MILEPOSTS Garage - The Online Classic Car Magazine 1962 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster1962 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster up for auction. This rare car has only 2,300 actual one owner miles. Purchased new for Grandma, who was always afraid to drive. Totally original including the paint and top, always maintained and ready to go, just in case. Has rare "M" engine option, factory air conditioning, power windows and seats (both sides), leather upholstery, AM radio, and limited slip rear axle. Everything works, ready to drive anywhere. We've set the reserve at $15,000. Happy bidding!
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Vol. 2, No. 2
January 8, 2004

Classic Car Auctions: Buying a Car On eBay
by Automotive Mileposts Staff

Image: MILEPOSTS Garage

"I just found a car I want to buy on eBay...I'm so's the one I've always wanted... I've been looking for one like it for what do I do?"

OK, OK, OK...calm down! Calm down, the example above was just for visual excitement, it's not a real auction. But we understand how you feel. So, the perfect car for you is for sale on eBay right now! It's your dream car, the one you've always wanted. The one that will fulfill all of your classic car fantasies. The one that you just can't let get away. We understand that buying a car can be scary, even worse when it's a classic car, and especially when it's miles away. We'll try to help with your decision, and guide you along the way as you decide what to do, but let's do it by asking some questions which will help you determine what's correct for you.

1. How bad do you want this car?
Is it truly your dream car? Is it an exact carbon copy of the car you've yearned for all these years, have you pictured this exact car in your mind all along, or is it just close? If it's close, but not an exact match, ask yourself how you would feel about this car if the exact match were to show up a week after you took delivery. If you would still be happy with your purchase, then you should probably start the due diligence process to make a purchase.

However, if you'd be unhappy because you didn't wait, chances are you might need to reconsider purchasing this car. The right one always seems to show up when you least expect it. About the time you consign yourself to stop looking and settle for second best, the right one shows up! We don't know why it seems to work out that way, but it quite often does.

If you are in a financial position to purchase the exact match if/when it does show up, in addition to this car, it takes a bit of the pressure off. It's hard to say "no" to one that's so close, in the hope that the perfect one will show up.

2. How much do you know about online auctions?
If you're an experienced eBayer, you are miles ahead of a lot of people. If you've never bid online before, stop reading this and read a couple of informative articles we've written that explain the terms and phrases used for online auctions, as well as alert you to some of the scams to be aware of. Then resume your reading here. Here are links to the articles:

Auction Terms, Phrases, and Definitions

How to Avoid Crooks When Bidding Online

Now that we all have at least a fuzzy understanding of how online auctions work, some of you may feel even more reluctant to jump into the online auction arena. And with good reason. Basically, the auction system is flawed. That flaw is that people have to get involved to make it work, and wherever people and money meet, there are going to be problems.

3. How many were built, and how many are likely to still exist?
If the car is extremely rare, you might not have much of a choice. You either buy this one, regardless of what condition it's in and restore it, or you accept the very real possibility that you may not get another chance at one. This would be the case with a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham (link goes to live eBay auctions) or a 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, as both years combined produced only 200 cars. They are difficult to find today in any condition, although there have been a few for sale on eBay in the last year or two. The object in this case would be to get it for the absolute best price possible, and make the best of what you wind up with. Sometimes, these cars turn out to be not so bad in the end, but plan on starting out with the worst possible car you can imagine to avoid disappointment.

1959 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham
1959 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham (99 built)

1960 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham1959 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham (101 built)
If there are quite a few still around, your outlook is much brighter. And if you are somewhat flexible, that helps a lot as well. If you really want a 1962 Thunderbird Sports Roadster in Rangoon Red, with a white top and black interior, but would take one with a red interior as well, or a black top, or one with black paint, you're more likely to find a good match. In this case, you can afford to wait for a better one to come along.

4. What do you know about the car?
You're pretty much at the mercy of the seller here. Unless you live in the area where the car is, you're going to have to take what the seller says at face value. You can check to see if you know anyone close enough that could go look at the car for you. Perhaps a neighbor or a co-worker knows someone trustworthy in the area. This is a great idea if it works out, but the person making the inspection should also know something about old cars. Lots of restored cars look awesome to the untrained eye, but another knowledgeable collector or restorer, who knows what to look for, can spot a fake or a poorly done job in a second.

