Internet shopping is so fun, so convenient, so hassle free… but is it the smartest way to buy a car? For most folks, buying a home is the most expensive purchase they will ever make. Purchasing a vehicle comes in at a close second. Clothes, gifts, food, pets, vacations, you name it; you can buy it on the internet. But should a big ticket item such as a car be bought on the internet?
Montway ships thousands of vehicles a month so we have a very unique perspective on the subject. Our truckers and transport agents witness many online vehicle purchases that take unexpected turns for the worst. Customers excitedly call us to arrange for transport of their newly purchased car. Come delivery day, they find that the car doesn’t exactly match the online description and picture from the internet ad. What commonly and unfortunately occurs in these situations is customers quickly misplace blame on the auto transporter instead of taking a closer look at who or where they purchased the vehicle from. This brings on a slew of problems for themselves and the innocent parties they involve, namely the auto transporter and in many cases, insurance companies.
There are a variety of options for online car shopping and each one has its potential for either the “deal of the century” or the biggest headache imaginable. There are dealerships, both state and private auctions, salvage yards, individual sellers, and more well known larger businesses such IAAI, Copart and eBay Motors. No matter the reputation of the seller or the size of the company, understand what you’re buying and the terms you are agreeing to as part of the purchase. If you can’t touch it, drive it, or see it up close, then you must find other ways to make sure you’re not buying a lemon.
Don’t take the ad at face value, research the person or entity you are purchasing from and call to ask A LOT of questions. Is the ad accurate to the present day condition of the vehicle, both physically and mechanically? Many get caught up in “the look” of a vehicle and forget that they may just want to drive it once in a while. What is the VIN number, and is it valid and clear of issue? You DO NOT want to end up with a vehicle being sought by the authorities. (Any hesitation on this question, hang up the phone.) Has the vehicle been in an accident? Tell them you would like to obtain a Carfax report which will give you a history of the vehicle’s reported incidents. If it is an individual seller, ask if they can take on the spot pictures (interior, exterior, under the hood and underneath if possible) and send them to you. Why is it being sold? You can get helpful insight to a vehicle’s condition based off the seller’s reason for selling.
Absolutely get a certified vehicle condition report. There are many reputable companies that perform auto inspection and appraisal services all over the country. Note that the inspection should include a minimum of exterior, interior, mechanical, and electrical conditions, along with an inventory of removable accessories such as car mats, spare tire, keys, etc. Auctions, dealerships and salvage yards often provide vehicle condition reports, however they may not be all inclusive or the reported condition is as of the “date of entry” (into their facility) or the “date of sale” (your paid invoice date). Your paid invoice date may sound current, but keep in mind you will need to arrange for transport, meaning there will be a span of time in which the vehicle will be sitting in a storage yard waiting for pickup. These storage yards are massive, high trafficked with cars being brought in and out, and often serve as vehicle graveyards…so accidents may and will happen. Another important aspect to consider with the auction houses and salvage establishments is storage fees. Question what the storage fees are and be prepared for that cost as it may take some time to arrange for transport depending on your location.
When your vehicle is being picked up by the car shipping company, keep in mind only the EXTERIOR condition is inspected and documented on the bill of lading. So anything and everything else is only as good as the effort YOU put into the vehicle PRIOR to making the purchase. Be responsible. Just as you would when buying from a local dealer, approach your online vehicle purchase with a buyer beware attitude to protect yourself and everyone involved.