Friday, November 4, 2016

How to buy a classic car and live with the consequences: Part 2 - Buying the car and living with it.

Last time we left off with some homework...

You had some hard questions to answer.  To answer them, you needed to get realistic about your expectations.  Owning a classic car is much like taking on another family member.  It's not some knickknack you admire on your shelf.  There's care and feeding involved.

So after your own personal reality check if the answer to: "Do I really want to do this?" is an unequivocal and emphatic "Yes!" then read on.  I've got more to tell you...

Research, research, research.

In the last article I went over how important it was to research any car you're planning on buying using all the online and offline sources available to you.  Those same resources are going to come into play in your purchase and ownership of the car.

You'll find a dizzying array of resources to get that sweet ride.  Ebay Motors, Auto Trader classics, auctions, private sales and even specialty dealerships to name a few.

The thing to remember is that you don't always get what you pay for especially if you don't know exactly what you're buying.

This is where research pays off.

Classics are valued by their popularity in the market plain and simple.  Factors like rarity, options and provenance all play a part but emotion has a lot to do with it.  This is why it's never a good idea to buy a classic car for investment purposes.

Yeah, Shelby Cobra's went up in value after Carroll Shelby's passing but Shelby Chargers from the 80's will never reach such lofty heights.

That's an important point.   Just because something SEEMS collectible doesn't mean it is.  There have been countless "special" options and packages available over the years but most of them aren't that "special."

A "Boss" Mustang is special.  A "Pony edition" is not.

Even the most rabid of car enthusiast isn't going to get excited over a pinstripe.  Unless, of course, that pinstripe is proof of something far more interesting like a more powerful engine.

Knowledge is power so time to go on the hunt but where to look?


The most obvious places are classic car auctions.  You may get a deal but after the auction house has taken their percentage you may have immediate buyer's remorse.

Auctions like Barrett-Jackson run for multiple days with the first day usually offering the least expensive cars.  These will be examples that need a little work, aren't popular or may not have their documentation.  Title issues have to be disclosed but it's up to you to investigate the veracity of the owner's claims about the actual car for yourself.

Some auctions will provide a VIN number or a CarFax if the vehicle is new enough ( 1981 on) and may even have services on site to help you evaluate the car.

Barrett-Jackson doesn't call itself an auction anymore, they call themselves "events."  Which is to say that attending one is more like a trip to the circus than a car lot.  There's the auction of course but it's just the big top in the circus.  Auto related services, parts, nostalgia and accessory vendors are all over the place.  It literally looks like an automotive products convention.  In short, lots of neat stuff to look at but you're going to pay for all that "lifestyle" kitsch one way or another.  It's usually in the bidder fees and of course the 20% buyer's commission.

Many of the more popular auctions have copied the format to some degree to draw more of an audience but none approach the carnival atmosphere that is Barrett-Jackson.

Silver, Russo  and Steele and Mecum are some of the more popular and less "circus" auctions.

I won't go into the whole bidding process.  It's an auction meaning the seller and the auctioneer are trying to get the most money for themselves.  The best advice I'd give is to know the real value of the car you're interested in and set a hard limit.  Especially with Day 1 auction cars, you need to be cautious as you don't want to end up buying a LeMans priced like a GTO.

Private Sales

This is where the Auto Trader Classics and Hemmings come in....

Same rules apply here.  Do your research, bring along someone knowledgeable that knows the model you're looking at and don't take the seller's word for anything that isn't obvious.  The nice thing about private sales is that you can get much more up close and personal with the car without fighting a crowd or the distractions of an auction like Barrett-Jackson.  My best advice here is #1 Research, #2 Skepticism.

That said,, be reasonable.  Protect your interests but don't be an ass.  This is a negotiation not a death match.  Put yourself in the owner's shoes and figure out how you'd want to be treated.  If you know a car is worth 25K don't make an offer of $500  you're just wasting everyone's time.  It's insulting and actually makes it less likely to get a good deal.   Once you've made that deal, however, make sure everything is on the up and up.  The seller is not going to take a personal check so either have cash or take a ride down to your bank and draw a cashier's check.

You can also set up private sales through online services like Ebay that will hold the money in escrow.  No matter what, the seller is rightly going to want to know he's getting paid.  As for you, you need to be sure the ownership documents are in order.  It used to be a paper title was enough but these days most states have moved to Electronic titles.  That makes it easier for dealers to transfer ownership and for any liens against the car to be recorded.  You may have a clear paper title but if someone filed a lien electronically against it you won't know till you try to transfer ownership and have to pay off that lien and ruin your day.

There's usually an online mechanism offered by a state's DMV to check the status of a car's title.  All you need to provide is a VIN and a small fee to find out.  You should be able to get this information ahead of time from the seller and know what's up before you go meet him/her.  You could do it on a smartphone when you're there but unless a deal has just dropped out of the sky on your lunch break, I wouldn't recommend this.  You should have as much information on the car as possible before going to see it.  Research, research, research!

Ebay and online ( Not local ).

We've touched on this angle in the last section when we talked about escrow.  Consider these services nothing more than classified ads ( like Auto Trader )  with escrow.  They're just a middleman and most of the same rules apply as the straight private sale.  The thing to watch out for is the fee these services charge. Sellers are more disadvantaged than the buyer in this transaction but there other factors like taxes and escrow fees that have to be accounted for.

Specialty dealerships like this particular angle when they have a vehicle that may be harder for them to sell or want to draw in buyers from a wider area.  They've also got a better chance of getting an inflated price for a lemon since many buyers base their purchase on emotion without doing any research.  All it takes is some good photos.  The perfect sucker bet.  See the next section for why I'm not a fan.  It is an option but in my opinion a bad one most of the time.

