Buying Tips

My tips for buying are going to be aimed towards classic German cars but can be carried over to the italians, swedes and other manufacturers brands.

First let me tell you where I find my cars.

Long ago in a pre-internet world, my Dad and I would drive down country roads hoping to sneak a peak in some barn with grandpa’s 1962, 356b tucked away under an inch of Sparrow crap (the poop from barn dwelling birds preserves classic cars better than any wax you’ll ever use. You just won’t win show’s with it. I may start selling it on my website so stay tuned.)

Now-a-days I use the internet for 85% of the cars I come across or help friends find. Using the internet is a blast but you have to be careful. There are a few different things to watch for when using the net.

Avoiding Scams: See this link to for detailed scam info.

Finding your car: Know Where to search & Know what you want.
See my links for online resources for classic car sales.

Qualifying the car you found: Now that you’ve found a car. How do you find out if it’s really what you want? Even more important, if it is what the seller says it is! First off you have to know common maintenance for the car you’re buying. For example, a 1978-1983 Porsche 911SC should have upgraded chain tensioners and a pop-off valve in the air box. Often times the head studs should be upgraded as well when it’s time for a rebuild. Turbo valve covers seem to work well too. Each breed has its own quirks you’ll want to be aware of.

So, Here are some general questions:

How long have you owned the car?
Do you have recent pictures?
Is it titled in your name? (If not why and who? This could be a red flag)
How many owners prior to you?
Do you have tools, jack, spare tire, books and manuals? (Bentley Manual)
Do you have receipts for work done?
Has the car undergone restoration?
Are the miles original to the car/engine/trans?
Is the odometer accurate?
Does the car have any accident history?
Does the car have original Paint? (Paint Meters)
Does the car have the original interior?
Is there any rust that you are aware of (Note: Each car has rust prone areas, study yours)
Does the paint have any flaws?
Does the windshield have any flaws?
What type of condition is the chrome and britework?
Does the car’s electrical system all work properly, including radio, headlights, signals, etc? (Don’t for get the power antenna when applicable!)
Does the AC work?
Are there tears in the top? (For cabriolets/targas)
Engine- Any Leaks (Coolant, oil or fuel?), how does it run? Any starting issues when cold or hot?, Does it burn oil? Does it run lean or rich, etc. (Note: Each car has it’s own engine characteristics, study and know what to ask)
Clutch- Slip, Make Noise, chatter?
Transmission- Grinding, jumping out of gear, missing gears, etc.
Shift Linkage/selector- Are all the gears there, Slop in the shifting, popping out of gear, condition of the shift bushings (front and rear in many cars)
Steering- Linkage play, Shakes, shimmies, etc
Suspension- Stock? Lowered? Corner Balanced? Bushings good? Shocks Good? Strut mounts, cross braces, tie rods, etc?
Brakes- Stock or upgraded, lines, rotors, calipers, master cylinder, etc? Are they good? Pedal firm and stopping properly? (Note: The master cylinder on some early porsche’s usually start to leak. When this happens the brake fluid can do damage to the small pan area behind the gas pedal area where the master cylinder is located…)
Tires- Matching, Manufacturers suggested size? How much tread left? Any curbing/bubbles or bad spots?
Wheels- Original? Curb Rash? Bends, Cracks, Scuffs, Knicks, Any damage at all?
BOP- This is commonly known as the “Box of parts” that all great classic cars come with.

Inspection: Once you have qualified the car and the seller, if you are still uncertain in any area of the car it may be safest to have a Pre Purchase Inspection or PPI Done. PPI’s are good because the go into more detail on the mechanical side of the car. A leakdown test will let you know what type of condition the engine is in. They often take precise measurements on rotor/brake pad wear, test the clutch/shifting among other things.

Payment: Determine what the safest way to pay is. I prefer having a cashiers check made from my bank and transferring the payment and title in person with a trustworthy seller. This should be done at a bank. I have in the past wired a down payment to hold a car, then had the car inspected and had my mechanic inspecting the car qualify the seller for me at the same time. He let me know if they seemed honest. Once the car passed inspection I had a copy of the front/back of the title signed and faxed to me with a Priority mail confirmation. Once I received that information I released funds to their account and they immediately mailed the title overnight. The next day they had the money and I had the title. That takes a huge amount of trust and I would not suggest doing it if you don’t feel comfortable. I did however.

Another form of payment is Paypal. I’ve gone and checked out a car, it met my qualifications, I had my laptop with and transferred money via Paypal. The owner received the email confirmation that the payment was made and we signed the title and shook hands.

Shipping, Trailering or Driving: If I can, I will fly in and drive my car home. Shipping is alrite too. I’ve shipped cars across the country for anywhere from $700(long ago)-$1600 (nowdays). Dependable Auto Shippers seems fair. If it’s a high end car find an exotic car transporter or get yourself an enclosed trailer and be careful!

Transfer of Title: Many times it’s your responsibility to transfer title after the sale. It is best to do this right away. Make sure the mileage is accurate, the name, address, make model, everything lines up. Check the appropriate boxes. You would hate to have a 19k mile car and have the DMV mess up the title with a non-accurate odometer statement!

Paying Taxes: This is what hurts. But there’s hope. Some states offer great rates for collector cars. Check to see what type of limitations they set on collector car titles versus reguar title.


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