Transportation strategies for getting your eBay purchased classic car home
The wrong coast
It seems that whenever I find a nice car that I like on eBay, it is always on the wrong coast. Well if you move ahead with the purchase you will soon have to figure out a way to get the car home. Transportation costs are really an important part of your vehicle purchase. As of this article writing it can cost $1100 to $2000 to ship a car coast to coast. If you add into that cost the expense of air travel to see the car, rental car expenses, motel room and other miscellaneous expenses, a car that is a price that is good deal can balloon to where the costs outweigh the benefits. It might be better to try to locate a similar car closer to home, even if it is more expensive. I’ll try to cover a few things you need to know about transporting your car home.
Before the sale checklist
1. Contact your insurance agent or a specialty firm like Grundy or Haggerty to be sure they can cover the car. If the car is a kit car or unusual in other ways you might hit a snag here. Be sure you can get insurance. Tell them to hold the quote in your file so you can call them instantly to get coverage the minute the car is under your ownership.
2. Be sure the seller is going to have the proper paperwork for the car. Most states want to have the title of the car and a bill of sale.
3. If appropriate, be sure the car has had a smog inspection or is exempt due to age. Many states are moving away from allowing cars slide if the repair cost is over a certain amount. You may have to pay for some very expensive repairs. Even if the inspection is in another state it will at least give you an indication the car is in some state of tune and not pouring raw fuel out the exhaust pipe.
Trustworthiness of the seller after the sale
Let’s look at a scenario on what to do at the sale. When you hand the seller payment and he hands you the keys, paperwork and spare parts, things are pretty much all over. Worst case, he may not answer your phone calls, e-mails, etc. Any paperwork on the car that he has that you don’t take with you right then will probably go out in next week’s trash. Be sure you bring a list of every conceivable thing you need to know. You should not count on the promise of “I’ll mail the title to you later”, etc. Having a bad feedback on a sale because you refused to complete the transaction is better than discovering you have a car that you do not have clear title to and can’t get registered.
Obviously if the seller is a dealer or someone that has a known location or good reputation, you may feel good enough about them to make arrangements for transportation after you have inspected the car and left their location. I purchased a car this way and the seller seemed like a great person and followed through on storing the car until the car was picked up by the transport company.
Another time I dealt with a very difficult seller in Florida. The seller had been tough to deal with from the early stages of the transaction. Once I reached the location and met the seller and looked at the car, I realized that if I did the deal I would need to remove the car from the property immediately. There was just no way that I could depend on this seller after I left. You can call it intuition or whatever you like but I did not feel like I could depend on them to follow through on things if I was several 1000 miles away.
Fortunately, I had anticipated this and done my homework beforehand. I had already contacted a friend in Florida about 250 miles from the car’s location. He graciously said he would be glad to let me keep the car there for a few weeks. I already had received quotes from several towing companies so I knew it would be about $300 to get it to that location. They also had told me the schedule of their drivers and their peak towing times so I could anticipate how long it would take for them to show up after my phone call. I had already contacted a transport company and knew it would be three weeks before they could get the car. So when I completed the deal with the seller I picked up my cell phone and called the towing company. The second call was to the insurance company. In a few minutes they had called up the quote they had prepared previously and I was covered. Within about 45 minutes the car was being pulled up onto a flatbed tow truck and was on its way to my friend’s house. The third call was to my friend that we were coming with the car.
After I got the car there I was off to the local UPS store where they packaged up some fragile parts like the radiator and some gauges which were stored inside the car. So essentially, I paid about $300 for the peace of mind in knowing the car was in my possession and under my control. There would be no surprises with the seller disappearing with my car and my money.
Problems with driving the car home
Depending on the car and its condition, you might be tempted to drive the car home. Here are some things to consider if you are contemplating that option:
1. The car may have dependability issues that the seller may not have revealed or may not even be aware of himself. Overheating problems on hills or in traffic may not be evident on a test drive or if the seller drives the car only occasionally.
2. Electrical issues may be present that will show up on a long trip. The car may be sitting on a trickle charger in the seller’s garage and alternator, generator or voltage regulator problems may be undiscovered.
3. Even if you are a good mechanic you may be dealing with a car that you don’t have a manual for or have familiarity with. Troubleshooting problems and performing emergency road repairs may take a while as you may not have the tools you need with you even if you have brought an emergency tool kit.
4. If the car is unusual it may attract unwanted attention in motel parking lots along the way home. This could lead to damage, vandalism, theft of rare parts or the total loss of the vehicle.