5. Check the seller's Member Profile - ALL OF IT!
Unless they're a Power Seller with thousands of feedbacks listed, check as many of them as you can. If you aren't a member of eBay, you'll need to join to do this. Go to our eBay Registration page for information on registering. Once you've joined eBay, you can send messages to other members inquiring about auctions you weren't involved in. Just click on their User I.D. You will likely need to re-enter your User I.D. and password in order to send them a message, but don't worry it's just to make sure you're part of the eBay network before access is provided. Keep in mind, when you send a message, you are providing that person with your registered eBay E-mail address. If everything comes back stellar, and the feedback is from lots of different people, you are probably dealing with an honest person. If you don't get many replies, or if the stories don't match up, or if a lot of the same people have bought cars from this seller, something may be up. Put on your "Scam Detection Hat" and go into search mode (step 6 below)!

6. Investigate! Investigate more! Investigate what?
The seller, of course! You might feel like a spy, and in a way you are, but it's for your own good. Contact the seller through the link on the auction, and ask questions. Ask lots of them. Get the seller's phone number, if you can and talk to them on the phone. You'll probably get either their name through the E-mail, or you can ask them for it on the phone. Then Google them. Here's a link to Mileposts Search, which is powered by Google. See if anything pops up about them. You never know, an obscure car auction from three years ago might have been a problem, and the buyer might have complained on a mailing list or forum somewhere.

If you belong to a car club, ask members if anyone lives near the car, or if they know someone that could go look at it. Again, a person not up on classic cars might not be of much assistance here.

You could hire a mechanic or car inspection service to check it out on your behalf. Again, look for resources using Mileposts Search.

7. How serious are you...really?
If you are dead serious that you want to buy this car, go take a look at it yourself! Catch a plane and go see it. No one will have as keen an eye as you will. If finances prevent you from doing this, ask yourself if you're really in a position to buy a classic car. It's no fun to have one sitting in the garage all the time and never drive it because it isn't road worthy. It's also no fun to have it torn apart with no money to start the restoration, either. Trust us, we know!

If it truly is your perfect car, sometimes it's best to not analyze it too much and just do it. If you're prepared to let it sit for a few years before you get started, and you are confident you won't lose interest a few years down the road, go for it. But before you do, go take a look at the classic car auctions on eBay for unfinished projects. There are normally several of them at any given time, just search through the various models. All of these cars represent an unfinished project that will never get finished, but was once likely someone's dream car. Ask yourself if you're the type of person to take on too much at one time, or if you really stick with something until it's done. If you can make the commitment, and are certain the car is what you really want, go for it!

8. Can you be objective?
Once you've decided to go through with it, before you place a bid or use "Buy It Now" step back and take a deep breath. Read everything the seller says again. Re-read any E-mail messages you received from the seller and from buyers who bought from the seller in previous auctions. Look at all the pictures again. Check your notes. Scrutinize everything. Is it really what you want? Does everything make sense? Is anything being left out? Sometimes, it's what isn't said that is important!

Within the last year or so, there was a black Cadillac up for auction on eBay. It was an older model, but was in pristine condition. The seller had quite a bit of feedback, all good, and there were lots of pictures of the car online. It seemed like it was really well equipped: leather upholstery, tilt and telescope steering wheel, AM/FM radio, power locks, automatic headlight dimmer, cruise control, etc. What was missing? Air conditioning! And the car was located in Florida!

The seller hadn't misrepresented the car in any way, as he was listing the features. What was not present was the reference to whether or not the car was equipped with air conditioning. Now, we believe that the seller should have been up front about this obvious drawback, but he wasn't. The car did sell, but a few weeks later, the car was re-listed again, with the notation that it didn't have air conditioning! Apparently the buyer refused to pay for it because it lacked this feature. No one is really to blame in this situation, as it was an honest mistake. The buyer should have been more objective and asked, perhaps it was a lesson learned. Apparently the seller did learn his lesson.

9. It is a used car, isn't it?
You will likely never find a perfect car, even beautifully restored ones will have their faults. Keep in mind it's been around for a while, and has seen some service during that time. If it's truly your perfect car, you must be prepared to make allowances for unforeseen things that crop up down the road. In the long run, if it's honestly your dream car, you'll be glad you bought it. Now the searching can end, and you can enjoy it every day, even if it's not running or spread out all over the garage, it's still yours, and in your mind's eye, it will someday once again be what it once was.

Do your research. Ask questions. Consider the possibilities. Be happy with your dream car. Life is never quite the same once it comes along.

You must be registered with eBay to place bids. Visit our eBay Registration page for details, and to register at eBay. We also recommend you read the informative articles regarding online auctions listed in question #2, How much do you know about online auctions? above.

Copyright © 2004, Automotive Mileposts, Inc.
If you have advice, tips, technical ability, or just know a secret or two about old cars, and you'd like to contribute, click here and tell us about it. We'll help you write it, and give you the credit for it! It's the perfect way to help out your fellow enthusiasts in the old car hobby.
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