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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Balancing risk and reward when buying a car | Hagerty Media

I've been tough on Bring a Trailer, the high-end version of eBay and Craigslist. As I wrote here, Bat's lead time can be maddeningly long, and its business model of writing dry, "curated" descriptions that are engineered to insulate the site from liability-paired with encouraging sellers to comment and engage readers in order to crowd-source the truth (whatever the truth is)-creates the illusion that BaT is offering vetted products when they're really not.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/the-hack-mechanic/balancing-risk-and-reward-when-buying-a-car/
20 REPLIES 20
audiobycarmine
Advanced Driver

What an absolutely wise and essential article. A "Monograph".
Your experience and advice is truly right-on-target.
You'll have saved many folks from buyer's regret.
Flashman
Instructor

You are Yoda, except you speak better.
thehackmechanic
Detailer

Have experience, do I. Know how to pound out many words, do I.
Jeff_C
Pit Crew

Great article. In my opinion, if the car has been sitting for years (or decades) then everything made of rubber or soft material on the engine and undercarriage will need replaced. If it's not running go with the assumption that it's a parts car and maybe, just maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised.
ppointer
Intermediate Driver

Your articles are the best.
thehackmechanic
Detailer

Aw, thanks!
Utopia1
Detailer

As you stated, separating your own emotion from the purchase can prove to be the hardest part. I know when I was looking for my car I had a few close calls and kind of had to shake my head and take a step back to regroup. One car was advertised with photos that looked good with the car parked in front of a nice house and appeared to be well represented and was described as "mint". It was a hard-to-find colour that I really wanted with my preferred wheels too. I drooled over the ad for a week before I was able to go and see it myself (a 2.5 hour drive each way). The reality when I went to see it was a dirt-lot used car dealer (or maybe mud-lot would be more accurate), a dead battery, a severely leaking trunk from previous, poorly-repaired crash damage, a shredded drivers seat and far from the "mint" the seller claimed. The pictures had been taken from very specific angles to avoid showing the many flaws it had. I was crushed as I thought this was going to be "the one" but it turned out to be far from it. I could have bought it and repaired the flaws but honestly, at that point I wasn't giving this guy a dime as I felt I had been misled already. I did eventually find what I was looking for though!
thehackmechanic
Detailer

As my wife says, "Just go look at it, and then you'll know. Plus, then you'll stop talking about it." :^)
cyclemikey
Intermediate Driver

The bottom-feeder's biggest fear is that he'll buy a car that's been hacked by someone else just like he would've done himself.
MarveH
Intermediate Driver

Good article and well worth the read. I didn't realize that people think cars on Bring a Trailer are vetted by the site, is that a common misconception? I always assumed that it was the same risk as buying any car you're not standing in front of. If I was bidding on a car I'd go see it if it was 12 hours or less drive from me. A 12 hour drive is my maximum turn and burn time, drive out, spend one night, drive home.
I have gone home with an empty trailer many times or arrived to look at an "excellent condition" car only to find it a hopeless pile of tasteless lawn art. If your doctor was as optimistic his pronouncement of excellent health should have you pre-planning funeral services.
I have a win-win philosophy on car buying; if I go home with a car I win, if I go home with my money I win.
thehackmechanic
Detailer

Exactly. If you do the buying thing right (or, really, ANY big decision), you think it through and calibrate the offer to the point where you're equally happy with either outcome. Of course, if you REALLY WANT the car, all that flies right out the goddamn window, and that can have its own excitement as well.
John
Intermediate Driver

Great article! I'm really cheap, so I will not spend much for a car. I am also some what lucky. My current fleet of cars for my wife and I has a total purchase price of $50. Not a typo, five zero dollars. Her '13 Nissan leaf and my '03 Silverado 1500 were gifted to us from a family close to us that lost a brother and had to get rid of some vehicles. My '95 firebird Formula convertible with 85,000 miles and in exxcellent daily driver condition was gifted to me about 8 years ago by my best friend when these cars Blue Booked for about $3500. My '01 Saturn sc2 was $50 from a neighbors daughter. It needed some work, but I am a retired ASE Master Tech and Auto Shop teacher so that did not bother me. Plus I have owned 6 Saturn S series cars that I got for nothing with dead motors. So I am very familiar with them. Also i really enjoy fixing stuff.
40Ford
Detailer

