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How to Buy a Vehicle

Reference Library Index
Last Reviewed: September 27, 2016
Mitula used vehicles

Buying a collectible classic vehicle calls for a significant amount of research and scrutiny. This is bound to be a big investment in time and money and you will want to negotiate intelligently. Start by using our other resources to learn all about finding, appraising, financing, insurance, escrow, transportation and restoration.

1922 Buick Touring Car

1922 Buick Touring Car *

Many people are apprehensive about buying a used car or truck, especially antique, vintage or classic cars or trucks as an investment. If it is a significant financial investment you may be concerned about how to avoid scams and/or nervous about how to negotiate the best deal. New and used car dealers in general have a bad reputation of taking advantage of the unsuspecting buyer and private parties can be guilty of that too. Finding a used car is the easy part. Buying a used car can be a daunting task. This page will serve as in introduction to the process and the Reference Library will give you the tools you need to get through every step of the process.

The first decision a used car or truck buyer needs to make is the specific make and model of vehicle(s) they are looking for so they can do some research about the history and known issues. Once you have a make and model in mind the Internet is your best bet for finding used cars for sale. Whether you are looking for a collector car or simply an old truck for trips to the dump you will find thousands of appropriate vehicles online. If you are considering a specific vehicle the easiest way to get information is by submitting the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) to research companies such as CarFax©. There is a fee involved but the report will tell you if the vehicle has been in a wreck or flood and information about it's past owners which will be handy to compare to the story you get from the seller. If you do not have the VIN number you can still learn a lot by searching the Internet for a specific make, model and year of vehicle. For example, if you are considering a 1936 Ford in your area and you have a zip code of 99999 you might search for "1936 Ford, 99999" (in quotes) to see what is nearby; or "1936 Ford restorations, 99999" to see who is available in your area to restore it; or "antique Ford financing" to see what companies specialize in financing it. The more you know about the vehicle before entering negotiations the better prepared you will be to get the best deal.

Shopping in local used car lots, reading classified ads and watching for "For Sale" signs in car windows can also be productive but there are some significant advantages to shopping online. The first one is the lack of pressure. Used car dealers work on commission so it's in their best interest to move as many cars as possible regardless of the condition the car is in and your needs. This leads to pushy and aggressive sales tactics and you could end up with something you do not really want. Second, you have a far greater selection to choose from. In most cases you can find the exact vehicle you are looking for online within minutes, even the one sitting at the local used car dealership. And finally, it is by far the easiest way to shop. You can relax with a cup of coffee and make it a daily routine to search for the keywords that produce the best results on the best websites, like!

Finding an antique, vintage or classic car or truck is relatively easy but buying one can be a complicated process. Most people start with a budget in mind so you have probably already given the financing, insurance, registration and other relate expenses some thought. However then you will have to figure out the actual value, inspect and diagnose potential problems, negotiate the deal, protect yourself from scams, find appropriate financing and insurance, and perhaps locate a reputable shipping company to get the vehicle home. Every one of those tasks represents a potential stumbling block and you will find handy reference guides for each subject in the Reference Library.

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Following are the basic steps for buying an antique, vintage or classic car or truck and we have also prepared a Vehicle Check List to help you through the inspection and road test procedures.

1. Decide what you are willing to pay

  • - Discuss it with professionals who are familiar with the make and model of vehicle.
  • - Study the market via the Internet's classified ads.
  • - Make a list of the criteria and approximate value for vehicles you may find in 'Excellent/Show', 'Good/Drivable' and 'Poor/Project' condition, based on your level of expertise and needs.
  • - Find some suitable vehicles, for sale or not, and discuss their value with the owners.
  • - Verify your assumptions by paying a qualified appraiser for advice.
  • - Consider the long term costs of insurance and replacement parts

2. Have a plan in mind for the inspection

  • - Put together a small tool kit with a flash light, tire gauge, pliers, screwdrivers, adjustable wrench, rags, etc.
  • - Hire a professional mechanic to evaluate the engine and drive train.
  • - Take along a copy of our Vehicle Inspection and Test Drive Checklist to assure that you do not overlook anything.
  • - Take a camera with you and take lots of pictures.

3. Make a list of your goals for the first visit

  • - Find out the asking price.
  • - Determine how firm the price is.
  • - Get a list of all previous owners.
  • - Copy down everything on the manufacturer's name plate, particularly the VIN (Vehicle Registration Number).
  • - Make a list of people and companies that are familiar with the vehicle according to the seller.
  • - Make a list of awards and notable events the seller mentions.
  • - Establish acceptable forms of payment.
  • - Inspect the vehicle inside and out and test drive it using our checklist to assure thoroughness.
  • - Take lots of pictures for future reference.
  • - Schedule times for your mechanic and/or appraiser to complete their inspections, if necessary.

Think about the purchase for at least 24 hours -
no matter how good the deal appears to be.

4. Go home and evaluate the information

  • - Talk to the list of contacts you developed.
  • - Verify the list of awards and notable events.
  • - Discuss concerns with professionals, members of local car clubs, or other experienced people.
  • - Purchase a vehicle history report to verify the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and assure that it was not in any accidents.
  • - Consider your checklist of physical and mechanical issues.
  • - Evaluate the reports from your mechanic and appraiser.
  • - Verify that the estimated value plus the estimated cost of repairs is within your budget.

5. If you decide to make an offer

  • - Determine the 'ideal' price (true value), a starting price and your maximum limit.
  • - Acquire all necessary forms from your state Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • - Notify your insurance agent of the pending purchase.
  • - Notify your transportation company.
  • - Verify that your lender is ready to participate and arrange for an acceptable form of payment.

6. Make the deal

  • - Set up an appointment for a time when there will be no rush or interruptions.
  • - Share the results of your research, inspections and appraisal with the seller.
  • - Offer your 'starting' price.
  • - Negotiate up to your limit.

7. Make plans for delivery

  • - Do not make full payment until all documents are signed and you are ready to take possession.
  • - Do not take the vehicle until your insurance company has been notified.
  • - If you plan to have the vehicle shipped, be there to watch the loading, take lots of pictures to eliminate issues later and verify that the company is bonded and insured.
  • - Hold your breath until the vehicle arrives.

Here is some more information about antique, vintage and classic vehicles. You will find services and resources in our Business Directory.

* Pictures are from ads on and may not be used without the vehicle owner's permission.