Market Watch: Ks Are The Killer

By: Cliff Chambers, Photography by: Unique Cars Archives/Holden

The numbers on the odometer can add or detract value depending on age

Market Watch: Ks Are The Killer
It's always about the numbers

Spending a fair chunk of my life as a valuer of motor vehicles, I sometimes need to tell doting owners that their faithful automotive companion has travelled farther than is desirable and the price they are contemplating is viable only in Fantasy Land. 

When selling a car, that little row of numbers below the speedo or digitally displayed do carry some weight, however they shouldn’t be the only factor to consider when buying. 

People do get nervous when spotting big numbers on an odometer, especially if there is no service history to confirm when and what maintenance may have occurred and what costly jobs are overdue.

Perceptions count for a lot and older cars with five-digit odometers don’t suffer to the same degree. That 94,000 miles showing on the dash of a 1960s' model could be genuine, or the car might be one oil change away from half a million.

Paper trails are important on collector cars.

In these instances, a sensible buyer ignores the reading and considers the car’s overall condition. If it looks and drives okay and there are no obvious mechanical issues, the instinct is to buy it and hope for the best. 

If, however, the row of numbers on a six-digit dash is headed by a 3 or 4, the reaction is often to disappear in the direction of something that has travelled less distance, even though it may cost a lot more.

Sometimes that’s a smart move, but distance travelled isn’t the only killer when it comes to older vehicles.

Cars that come with a bag of receipts for recent work can be better prospects than one that has travelled a third of the distance but with minimal maintenance.  

If you’re selling a car with a confronting odometer, the temptation is often to go for gold with the asking price and hold out until somebody seeking exactly the car you’re offering comes along.

Hit 99,000 miles and it's time to start again.

That strategy worked during the Covid influenced market of 2020-22, where cars located more than a few suburbs away might as well have been parked on the Moon.

This was the era when online auctions came to the fore; their salerooms devoid of human traffic but back offices hissing and clicking with offers being made and trumped.

Buyers with money earning literally nothing in zero-interest bank accounts battled to own low-kilometre ‘survivor’ cars and superheated the market with their determination. 

Condition often made no difference, with rusty, rotted and totally unusable cars sometimes selling for more than examples of the same model that had been restored or just preserved.

Buying into a slower but still active market remains sensible. Do some homework to assess recent price movements and choose something with significant potential. 

One recent sale that had ‘bargain’ scrawled across its broad windscreen was a HSV VN Group A, unearthed in early July by auction site Grays Online.

$217k for a VN Group A, wow!

Showing just 77,000 documented kilometres, the one-owner Group A attracted a top bid of $201,100 and a final price, including Buyers’ Premium, of almost $217,000.

They are still out there.

From Unique Cars #482, August 2023

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