Your BaT Auction result:
Apr 20 at 11:12 AM
Reserve not met on 4/20/21 at $25,000
Lightning1
Detailer

Finally someone speaks the truth about barn finds and ran when parked. Was it beautiful, perfect and running great when they shoved it into a neglected old structure out on the south 40? Not likely. A time capsule? If you want a time capsule of rodent pee and vermin turds.
The truth may not be as romantic, but needs to be told. The unmolested L88 corvette or Shelby R code that you brain perceives may just be an abused disaster that crumbles when the tow truck gets there.
dbraun99
Pit Crew

Brilliant article. One of your best.
ed
Detailer

I totally get the 'different' part. I've been in the Mercedes eco-system for over 20 years in southern NH. Friends ask why I don't try a BMW or a Porsche or an Audi. It's because 1) I don't know a good one from a bad one, 2) after a few mistakes, I've learned when to separate emotion from rational thinking, 3) I don't know a trusted Euro-service center for anything but Mercedes, 4) I have a cabinet full of parts, fasteners, and oddball tools, 5) I have service docs for anything with a 3-pointed star on it, and 6) I like Mercedes.

thehackmechanic
Detailer

You are a smart man. I stepped outside my comfort zone with the Lotus, and it's been great, but long, drawn-out, and wicked expensive.
Swamibob
Instructor

Good article Rob! I've always thought "Ran when Parked" would be a great Band name. 🙂

I will get a copy of your book and read it. I enjoy your writing, nearly as much as my own, so I'm sure I'll love the book. 🙂 🙂 🙂

I've purchased several really questionable cars, including the '64 Chevelle more-door that i use as my daily driver in the Summertime. I got it in non-running condition from the original owner's granddaughter. All it too w was some minor carb work and then a quick shock to my concussion-strained brain to realize the huge vacuum leak was really a bad PCV valve! I've put nearly 40,000 miles on it since I bought it. The original 194 ci six cylinder is still going strong at 125000 miles.

I've also made some bad purchases that, as you pointed out, ended up with my heart overruling any sense I might have had ( a '64 Chevelle Convertible that "ran when parked" comes back in painful retrospect) went out the window when I NEED THAT, got loose. I'm sure we've all had those episodes. Fortunately i haven't made any really bad choices since then. Though I am on the hunt again for a '64 Tempest, this Spring. Wish me luck!
KenJen
Pit Crew

I really do enjoy all of your articles, they are written for guys like me. I try to buy what I kinda like and fix them up some (usually tires, wipers, extensive cleaning, small items that need replaced, things that don't cost a ton of cash!) then try to make a little profit and move on. My latest adventure has me re-thinking this purchase, 1976 VW Beetle, no motor, but the rest of the car "isn't too bad!" I am quickly finding that since VW motors are also used for dune buggies and sand rails, they tend to be almost as expensive as the car! I may have a "barn find" VW to invest in just for the motor? It's been sitting outside, no barn in sight, for 30 years and the owner claims "it was running when we parked it here!" OK, the body is really straight, it has all the glass and it has a complete 1600 dual port motor. Can't seem to agree on a price with the owner (sentimental for his wife!) Wish me luck....
janedon
Pit Crew

Barn finds (from barns/fields ect) that fit the folklore--Are exceedingly rare--but they do happen--But once they've been advertised--Your Not going to get that Dream find cheap--& Yes--you have to buy what you can afford -including Fixing it-- I think that's where so many go wrong--OH Boy--I got my dream car--BUT Now I don't have 30,000 to fix it up--- Esp if you don't have the shop/equipment & knowhow-- The fixing becomes the roadblock to you enjoying your dream car-