Getting it home

Regardless, a lot of these cars won't be local meaning you have to factor in travel, transport and if you're smart inspection costs.  That could make a great deal more expensive than you bargained for.  I can tell you that transport costs alone can be in the thousands.

When I had my 1995 Formula transported from Colorado to Arizona in 2013 using Reliable Carriers (a specialty auto transporter) it cost $1100.  With a distance of 800 miles that's about $1.37 a mile.  Oh and it took 3 weeks to get the car to me...

By the way, I wouldn't try driving a classic car home if it has to go more than 100 miles from where you bought it.  It's an old car, things happen and that tow truck isn't going to be much cheaper than the transport if the worst happens.  That and specialty transporters use enclosed trailers keeping your new baby safe from the elements and thieves.

I have to stop for a moment and say this.  While the idea of driving a classic car home seems attractive know that it's not the brightest option.

Classic cars tend to be less fuel efficient, more temperamental and less reliable than your daily driver.  Why would you want to do that to yourself?  You don't know the car and you don't know its quirks.  Finding out for the first time in the middle of nowhere isn't fun.  I know from experience. Save the road trip for the big cruise when other people are around that can help out if need be.

Specialty Dealers

Unless there's no other option I'd stay away from these guys.  They usually don't stick around for more than a couple of years and won't deal.  They'll stick to the highest market price for the vehicle and all cars are sold As/Is.  This is where you're most likely to find the LeMans prettied up as a fake GTO.  I'm not going to say much about these guys.  Plain and Simple it's a used car lot with a better profit margin.  I've seen more overpriced, bondo Betty's at these places than anywhere else and once someone's on to them they're gone like the wind.

It's all yours.... 

OK, so you did all the research, you're on a first name basis with the car club president and can decode VIN codes and cowl tags better than the guys that built it.

It's yours.

Now what?

Well, hopefully you're basking in the glow but wait.  I hope you called up your insurance company.

Chances are, however, that it won't end up being the same one that's covering the Kia in the driveway.   A lot of insurance companies have divisions that offer coverage for collector vehicles but you're actually better off looking elsewhere.  I've talked to a lot of classic car owners who were actually paying 10x as much to insure their vehicle while getting a fraction of the coverage.

Companies like Hagerty and Grundy are far better options offering features tailored to classic vehicles like agreed value coverage, parts location and premium roadside assistance.   Another nice bonus to using these specialty providers is that the premiums are much lower.  The trade off is that you're going to be far more limited on your use of the car.

So don't expect to be driving it to work every day.  Part of the reason the coverage is so much cheaper is that you're not exposing the car to as much risk as your daily driver.  Most policies require you own another car for daily use.  Yes, there are policies out there that will limit mileage but for the most part specialty insurance companies know their owners are a fussy and protective bunch.

Besides, this is a "classic" car.

Do you really want to sit there on some frigid morning for 15 minutes on ice cold vinyl waiting for the engine to warm up?  Does is sound like fun to jump into morning rush hour in a car with a longer braking distance than the average school bus?

That's another "reality check."  Even with safety upgrades be aware that you're not buying a new car no matter how well preserved or restored.  What you are buying is an old car with old technology that will ALWAYS respond accordingly.

Talk to anyone who actually drove that 69 Roadrunner to work everyday and they'll tell you stories about constantly pulling over to dry off the distributor every time they hit a puddle.

That may be charming for the cruise night but it's intolerable in a world of gridlock and Hybrid cars.

There is no argument.  Classic cars are cool to drive but they're absolute garbage as daily drivers unless all your driving happens on a racetrack.


Nope, reality check and I know.  I've owned A LOT of classic cars and met A LOT of tow truck drivers.

Long Term Relationship

So baby's in the garage,  All your weekends are taken up with car shows and meetups and your significant other has already banned the words: Horsepower and New Old Stock from the house.

A classic car is a family member.  Care and feeding includes things like regularly taking it out for a spin and maintenance.  I've known "car guys" who buy a car and never drive it thinking they'll ruin it's value if another tenth of a mile rolls over on the odometer.

Trouble is, cars are meant to be driven not just looked at.  Unless you own a museum piece, part of keeping it maintained is actually one of the best parts of owning a classic.  That being actually driving it.  Tires get flat spots, batteries go bad (even on chargers) grease dries out and seals start to leak if a car is left to sit.

You didn't buy it to be the next guy's "barn find" did you?

That's another tip.  Yes, you can buy those ultra-rare low mileage cars but they're not much fun.  They are literally the automotive equivalent of a time capsule and even driving it around the block can decrease their value.

Leave them to the museums.

I like nice "driver quality" car.  One that I may fuss over but don't' fear taking on a leisurely weekend road trip.  Among classic and collector circles this is becoming the most popular group since owners can actually enjoy the car as it was intended.

Jay Leno is a great example of this type of owner.  There are few cars in his collection that haven't been driven both before and after restoration.  In fact it's probably a large factor in the rise of the "driver quality" classic.

Look, cars are meant to move, statues are meant to be looked at.

Besides, it's kind of cool to actually know how to start a carbureted engine properly.  It's almost like knowing a secret handshake.  Hey, fuel injection is great but there's something about knowing just how much to crack the throttle to get a warm engine to start without flooding it.

So if you've taken the plunge congratulations!  It's a special experience to be the caretaker of a classic and one no Prius could ever match.  There'll be highs and lows in the course of your stewardship and surprises along the way to keep things interesting.

Thanks for allowing me to share the experience with you.  Take a look at some of the articles on the sidebar too.  They're all bout the gearhead lifestyle and can give you valuable information about owing and loving a classic car.

Drive on!

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