Burn It: How to Purchase Your Dream Car

Dream cars rotator


From trucks, sedans, SUVs, and station wagons to hatchbacks, hot rods, and scratched-up street beaters, there’s something out there for everyone. And when we see one we covet, our hearts beat just a little bit faster as it passes by. It’s no surprise, then, that as much as we enjoy and appreciate autos, we also love to buy and sell them. In 2012 alone, vehicles accounted for $7.6 billion in sales on eBay with a car selling once every two minutes. People even flip them on their phones—more than 13,000 eBayers sell theirs that way every week, with some, like a Porsche Carrera GT or Porsche 911, going for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Pretty amazing. So how and where do you sign up? Let me take you for a spin down the road to auto Nirvana.

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Step 1: Educate Yourself

Car collections begin with memories—the desire to acquire that same kind of, say, stick-shift Volkswagon Beetle your dad taught you to drive (except this time, no hole in the floorboards). It fires up your ignition and gets things rolling

But before you start your search for the perfect Beetle, make sure you learn as much as you can about the car. How common is the make and model, and how many exist? Are repairs simple or complicated? Are there garages in your area that service this type of car? How popular is it in your region of the country compared with the U.S. as a whole? The more you can learn early on, the better off you’ll be in the long run. 

A great place to start your search is the Web. Unless the car you’re looking for is super obscure, a simple search on Google or eBay Motors will yield thousands of entries to peruse. There are also great websites out there like bringatrailer.com where buyers share stories about their cars and purchases (Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld included) that can be fun and invaluable reality checks. 

There are also countless collectors clubs, like the Classic Car Club of America, along with sites dedicated to specific makes and models where you can gain even more insider information on exactly what you’re looking for.

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Step 2: Find Your Ride

Once you’ve settled on the type of car you want, you’ve got to determine whether it’s in your price range. Published guides like Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book can give you some broad estimates on your auto’s value. A simple Web search for the type of vehicle and its year will also usually display what the selling range is for that make and model. 

Finding that exact car you’re looking for can sometimes feel like searching for a needle in a haystack, but stick with it. Randy Nonnenberg, co-founder of bringatrailer.com, compares the process of online auto shopping with online dating: Expect to have fun, but also go into it knowing it may take some work. (You also may find that the car you ultimately end up with may be nothing like the car you originally set out for.) 

Once you’ve located a car you’re excited about, that’s when the real fun begins. Chances are it’s not just going to be sitting in a garage on the other side of town. It may be across the state or on the other side of the country. In that case, you have to ask yourself: Is the car a good deal or is it too good to be true? “Buying a 1963 Corvette that’s 3,000 miles away [based on] three pictures on the Web is fun,” says Nonnenberg, “but it usually ends in tears if you’re not careful.”

To start the vetting process, always ask for service records. This will help in some cases, but if the car is 50 years old, records could be spotty at best. Other options range from traveling to see the car for yourself, which could be costly, depending on the car’s location; hiring an unknown local mechanic to give it a once-over; or hiring an independent car inspector, like InspectMyRide, to check out your dream car. (InspectMyRide is an incredible service, for the record. An inspector will drive out and check out the vehicle on your behalf, providing a 150-plus- point inspection report.) Between that and an AutoCheck report, you should easily be able to determine if the asking price for your dream is legit or an insta-pass. 

If you’re having a hard time finding a car that fits all your specifications, broaden your parameters. Say you’re looking for a four- wheel-drive Jeep in January—you will be one of thousands looking in, say, the chilly Northeast or the Rockies. Instead, look in warmer regions like Arizona or Florida. The price you’ll pay for having the car shipped could easily be made up by the lower sale price you’re paying for a car.

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Step 3: Maintain Your Dream 

Finding your perfect classic car is exciting, but the delight should continue with ownership. More than new autos, however, classic cars need to be looked after. Besides insurance and engine maintenance, make sure to keep your baby clean and shiny. Repair or replace any interior cabin parts as needed. Part of the fun of owning a classic car is searching for period accessories like door handles, in-dash radios, or aftermarket toys like tachometers, continental wheel kits, and more—all of which make a special car really shine.

Wash and wax the exterior at least once a month in the driving season (late spring through early fall). Avoid driving your vintage ride in bad weather or dangerous road conditions. Sure, driving always entails some risk, but you should never increase the risk by putting your vintage car in situations where it could be damaged or worse.

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Consider practical logistics as well. Make sure you have a safe, dry, secure place to store your car. A locked, heated garage is ideal. Treat your baby right, and when the right day comes, it will all be worth it. I know it’s hard to admit at this point, but there may come a day when it’s time to sell your dream car and move on to your next passion. Keeping your car in ready-to-sell condition makes that day easier. You may not be able to imagine it today, but it happens. Fair warning.

As for me, I’m currently passionate about the handed-down 1998 BMW 328i I got years ago from my now-mother-in-law. She taught me to drive its stick-shift in a single afternoon down in San Diego, and the next day I drove her all the way up to San Francisco. Lucy (that’s her name—the car, that is) has been with me ever since, for more than 100,000 miles. In fact, she just turned 339,000 miles old the other day. I love her, still drive her, and have gone to ridiculous levels to keep her running—and, yeah, probably spending more money on repairs than she’s worth. She’s become a part of my identity. And, as a result, I’ve become so loyal to BMW that I purchased a new one for my wife. And who knows, maybe this old vehicle will be the passion project of our future kids. Because, as much as I love Beemers, especially Lucy, I’ve currently got my eye on a beautiful old MG convertible.

Healey Cypher is a Men’s Fitness adviser and head of shopping innovation for eBay Inc.

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