A "Newbies" Guide to Buying a Classic Car
So, you've decided to buy a classic car but your background and knowledge base would make you wary even if you were buying a running lawnmower at a garage sale for $30? Then read these suggestions for "Newbies" and you'll be pointed in the right direction to start.
Figure out what you want - There is no point looking at any car
until you've done your homework on that particular model. There are just too
many different types of cars out there with different issues and things to check
for. You need to have a clear idea of what car you want before doing anything
else. Be as specific as possible - i.e. deciding to get a 1968 Mustang fastback
is better than deciding to get any Mustang built before 1971. This will allow
you to target your research efforts better. You may end up deciding not to
pursue a particular car at all once you've learned about it!
Your Choice - This is the most important thing! Plant yourself in
front of the computer for a few hours. Find as many web sites about your
particular choice as possible. Almost every car made has at least one site
devoted to it. More popular cars have many with a wealth of information. Google
will be your friend here. Look for a buyer's guide and take notes! There are
many buyer's guides available in book form as well. Many also include price guides, but may be out of date. You can go
to the following three sites to get a rough idea of the market
Car Market Review (realistic but sometimes low pricing),
(optimistic and sometimes high pricing) and
Hemmings Motor News (real
world asking prices - but don't put too much weight in any one value, look for
trends). These are three of the 10 to 20 sources I use when doing appraisals. To
put it simply, after a few hours of this type of research you may end up knowing
more about the car in question than the seller!
a Magnet - So you've found a car you want to have a look at. The
seller claims it's an "all original body with no rust". Well, we'll see about
that! Bring a weak fridge magnet, the thinner the better. Test it all over the
car. it's very simple - magnet sticks=good, magnet doesn't stick=bad (or at
least cause for further investigation). I use this technique on every car I
appraise. Every time an owner says "You won't need that, she's all steel" I
usually find something. Even rust free southern cars have usually had a dent
repair or two. The magnet will find these and there'll be no surprises after you
buy the car. Remember, the magnet won't stick to aluminum or fiberglass so make
sure you know which body panels are steel and which aren't (refer to step 2!).
a Friend - Looking at a collector car for sale is a daunting
task. There is a lot to check and take note of, which is more difficult if you
are chit-chatting with the owner and loosing track of what you've looked at. I
usually spend 90 minutes looking at a car for an appraisal. That being said, I
usually take a closer look at the car than the owner ever has, even if they've
owned it for 20 years! Bringing a friend can take a lot of pressure off of you.
While you are dealing directly with the owner, your buddy can be looking at the
car uninterrupted. If you found out something in your research that needs to be
checked, give him that task. Chances are he'll find something worth asking about
that you would have missed by yourself. Buy him lunch, he may save you from
making a $15,000 mistake!
Record and Decode the Serial Number and Body Tag Codes - I can't
stress how important this is, yet I am amazed at how few people do it. These
numbers can unlock a lot of details about the car. So the two tone paint is
original? Not according to the paint code. The big-block V8 is original? Then
why does the serial number indicate it was a six cylinder car? It's not that the
seller may be purposely misrepresenting the car, it may be that the
misinformation about the car has been passed down from owner to owner and is now
spoken as gospel. You can do it yourself with some effort. You may have found
some decoding information during your research phase.
Hire a Professional - So you think you've found your car? Feeling confident? I still would recommend getting the car professionally inspected. Having a professional appraiser like myself come in and do a pre-purchase inspection of the car is money well spent. I will most likely look at the car much closer than you and perhaps find something you missed. I'll be able to assess how the car fits into the marketplace and determine if the asking price is fair or not. If I give you the go ahead I would still recommend one more step. Have a mechanic do a certification on the car. While my inspections are thorough, they don't get into details such as how much brake material is left or how much play is in the ball joints. A certification inspection will (you'll need it anyways!). While it's in the shop have a compression test done, too.
So there you go. If you've made it this far you are much better off than you were a few minutes ago. It seems like a lot but collector cars are getting more expensive all of the time. Think of how much work it was for you to come up with the money to buy the car and then don't be so easy to part with it! Some extra time and money spent up front can save you immeasurable grief and thousands of dollars later.
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