Posted on Leave a comment

Sold! What it’s like to sell a car on Bring a Trailer

Cummins-powered 1996 Chevrolet Suburban

Back in 2017, we rescued this 1996 Chevrolet Suburban from its neglected, undriveable state parked outside in the rainy Pacific NW.  It was in bad shape, but we knew with a little TLC it’d be the perfect candidate for a Cummins swap. $400 later, it was ours.

The original plan was to keep this rig for a daily driver. But as seems to happen around here, more vehicles trickled in over the intervening years and we realized, for the thousandth time, that you just can’t keep them all. As the time and effort poured into its rehab, we started looking ahead to its eventual sale. We knew it would need the right marketplace to find an audience appreciative of its upgrades. Bring a Trailer was the clear winner in our minds.

Enter Bring a Trailer

For those not in the know, Bring a Trailer is the preeminent online vehicle auction site. They’ve cultivated a knowledgeable and dedicated audience by pre-screening submissions for interesting vehicles. Notably, that screening process is completely accomplished by actual humans.  The net result is an eclectic variety of curated vehicles with a devoted following of repeat commenters, who themselves act as something of a vetting committee for the vehicles allowed on the site.

When we finally completed the project in 2020, we immediately sent over our application. We had no small amount of confidence: This was a beautiful, functional, unique build!  Of course they’d list it, right?

You can see where this is headed: Wrong! That email declining our initial submission was a gut punch, to say the least. We quickly gathered our disappointed selves off the floor and got back in touch with BAT. Convinced that the BAT screener had confused our rig with just another mid-90s Suburban when clearly, it was not, we resubmitted. We emphasized all that had gone into the build, and made our best plug that they take a look at the playlist of videos documenting the project.  


Listing accepted!

Sure enough, once they saw that yes, this was a special vehicle, we were (sort of) in.  Woot woot! But there were two further hold ups to our admission on the site.

First, the next gut punch: They wanted to list the project with no reserve.  What the what?  We have invested in this vehicle, poured love into it, and you want us to put it up for the whims of your auction site to give the last word on its value?

Truth be told this was nearly the end.  But … we were curious.  The BAT community seemed like a discerning group.  And really, we understood BAT’s reluctance to insist on our bottom line price. This was the first build of its kind on the site, so there was no frame of reference for price. We guessed that the right bidders would come along to push the final sale price to an acceptable number.  In the end, we called it a calculated business risk and took the plunge. We’d list it with BAT with no reserve.

On to the second problem: BAT explained that while yes, they wanted to list our vehicle, their current and near future roster of auctions was bloated in our category.  The listing would need to wait several weeks before they would take it on.  This was not ideal for our schedule. Ultimately, though, we were glad they were monitoring their offerings enough to give us (and them) the best shot at a good profit margin.

That timeline came and went, but by the time they were ready to list, we were not.  Through a confluence of life events (Yup that’s vague … this is the Internet), we needed to push the sale date back.  BAT was gracious about this and allowed us to set a future date for the auction to start.

About a week before that date rolled around, BAT sent us an initial listing to review.  It included all of the pictures we had uploaded and a written description of all the specs of the build.  Andrew, our BAT handler, did a great job out of the gate. With just a few minor tweaks, we were off and running.

Then it was time for the listing to go live.  The email comes through with the posting, and all the air gets sucked out of the room.  It’s a whirlwind of reactions, mostly around that no reserve.  Had we done the right thing? Were were about to hand over three years’ worth of blood, sweat, and tears for $500?

We forged ahead and prepared to obsessively reload the auction page. We did that plenty over the course of the week. The biggest thing you can do to prepare for your BAT listing? Make yourself a nice list of low mental energy tasks to do throughout the week. You’re not going to be thinking about anything but that auction for seven full days.

The auction goes live

While we were busy living our lives on the auction page, we were focused from the outset on actively investing in the comments section. Our goal: Be as thorough and transparent as possible, leaving nothing to the imagination for the would-be winner. We tried to answer every question, respond to every comment, and anticipate what people might ask next. We really wanted the winning bidder to feel like they knew exactly what they were getting.

With that goal in mind, we wrote an introductory post explaining Joel’s education and experience and the story behind the build.  Unlike most social media outlets, this was a pretty straight forward and gratifying thing to do: The questions and comments we got were, by and large, genuine and positive.  BAT has a great feature in which you can flag a comment as “not constructive,” but honestly we didn’t even come close to having this issue.  The overall tone of everyone who posted was supportive and inquisitive.  Kudos to BAT for building that type of community.

Our introductory post to help bidders learn a bit more about us

The first bid came day one, for $2,500.  There’s a special sort of nauseous feeling to seeing a number like that come in, even if it is day one. But the bidding was off, and from there, we saw steady build up throughout the week-long bidding process.

By a few days in, we were seeing repeat and legitimate questions about the build, and with our initial posting goals in mind we decided to do an update video for the auction watchers. We were able to do a 0 to 60 demonstration as well as borrow a neighbor’s trailer so bidders could see how it towed. This seemed helpful for people and again, helped us to fulfill our goal of transparency for the would-be winner.

As the week wore on, and our thumbs grew tired from hitting that little refresh circle, you could have asked anyone around here at any given moment the exact dollar amount of the current bid.

We don’t know this poster, and we didn’t pay him, but seriously we would have if he had asked.

*Finally* the last day of the auction arrived.  By this point, we had answered so many questions that really nothing new was rolling in … just some nice, supportive comments and a bid here and there.  The auction was set to end around 1pm, and when we woke up that morning, the bidding sat at $13,500.  About 11am we set the website to airplay on our big TV to watch what would happen.  We were happy to see some bids roll in early in those last two hours, which we understand is pretty rare: Most of the action usually happens in the final minutes of the auction.

As that timeline wound down, we got to see one of the best features of BAT put into action: Their anti-sniping bidding process.  Let’s say your auction ends at 1pm.  At 12:59pm, a bid for $20,000 rolls in.  Instead of that clock ticking down with one minute left, they automatically bump up the remaining time to two minutes left.  This continues until there are no further bids.

Those last 5-10 minutes were heart-stopping. It was such a relief to watch those numbers increase and finally enter a reasonable zone. After those nail-biting final moments, the Suburban sold for a fair and respectable $29,750.

Once the sale is complete, BAT automatically sends along contact information to both the buyer and seller. In our case, we were able to speak with the buyer by phone shortly after the sale ended. He was easy to deal with and enthusiastic about the build, which really felt great. We always want to see our builds go to good homes.  The buyer wired the money, and we sent off the title and bill of sale.  He arranged for a truck to come pick it up and voila, our BAT experience is complete.

Would we list on BAT again? Absolutely. The community of thoughtful bidders and posters is outstanding, and really this was the best marketplace for us to reach the right buyer.

Next time we’ll just make sure to keep a defibrillator on hand for the next auction end.

Want to see the auction page for our *now sold* Suburban? Find that here.

Want to see another great review of the the BAT seller experience? Motor Authority has a well-written and thorough article here. Finally, for a criminally under-viewed Youtube video about the experience, check out The Drew Johnson Experience’s video on his BAT sale.

Leave a Reply