Jim’s Blog: Should You Buy Online?

The web has been a popular place to buy classic cars since the ’90s. But should you?

That can be a hard call to make — especially if you’re new to old cars, or if this is your first online buy. The pessimist in me likes to point out that a lot can be hidden in photos, and if you’re buying a classic sight unseen, you’ve got to make a valuation decision off of what the seller wants you to see. The reality of the purchase, once delivered to your door, can be cold — especially if problems were well hidden, or even unknown by the seller. Old cars can hide a lot of secrets. Due diligence is key.

Then again, sites like Bring a Trailer tend to include a lot of detail on the cars they list, as well as high-res images of damages, engine compartments, chassis, and more. I tend to feel a lot more comfortable there than, say, on eBay, where there are fewer standards and rules. But buyers still need to beware regardless.

The most important thing isn’t where you buy a car, but rather how you buy it.

Regardless of where it’s listed for sale — land auction, online auction, or classified — if you can’t be there to see it yourself, you should be sure to get a set of trusted eyes on a car before you decide to part with your money to own it. Track down an expert who can check it out in person and give you an unvarnished opinion. If you don’t, you’re taking a chance — the car may turn out to be exactly as advertised — or it may not.

Even better, take a trip to where the car is located and see it for yourself. The money you’ll spend trying to sort out a bad buy can end up being a lot more than the cost of a quick trip. Spend the money.

Finally, when you’re looking at a car on-site, bring a friend who can help you take stock of what you’re seeing — someone who isn’t excited at the notion of a purchase the same way you are. It’s easy to miss important details when you’ve found something you really want. Their job is to point out damage, issues, and inconsistencies and to help keep you grounded and informed before you talk numbers.

If you’re smart about it, you’ll end up with the car you’ve always wanted for the right price — regardless of where, or how, it was listed for sale.

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  1. Jim, I have sold many cars on Ebay and always try to communicate everything with the buyers. I normally urge those buyers to call since some issues may only come up in conversation. Of course I always urge for folks to come out and see for themselves.
    As for me I have been real lucky, for buying sight unseen. I have brought a 2003 Lincoln Blackwood, 71 Super Cheyenne (short box) and my SRT-10 single cab. I was very lucky with the SRT-10 that really seemed to just being posted badly, which kept the bidding low. However, I did purchase my 61 Buick through Mecum in Portland a few years ago on-line. I had seen the car incomplete but posted on a few sites before seeing it in the catalog. I had just been approached by someone on the street that really wanted my blackwood so I took the money and really wanted a 61 Buick. That afternoon I did a search and found the car going across the block that week. It was fate. The buyers assistants were great and sent a ton of pictures and did a great walk around on the phone with me. Just enforcing that it was meant to be. So, be careful, but there are still many success stories out there.