Tips for Buying a Collector Car Online and Sight Unseen

Greg Zyla
Q: Greg, I want to buy a collector car in a bad way and I see many cars online that seem desirable and at fair prices. What's your advice on classic car buying online and also having the car shipped? Erik, Spokane, Washington.

A: Erik, buying a collector car online is easy, but you've got to follow some important steps. First and foremost, never buy a car outright without either you or someone else checking the car before you buy. There are many cars out there that look great in pictures, but when you receive the car in person from the delivery company, it may be filled with unseen problems. At that point, you own it.

I once checked out a "nice" Chevy Camaro for a friend, and it looked great sitting there in a well lit, roomy, garage. However, several things became apparent, especially the weight of the trunk when I raised it to check the trunk floor. I owned a 1968 Camaro, and knew how easily the trunk lifted and stayed upright. This trunk was heavy, couldn’t stay up and then crashed down with a force that could break an arm. Thus, I knew it was loaded with filler, regardless of good the paint was.

Another example is an enthusiast who bought a Plymouth Superbird online sight unseen. The photos were beautiful, but when the car got to his home he noticed a few areas that needed a touch up. His trip to his body shop for some minor repair turned into a horror story. Turns out the car had been rebuilt with lots of filler and even sturdy cardboard and the chassis was in bad shape too. It was a rust bucket, yet made to look like a $100,000 piece.

So, Caveat Emptor---let the buyer beware. In my life, I've bought one car from online viewing, my ‘59 Edsel Ranger. However, I had my brother, who lived only 12 miles from the car, check it, drive it and then report back is was a “go.” Thus, when the Edsel arrived at my home, it was just as he and the seller described it, flaws and all. In this case, we were dealing with very honest seller, and we knew up front the paint looked good if you stood 20 feet away. The Edsel also had some minor brake issues, a leaking valve cover gasket and a little surface rust here and there. But overall, it’s in fair to good condition for a car with 120,000 miles on it, while the interior is great. Still, if you judge solely from the attached photo, it looks pristine.

As for delivery, put your faith in a company called, as they will broker a deal with a hauler for you in easy, expert fashion. I had one bad experience in shipping my Edsel from the Carolinas to Pennsylvania as the hauler I choose from a list of 10 or so could not meet his commitment. Then it took a while to get my deposit back. However, uShip was there for me, and assisted in getting my deposit refund. My second hauler choice (Montway Auto Transport) was perfect and delivered on time. When you go to uShip and select a hauler, pick one with excellent feedback.

There you have it, Erik. In ending, please remember to A: have someone check out the car, and B: if you don’t know anyone where the car is located, call a reputable garage in the area and offer $50 or $75 to check the car out. I’m sure they'll be happy to help.

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