HomeCar CultureBuying a collector car during a pandemic is easy, when you do...

Buying a collector car during a pandemic is easy, when you do your homework

Buying sight unseen is commonplace for many collectors. Our resident expert and concours judge, Andy Reid lends his experience


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.

Andy Reid conducting an auction tour
Andy Reid conducting an auction tour at RM Sotheby’s

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.

Andy Reid
Andy Reid
Andy Reid's first car, purchased at age 15, was a 1968 Fiat 124 coupe. His second, obtained by spending his college savings fund, was a 1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2. Since then, he has owned more than 150 cars—none of them normal or reasonable—as well as numerous classic motorcycles and scooters. A veteran of film, television, advertising and helping to launch a few Internet-based companies, Reid was a columnist for Classic Motorsports magazine for 12 years and has written for several other publications. He is considered an expert in European sports and luxury cars and is a respected concours judge. He lives in Canton, Connecticut.


  1. I’ve done this for years. I ask for pix of VIN #’s. I ask for videos. Then I’ll hit them with a “I want a picture with today’s Wall Street Journal on the hood or seat with motorcycles”.Time stamp it. If they have a maintenance history, I ask for scans. I keep notes during the discussion and then I might ask the same question a few days later.Check for consistency.
    I then send a minimal deposit and wait. A scammer will disappear then.
    If its too good to be true; it ain’t.

  2. It is better if you are purchasing from a dealer who actually has the car in his lot. Anything else and you may end up out of your money. Then look into that dealer and see if he gets a lot of bad complaints. Don’t expect to get a great car if it is the cheapest one he has. It may look good in the pictures but when you find out that there is no brakes, no horn, no speedometer, the floorboards are rusted all the way, and it doesn’t run. No matter what they say on the phone, it should be in put into words on paper.
    I have bought three cars on the net. One never did run and I lost $6000 when I sold it. One ran and drove but there was a significant lack of parts for cars especially if they are rare. I lost $5000 when I sold that one. I drove this one for a year or two. The one I have now cost me about $12000. The car itself cost $6500 and the shipping was $3800 and the import taxes was $2200. Then I had to start making all the repairs. I am shipping them to Panama. The dealer has many old cars and they will say anything to make a sale. Might better take a taxi and live better. However, it is my expensive hobby.

  3. found your comments very informative and useful thank you I been looking for vette coupe 64 thru 67 silver air/power windows/steering/manual

    i live in hawaii so cost of shipping will be considered in price

  4. Andy is giving great sound advice in this piece. The best advice I can give is always see the car in person. If you can not and are just “rolling the dice” make sure you can at worst afford to lose the entire purchase price without financial despair. Otherwise don’t buy the car :0)

  5. Just a word during this time when states are locked down: check all state and local laws in both your state and where the vehicle is located. Some states, including PA where I live have currently suspended all title transfers and also banned all vehicle sales, both public and private in their effort to make sure we maintain physical distance. Not only that but some states have gone as far as to effectively close interstate travel except for purposes of work. Buying a car out of state probably will not be an acceptable excuse. I don’t like it either but this is what happens when we let our state governors to have too much power

  6. I have bought a number of cars a few different ways – in person, on eBay and private sale sight unseen. A few lessons. In person has been local so mechanics can get involved and you can typically just drive it right home. Ebay taught me early barring a local car I will never drive it home and always transport. Threw a rod through the pan on one car on the way home even though everything else checked out and the test drives were good. Better safe then sorry. For sight unseen very good advice in article and comments. The one thing I have to add that is of utmost importance is getting a bill of sale before sending any money. This is your proof a transaction is occurring and if you run into issues its your safety net. You can get as detailed as you like and I do. On my current car the VIN was incorrect on the title with the sellers state. I put the information in the BOS including information supporting why it was wrong and what needed to be corrected (it goes without saying I had pics of the real VIN and build sheets.) When I brought it into the NYS DMV the clerk said that was the most documentation she had ever seen for that type of situation. Needless to say I received a correct title within 2 weeks for my trouble. Be careful out there.

  7. Another potential not mentioned is contacting a qualified appraiser/inspector to be your eyes and ears. I realize this may be limited by the location of the vehicle, but the expense might be well worth finding someone who can shoot the appropriate images, provide an honest description of the vehicle and answer your questions in real time before you commit to that purchase. Many inspectors can provide references and being a certified personal property appraiser is even better. Do your homework, as Andy suggests, and don’t fall head over heels until all of your questions have been answered.

  8. Thanks for this write up Andy! I have definitely seen a bump up in interest in the vehicles I have listed, as so many people are home surfing. I have sold quite a few in the last several weeks and most of them have traveled out of state without any issue. True, some states have temporarily suspended their registration process, but that hasn’t stopped people from buying.
    Some great points and tips.


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