Mastering the Art of Reading Car For-Sale Ads

Gary Anderson, Pierre Hedary, Tyler Hoover & Richard Simonds
For the classic-car enthusiast, the websites that advertise collectible cars for sale – bringatrailer.com, mbca.org/classified-ads, and many others – have become the best online use of leisure time since the creation of Angry Birds and Candy Crush. We can play the mind game of “What would I buy?” without an investment of anything more than some spare time.

Mastering the Art of Reading Car For-Sale Ads

article  Gary Anderson

Contributors  Pierre Hedary,

Tyler Hoover, Richard Simonds

For the classic-car enthusiast, the websites that advertise collectible cars for sale – bringatrailer.com, mbca.org/classified-ads, and many others – have become the best online use of leisure time since the creation of Angry Birds and Candy Crush. We can play the mind game of “What would I buy?” without an investment of anything more than some spare time.

But what if you do have some unfilled weekend time, extra garage space and discretionary income that can be allocated to another hobby car and are seriously thinking of buying one in the next six months or a year? Can this risk-free activity be turned into a productive part of your search?

To answer that question, I asked for the advice of three contributors to The Star who are masters in the art of reading ads for cars being sold: Pierre Hedary, Tyler Hoover and Richard Simonds. What do they look for when they’re reading the ads to determine whether to immediately swipe left and go on to the next ad, to pause long enough to add another price/quality example to their comparables database, or to actually contact the owner for additional information?

Presentation

Hoover starts with “whether the ad was created by someone who can write a coherent sentence without phrases like ‘AMG package,’ ‘a/c just needs a charge’ or ‘surface rust.’” If someone is lazy and sloppy with preparing the car for a photo shoot or photographs the car in a crowded driveway or garage, that’s a clue to pass.

Simonds suggested you look at the quality of the pictures. Are they complete or are there areas that aren’t included. At a minimum, do they indicate the car has been well cared for, and are close-ups included, especially of areas that are susceptible to rust? Remember, mechanical problems can generally be fixed; rust can be infinite.

Provenance

What does the description and pictures indicate about the car’s ownership? Hedary looks for originality of finishes and components; substitutions suggest a car that’s had a hard life. Hoover and Simonds both like one- or two-owner cars, but Simonds cautions against older cars with limited mileage that suggest they’ve been left to sit unattended for long periods, a recipe for dried-out seals and hoses. Hedary “tends to be wary of vehicles sold by dealers” unless they’ve got a solid positive reputation; a person who trades in cars for a living knows the tricks of covering up flaws rather than fixing them.

Price

All three contributors advised buyers to consider how much the owner is asking, if there’s a fixed price. “With Mercedes-Benz owners especially, long-term owners can be delusional on pricing,” Hoover said, adding that sellers usually want to recover all of their initial purchase, repair and upkeep costs. Both Hoover and Hedary are cautious about online ads, no matter what, believing that many of these cars are only being sold online because they simply aren’t worth restoring. On the other hand, people who have a good automobile that they represent well – and price it sensibly – also use the online services such as BringaTrailer.com to reach the broadest market possible. Hoover said there’s little in between.

Simonds recommends that some quick online searching be done to see what the value guides from Edmunds, Hagerty or National Automobile Dealers Association suggest for a reasonable price range.

Condition

If the car survives these cursory criteria – and that only takes a few minutes of consideration – then our specialists get more serious and start looking at each individual picture with care. Do the engine compartment, suspension components and underside look as if they’ve been given regular care? They don’t have to be car-show clean, but they do have to show evidence of having been cleaned of dirt and road grime occasionally, if only to make it possible to tighten bolts, replace spark plugs, change the oil or adjust the valves.

Does the seller indicate any problems? A reference to thousands of dollars recently spent in repairs with no indication of why a person would do that and then sell the car is not a good sign; it’s an indication of underlying problems or a bad purchase. Hedary likes to see that the owner has tried to make the car reliable and usable rather than simply fixing the next thing that popped up.

 What next?

If you’ve gotten this far and are still interested, a call or email to the owner is finally a good idea. Before picking up the phone, Simonds recommends that you write down everything you want to know before placing the call or writing the email. Overall, what you’re trying to find out is how forthright owners are about why they’re selling the car, and what they think would still need to be done to make it safe and reliable to drive. If it is too far away for you to inspect it, can you have someone close by look at it or would the seller arrange for a pre-purchase inspection by a local dealer of your choice and at your expense. If the seller changes the subject or starts to tell you why you have to “act now” to make sure you get the car, then it isn’t the car for you.

If the car is being sold at auction, try to get your due diligence on cost and condition done early in the selling cycle. Then decide how much you’re willing to spend and place your bid toward the end of the selling period. But remember that if you’re buying the car without a first-hand inspection, you should hold back at least one-third of the money you’ve set aside for the purchase. Cars bought at a distance always carry more risk than those bought in person and your investment should reflect that.

Or, you could just continue to online window-shop while you wait for the right car to show up in your local club. It beats playing Candy Crush or Angry Birds.

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