Been There, Done That, Part II:
Admittedly, I’ve bought “at distance” a couple times, well actually 5 times - I live in Idaho and there simple aren’t many people or cars here.so you have to travel for them more often than not. That, and I always seem to need a specific car with specific options, that barely exists… But unlike many of the responses herein, few have talked about getting a PPI (pre-purchase inspection), and I ALWAYS bring the check/money, so I have an out if the car turns out to be a turd. Which happened, once.
On the positive side of buying sight unseen, the other 4 purchases went pretty well, with one of them being the deal of a lifetime that I will probably never, ever experience again in my lifetime - and frankly, I’m still amazed that I got that car! It, like Larry, was a Craigslist ad. I had been hunting for an Audi A6 “widebody” 4.2L from 1999-2004 (or so) after my brother brought one home to Xmas dinner and was selling for a client. I fell in love and wanted one, but couldn’t find a one with low(er) miles. Geezuz, people DRIVE these cars, a lot! I’d given up after a 6 month search, until one random Saturday a few years ago, I checked CL and found a 2001 with 60K for $4795 in Phoenix. Hmmm, that sounds like a steal, I said to myself. It was. Turns out it was wholesaled on a Subaru lot as a trade in The elderly female owner lived in Iowa and snowbirded to AZ in the summer, hence the low miles and great condition. I picked it up the following weekend, after the PPI guy said very soberly after I asked him if it was clean, “…you can eat off the undercarriage”. I picked it up and the salesman said he had got over 117 calls on the car, and while we were there signing papers, another call came in. It was a cream puff, sliver on perfect black leather and drived like a new car. Even had the sunshade package and heated steering wheel. The only issues where a small chip in the windshield (still there), some pixels out on the dash read out, and the rear view mirror was DOA. Big deal, right? I could have sold the car for $10K the next day. It’s my get to the Boise airport in a hurry car, and it looks as good as it did 2 years ago and still only has 75K on the clock. **
I’ve also bought very similarly to the above situation, but didn’t steal them from the owners, a 1986 Porsche 911 “Turbo Look” with 57Koriginal from an elderly retired man in California (check, check, check), a 1999 Dodge Ram 3500, also in California (less stress, by far!), and couple more BMW 5 series with 5 forward speeds in Houston and St. Louis. Gotta have that manual!
**The sour story: I hadn’t paid in advance but brought the $20k check with me, as I always do. Admittedly, I didn’t get a PPI for this car, not sure why I had that lapse in sanity…? I paid for it, though. I flew from St. Louis to Concord, NH to buy a “very clean” 1995 BMW 525i with 44k on the clock from a private dealer, who had a bunch of these. I got there, the sales guy says, “here it is”, and like one of the other replies to Larry’s story, I replied, “no its not!”. The metallic green paint was pitted and disgusting (for a 5 year old Beemer), the driver’s seat had a 2" cut in the seat back leather, the check engine light was on, among other issues. That was more than 20 years ago and $20K was a lot of money for me at the time, still is, actually. I couldn’t part with the cash on that car and the dealer wasn’t willing to negotiate on the other cars he had. I came to buy a car and drive it home. No return flight on the books. I was in shock, located clear across the country, standing in some auto lot in the middle of winter with snow everywhere, BMW-less. It was, by far, the longest drive to the airport with the dealer that I’ve ever experienced. **
It’s fun and exciting to go places and buy cars and drive them home. It makes sense. I often fly for business, and still sometimes think, like Larry, to “buy and drive home”. Heck, I thought about it just last week!
My rules and advice: Get the PPI (3rd party, your pick, not there’s, and from someone who knows the car well), hold on to the cash, or at least, put down and refundable deposit (usually $500) until you get there and examine your new steed. Or, if buying a newer car, buy a CPO (certified pre-owned), this REALLY takes the risk out of it! Doing this will take most of the anxiety out of the transaction and will most likely end with you driving your new car a happily home.