We are in a new age where if we want to buy a collector car, we might not be able to see it in person — or even have an inspection done. Whether it be on ClassicCars.com, an online auction site, or a brick and mortar auction phone-in bid, this idea of buying cars at a distance is becoming more and more the norm. If you doubt that people are doing this, check out some of the prices realized online or the speed that some cars disappear from classified sites such as ClassicCars.com these days.
While this distance buying with no inspection may be new for some people, a number of friends and I have been rolling the dice with classic car purchases like these for years. It is always an adventure and while in my case I have had pretty good luck, there are avoidable perils with buying a car sight unseen.
In order to assist all of you in this new buying environment due to our COVID-19 isolation, I want to share a few steps I take when buying a car at a distance.
Rule 1. Is the car real? This requires phone calls to the seller, a picture of a title, recent pictures of the car and asking for references from the seller. The references part is most important with a private seller. The way I get these is to find out where that seller is located and then usually query the car club for that specific car in the persons area. Often the people at the club know the seller and this will help to alleviate some worries It can also give you some valuable info on what kind of an owner that seller is.
Rule 2. Pictures: Get as many pictures as possible. I specifically ask for the seller to document any flaws that car may have and to send them to me. It is even better if you have a friend in that area who is able to photograph and examine the car for you. They do not have to be an expert on the specific car, though that helps, but just be a set of eyes that see the car in person and document everything.
Rule 3: Find an expert. Even if I feel you are an expert on a specific classic car, I still send the pictures and listing to a friend that knows more about that car than I do. I am doing that currently with a Porsche I am looking at. My friend Art Mason is an expert on the specific model, and I sent him the listing and the pictures taken for his review.
Rule 4. Ask the owner why they are selling the car. This can be very telling as to the condition of the car. Maybe the car has needs and they no longer want to spend the money necessary.
Rule 5. Ask the seller to tell you everything about the car and then shut up and let them talk. I am amazed at what sellers will disclose to me about a car they own. If you let them talk and then urge them along with follow up questions, they will often disclose every single flaw the car has. They may also give you information that is not in their ad, such as they bought it new and have every single service invoice.
Rule 6. Don’t be afraid to walk away. If the deal sounds off, then it likely is. Walking away from a bad car is a much better idea than buying it because you fell in love with it on the internet.
I hope that this short list helps reduce your fear of buying at a distance online. I can say that I bought my last 5 classic cars this way and have not a single regret about any of them.