5. If you decide to proceed going this route go to your local AAA Auto Club and buy the longest distance towing package they offer. Mine is called Premier coverage. You should probably have AAA anyway but the more expensive packages can give you several hundred miles of free towing. This is a good investment just in case you have a problem. AAA has a delay time from when you purchase the higher coverage level. It will take a couple of weeks to get the card in the mail that shows that higher coverage level. Be sure to allow time for that.
Things to know about professional transport companies
1. The major carriers I have used are Horseless Carriage, Blue Highways and Interstate. All these are real pros, had modern enclosed trailers and I had no issues. It will be a good idea to get a quote from several carriers for comparison.
2. Remember that most of the car transporters are huge. If you are having the vehicle picked up or delivered at the end of a dead end street they may be reluctant to get their rig into a situation where they have to back up for 1/4 mile to pick up or drop off your car. Also, low clearance trees or other overhangs are another consideration. In one situation I had to arrange a remote drop off location for them to meet me at so I could get the car. In the other situation the driver and his co-pilot got out of their rig and surveyed the situation on foot and then proceeded to back up the massive rig for several hundred yards just like you and I would back into a tight parking spot. The area should be level so the rig can sit on level ground. This will reduce problems with them dropping the lift gate and getting your car added to the herd of cars they already have onboard. On a slight slope even a little car can get away while being manuvered by hand.
3. Carriers will probably tell you an approximate idea of when the car can be picked up. This could be many days or even a few weeks after you purchase the car. Begin to formulate a plan of what you will do once you inspect and purchase the car. More on this in a minute.
4. There are carriers that will save you money with exposed transport trailers. You will need to judge if the risk of vandalism, theft of weather damage is worth the savings. I priced these and then passed. I knew that when a car I had purchased left the East Coast right after hurricane Katrina hit, I would have no problems because it was safe inside a trailer.
5. Determine if the car runs and has an operational handbrake. Most transport companies will charge you a surcharge if the car does not run. This is because the driver will likely need to move the car several times inside the trailer as he unloads the cars he is constantly picking up and dropping off.
6. Be sure to clarify if the car has any unusual properties. If it is a three-wheeler or has a particularly narrow track, it may not sit properly on the elevated trays in the trailer. They will probably be able to accommodate it on the lower level where the floor is solid.
7. Check with your insurance agent to be sure you are covered while the car is in storage waiting to be picked up and while it is in transit.
8. If you are getting spare parts with the car or plan to put uninstalled parts of the car inside the car while in transit then clarify with the shipper this is OK. Plan to have bubble wrap and packing tape or other appropriate packing materials to keep these parts safe and to keep the interior of the car undamaged.
9. Be prepared to ship home items it there are things the seller offers to give you at the last minute. Have the address of a UPS store or other packaging store near the car’s location. This could come in handy if the seller suddenly offers to give you some items that you need to get home.
I’m going to tow it home on a trailer
If you have decided to tow the car home there are several ways you can do this. Major rental firms like Ryder rent open auto transport trailers. Conceivably, you could fly to a city and rent a Ryder truck and one of their tandem axle car transport trailers. You could pay the one way rate and bring your car purchase home. I have not used this option or investigated the cost but it is an idea you can research.
The other obvious option is to borrow or purchase a trailer and drive it both ways to pick up your car. The costs of gas (8-12 MPG towing a heavy trailer?) and hotel, food and days off from work can mount up quickly. Be sure you have a trailer and tow vehicle of appropriate size for the car you are looking at. Be sure the car dimensions are not altered by wide tires or other modifications. Be sure the trailer is long enough to allow the car to be shifted to make the tongue wait appropriate for the load and tow vehicle. Get ratchet straps that are appropriate for the car involved and be sure they will fit onto the eyelets or frame of the trailer. Some strong looking forged eyelets are not as strong as the straps that you may have. Be sure the attachment points are not a weak link. Get info from car owners on the best pick up points to use to hooks these straps on given the particular model you will be towing. Be sure the trailer lighting works correctly once it is hooked to the tow vehicle. If appropriate, be sure the trailer has brakes and that the tow vehicle has the proper interface to that brake system.
Some trailer gurus advise that it is bad to leave manual a transmission car in gear while on the trailer as the natural movement of the car on a long haul can damage the transmission teeth. I had one acquaintance with a race car do a long trip with their car left in gear. Once at the track they checked the car’s oil only to discover the oil filler was overflowing with fuel. The rocking motion of the car in gear had been just enough to pull fuel through the fuel system and into the engine. It eventually ran past the rings and filled the oil sump. Do what you like but I don’t leave my cars in gear on a trailer any more.
Hopefully, this has given you some ideas about transportation options for your newly purchased classic car. If you do your homework in advance and know what the costs and options are, things should go smoothly and there will be no surprises.