I hear from listeners of the Car Pro radio show all the time looking for specific vehicles, but are concerned about buying out of their and rightly so. You should be concerned about buying a car a long way from home without seeing it. I've addressed this issue before and have even done it myself several times.
One Car Pro Show caller was interested in a very specific pre-owned car. He wanted a seven to eight-year-old Porsche 911 convertible with a manual transmission. Although the gentleman was from Chicago, and there is a chance he could find the right car in his area, there is a better chance he could find a car like this in another part of the country. Used convertibles are often found in sunny climates like Florida or California.
So the question is, how difficult is it to buy a car way out of your area, and what needs to be done to ensure you make the right decision? Frankly, it's not that hard and often can pay benefits in fitting the right vehicle for you. I recently assisted another listener procure a cargo van in New Mexico that was perfect for him.
Do an Online Search
It starts with an online search. I prefer AutoTrader.com, they have a terrific search engine that will let you narrow down the criteria, such as engine, transmission, maximum mileage, price range, and drivetrain. You can also choose how far you are willing to look from your home, or simply choose any distance. When you hit the search button, hopefully, you will have choices and you can start to narrow your search to just a few vehicles. As I write this, there are 4.3 million used vehicles listed on AutoTrader.
Start Conversation with Seller
Whether you select one or more vehicles for your final selection, start a conversation with the seller. Explain that you are looking long distance and that you do not want any surprises. If the listing doesn't have plenty of pictures, request more. Use good judgment and get your choice narrowed down to one vehicle, and begin the process of making sure you found the right vehicle for you.
Invest in a Vehicle History Report and Inspection
It is now time to invest in a vehicle history report to make sure the vehicle is clean. My personal favorite is AutoCheck. This may be the best $29 you can spend.
If your dream car passes the history report step, proceed to get the price you and the seller agree on, subject to a third party inspection. At this point, see if the seller will take a refundable deposit to hold the car, pending the inspection.
Remember that at any time during this process, a buyer can walk on the lot and purchase the car you are considering. There is also no way to know how many other people have seen "your car" online. If the car you find is really low mileage, you can opt to skip the inspection process.
If you decide to do an inspection, Google "used car inspections" plus the city the car is located in. Call and talk to them about their process, and choose a company that will go to the car for the inspection, there are lots of them out there.
If the physical inspection is good, it is time to buy. Get the figures in writing, with a signature of an authorized person either faxed or emailed to you, sign it and return.
Figure Out Travel Logistics
Just a few other items that are important: figure out if you want to fly to get the car and drive it back OR have it shipped. Much of this will depend on how far away the car is from you, but generally you can ship a car across country for under $1000. Remember too that tax and registration is handled in your home county, so call them and get that cost and the process once you have the car safely in your garage. Don't forget to get insurance in place before the car leaves the seller.
Getting the Bill of Sale
If you are buying from a dealer, they can arrange financing if you need it, or you can send certified funds overnight mail, or a bank can wire transfer the funds, the title should be returned ASAP via overnight mail with a bill of sale.
Buying a used car a long distance from you can be done safely, but be sure to follow all the steps I have outlined. Trust your gut, if at any time during the process something doesn't seem right, STOP until you can verify and eliminate your concerns.
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