I find that a lot of negotiating is based on gut feel. Two basic things usually drive my negotiating tactics: 1) How good I feel about the potential pool of buyers and 2) How badly I want (need) to sell the car. (remember those when you go looking to buy, too.) If the phone has been ringing off the hook and there are two more people coming over this afternoon to look at the car, I'm going to blow off the guy who is trying to lowball me pretty quick. But on the other hand, if someone is waving cash and selling the car is gating me from buying another, I might cave in.

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, you 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:

What you don't want to do is get yourself in a situation where you have to turn down other buyers. If you make some vague offer to hold the car, and then another buyer offers you what you are asking and you turn them down, your original buyer may never come through and you might still be stuck with the car months later.

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:

Generally I don't write down the terms of relinquishing the deposit, but the buyer may ask you to do so. If I did write them down, they might be something like: Basically you are allowing the buyer to hold the option to buy for some fixed time buy leaving some "good faith" money. But be careful about that length of time. The most I would offer to hold would be about 2 weeks. 7-10 is more typical and if the market (buyers) is hot, maybe just a few (business days). If they have the money, all they need to do is go get it.

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.

Taking payment

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;  

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