When you buy a collector car, you’re purchasing a piece of automotive history, but the process often involves links to your own past as well. That ’53 Corvette might be the neighbor’s car you envied when you were a kid, or that totally stock ’70 ‘Cuda may match one you saw coming off the car hauler at the local Dodge dealership more than 30 years ago. That car is finally within your financial reach but is no longer parked close by. How do you buy a car that’s out of reach?
This question is asked more these days, with people buying vintage vehicles via the Internet. But even before we had cyberspace, collectors were buying cars long distance through national hobby publications. As a result of the broadness of the hobby marketplace, there are many places that offer help when buying a car located in another state.
Let’s assume that you found the car you’re interested in through a reputable magazine or well-known website. This gives you some degree of protection to start with. The established hobby magazines “police” their advertisers with a complaint system. If a certain number of negative comments are received, advertising privileges are revoked. This helps to keep things on the straight and narrow. When buying on Internet auctions like eBay, you can look up a seller’s history of positive and negative comments. In both cases, you’re protected when dealing with regular sellers. But that one-time deal could still be a problem if you aren’t able to inspect the car in person.
That’s why it pays to get some local talent to look for you. This could be a friend, a member of your car club or a professional appraiser who lives near the car. If you ask a friend to inspect the car, make sure he or she has specialized knowledge. They may be willing to help, but if they don’t know much about the type of vehicle you’re buying, they won’t be able to spot the flaws. Using a club member might be a better option, if you belong to a club for that type of car. Check the club roster to see if a member lives near the car. Look for a member who owns the same kind of car – or even better, several of them.
Hiring a professional appraiser is another option. Make sure he/she has specialized knowledge of collector cars. If you need additional help choosing an appraiser, there are two options. First, contact the hobby magazines that appraisers advertise in to see if any complaints have been registered. Second, find a vendor or company that sells parts for the specific type of car and ask them if they can recommend an appraiser. They usually know top-notch restoration shop owners who can handle appraisals because they’ve worked on such cars.
When buying a car from another state, different laws apply. In Wisconsin, for instance, you’re allowed to operate a vehicle purchased in another state for 48 hours before registering it. Therefore you can purchase the vehicle, arrange insurance by phone and legally drive it home as long as you get temporary tags within two days. In other states, the vehicle must be registered immediately. Others offer temporary tags for moving the car between states. The NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) publishes guides on state vehicle laws. These guides can be used to research the rules that apply in your particular case.
Hobby publications are filled with advertisements from individuals and companies offering vehicle-transport services. To select a reputable transporter, check with the magazine’s advertising department. Do they have any recommendations? Do they have a history of complaints against any transporters? They may prefer to tell you which advertisers have never had a complaint, which will work for you too.
Rates for vehicle transportation can vary depending on the load, miles and other traffic going in the same direction. Some services haul cars on small single-vehicle trailers, some use enclosed car haulers, and others use large trailers pulled by semi trucks. Whichever way you go, make sure the hauler has a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) license and good insurance coverage. Accidents happen, so make sure the transporter is well insured. And read the fine print of any contract you sign to verify you don’t inadvertently release anyone from normal liabilities.
Make sure to check the car over carefully before taking delivery. If you weren’t there when the car was loaded, it may be hard to spot damage incurred during transport. Hopefully, your friend, club member or appraiser can document any nicks or scratches and to take dated photos.
After purchasing a collector car, insure it immediately under a collector car policy. Most companies can be contacted before you make the final purchase to initiate a policy upon concluding the sale. You’ll have to report the type of car, how you plan to use it and provide an “agreed value” for that type of vehicle. Later, you’ll probably be required to send pictures of the car.
With a reputable firm, you shouldn’t encounter any pitfalls when securing insurance coverage. You’ll most likely be asked to informally certify that the car is in “stock” condition and that you plan on driving it on an “occasional use” basis. (Some cars, such as modified ones, are insurable but some of the details differ.) Naturally, you won’t be insuring the vehicle for everyday use or for competitive events such as racing.
Some dealers will offer a verbal or written warranty on a collector car sale. This can come in handy. A friend of mine purchased a Falcon sedan from a nationally known collector car dealer. Soon after he bought it, the automatic transmission went out. The dealer told him to have it repaired near his home and send in the bill. It was promptly paid. In this case, there was no written warranty, but it was well worth buying from a professional who stood behind his deal.
John “Gunner” Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.