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What’s my car worth ? (Part 2)

Condition, condition, condition…

Where to start on this.

The absolute first part of my inspection process here in the Northeast is a preliminary look underneath the vehicle to determine if it is structurally sound. While some surface corrosion and light surface rust may not eliminate the vehicle from the buyer’s consideration, heavy rust and rot thought the frame, sub frame, suspension, and floor pans will typically mean my fast departure as the restoration costs for the vehicle will typically be more than the restored value of the vehicle. Most buyers will not have the ambition or the budget to address these serious issues. If the vehicle seems structurally sound and the undercarriage shows characteristics that are acceptable with the described mileage and usage I then begin the exterior inspection process.


Exterior Inspection

During this 45-60 minute preliminary walk around the vehicle I try to take note of any obvious paint defects with particular attention to paint uniformity in color and shine, and consistent texture of the finish. I also look for correct panel fit and even gaps in the doors, trunk, hood, quarters, and fenders. Dents, dings and scratches are noted and photographed. If you ever notice any experience professional buyer surveying a vehicle’s finish you will notice them feeling the edges of the paint as a factory finish should feel smooth like glass and the rough almost sand paper like feel is usually a dead give away of paintwork on that particular panel.


During this process, I also pay close attention to the condition of the vehicles bright work and trim around the glass. Water etching in these areas and on the exterior glass will quickly reveal that the vehicle has spent some time outdoors In the elements. A close look at the condition of the exterior lamps, chrome and mirrors will also need to be observed and noted.


Gorgeous anodized aluminum window trim on 1980 Mercedes Benz 450SEL


Amazing bright-work and chrome on this 1 owner California owned garage queen.

Almost every vehicle ever built will have areas to examine where rust is most prevalent and these areas should be examined at this time. Looking at the vehicles stance is another consideration as suspension issues can be detected very early at this point in the inspection process. Attention to condition of wheels and tires are also noted at this time. Original wheels and even original tires can be expected on some ultra low mileage examples. A more comprehensive inspection of the paint using a paint thickness gauge or eclometer will follow to determine the originality of paint. These meters are highly calibrated and are not subjective. Even the most experienced and highly trained professional can miss the presence of an exceptional repaint, but the paint thickness gauge is a tool that cannot be fooled. Factory finishes will have very consistent thickness readings as the entire vehicle is painted at the same time in the manufacturing process.


Original paint on this 36k mile 1987 BMW M6 showing 4.1 mils


Digital paint thickness gauge.

Most vehicles produced after the late 1980s will also have VIN stickers placed on each of the vehicle’s panels at the factory.  Replacement panels will have DOT stickers, or a VIN number from a different vehicle  which reveals that the panel was replaced. This is also a good time to thoroughly inspect the vehicle’s door, trunk, and engine jambs for signs of corrosion, rust and stains from a build up of debris.  The bolts that attach each panel together are typically painted at the factory after the vehicle has been fully assembled. If you notice that the paint on these bolts has been broken from removal, this should be a concern as to the possible evidence of bodywork. The preliminary inspection of the undercarriage and vehicle’s exterior is in my opinion the most important first steps in determining value on an original low mileage example and will be closely followed by an extensive mechanical inspection. If the vehicle is free of any major mechanical needs you are already well on the road to determining value. The condition of the interior, while important can be more easily reconditioned with much of the originality maintained.

Restored vehicles will not  have the claim of original paint, and will need to be more subjectively judged as you look at the quality of body work, panel fit, evenness of gaps, and the final finish of the paint.


Restored 1940 Lasalle