When bringatrailer.com (more affectionately known as “BaT”) reinvented itself in July of 2014 from a cool car-classified aggregation blog to what is now a full-blown curated vintage and classic car auction site, it lost something special. BaT went from being a source of affordable, interesting vintage and classic cars between private sellers to becoming yet another outlet for dealers to flip collector vehicles. Don’t believe us? Navigate to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, type in “Bring A Trailer”, and enjoy viewing archives from the early days of the site when it was about connecting private sellers with the next caretaker of their collector car.
Fast forward to today and our research confirms that, on average, Bring a Trailer sources 45% of their auctions from “reputable dealers willing to actively participate in answering questions in the comments” section of each lot. What’s not known is the actual number of auction lots on Bring A Trailer where dealers pose as private sellers. We can cite two examples of this practice based on cars we were aware of, so while it likely remains rare, it’s safe to assume it does happen more than BaT is willing to admit.
So, if reputable dealers provide detailed pictures of a car and then answer potential bidders’ questions promptly and honestly, what’s the harm in having them on Bring a Trailer? Well, here’s the three reasons why we believe allowing dealers to participate on Bring A Trailer is bad for the collector car hobby as a whole:
- Dealers Bid on Cars For Inventory – Dealers keep a close eye on BaT’s auctions and when they see a collector car they feel has room for profit, they will bid to win the vehicle. We can’t think of anything worse than a private owner selling their vintage or classic car on BaT to a dealer, only to see that same vendor post the car one week later at a higher price!
- Dealers Drive Up Prices – when a private buyer (i.e., the next caretaker) purchases a car on BaT, they accept the five percent buyer’s premium the website charges as part of the convenience and experience. At the other end of the spectrum, dealers are in business to make a profit. Consequently, when they resell a BaT purchase, that same five percent is now added to their asking price so that they can break even. For example, a winning bid of $15,750 for a 1999 Porsche Carrera Tiptronic this week on BaT becomes a $21,999 asking price on a dealer’s website two weeks later! Unfortunately, that’s a true story based on the writer’s personal experience!
- Dealers Don’t Know Or Care About A Car’s History – most private sellers on BaT are looking for the next caretaker to become their vintage or classic car’s next owner. Private sellers can more often than not provide a detailed history of the car they are selling. Sifting through many of the dealer lots on BaT, in most cases the history of the vehicle is not known or very limited. Buying a vintage or collector car online has risk, so why would a private buyer take an even higher gamble on a car with unknown history from a dealer not willing to offer a warranty?
While Bring A Trailer remains a great resource for buying and selling vintage and classic cars, we think private buyers will be better served by a similar website that does not allow dealer participation. Comment below on whether you agree or disagree and why.