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With soaring used car prices, new car inventories delayed by months, and the ongoing trend of staying closer to home from COVID-19, car enthusiasts are increasingly shopping online.

Last year, online auctions beat live auctions for the first time, with 20,000 cars sold online compared to 16,000 sold live in North America, according to a study by the insurer of classic cars and data company Hagerty. In total, online car sales increased 107%, from $492.5 million sold in 2020 to $1.02 billion sold in 2021, according to Kevin Fisher, an analyst at Hagerty.

The risks associated with buying a car at sight are innumerable. They can range from the mundane (that shade of blue on the 1975 Ferrari 308 you bought looks different in real life than in the photos) to the expensive (you paid too much for that 1969 Corvette C3, and now it needs of a new transmission). And that’s before you get to danger (the worn tires and old brakes on the cute little 1980 Mercedes-Benz SL make it feel like you’re spinning on ice).

There’s no way to completely erase the risk of buying a classic car online rather than doing it in real life. But there are ways to mitigate the risk and maximize the fun. Here are a few.

Determine the market value of the vehicle you want

Hagerty price guides published online contain charts that show the rise or fall in values ​​of almost every collectible make and model in today’s market. They allow you to determine where the market is going for vehicles in perfect condition, vehicles in good driving condition and vehicles in need of work. You should also check the Hammer Price app for market rates; each year it publishes the auction results of dozens of public sales for hundreds of vehicles. And thoroughly reading EBay Motors, Hemmings, and local lots, including Craigslist, to check prices and compare prices will give you a good idea of ​​what a fair price should be for the vehicle you want to buy online.

You might be surprised. Classics from luxury brands such as Rolls-Royce cost significantly less than their newly made counterparts. Here are some general rules of thumb: “Matching numbers” means that a car contains the original engine and is worth more than one that does not; manual transmissions are often worth more than automatic transmissions; and lower mileage generally means a car is more desirable and will cost more.

Find an example you like

You have many options. Bonhams’s Market, EBay, Collecting Cars, Fantasy Junction and special online auctions from major auction houses such as Gooding & Co. and RM Auctions all offer collectible cars for sale online. The granddaddy of them all is Bring a Trailer, which last year sold $828.7 million worth of cars, a 108% gain from $398 million sold in 2020 – and a quarter of a billion dollars ahead of its closest competitor at live auctions.

Most auctions work the same way: you can search for the make, model, and year of a vehicle you want, then follow the people who are bidding online. To place one of your own, which you can do at any time, you will register on the given site and provide your credit card information. (Most sites place a hold on the card or require an immediate down payment on the car, if you win the auction.)

Find the car in question

Talk to the seller of the vehicle. On Bring a Trailer, you can message the seller directly with a question. On other websites, you can even call the seller by phone. Having a one-on-one conversation about any vehicle will help you quickly determine if the car is worth considering.

On a more general level, you can read long threads about model-specific reliability issues and set standards on enthusiast forums such as Pelican Parts and Ferrari Talk. It may help to browse online auction catalogs and read descriptions of previously sold models that are similar to the one you are considering. Although they may not necessarily relate to the car you are considering, they will give you an idea of ​​potential problems and what to inquire about.

“The problem [online] There is no ideal standard platform for proper photos and inspection of these cars,” says Dorian Valenzuela, founder and owner of DV-Mechanics, an Alfa Romeo performance restoration and enhancement shop and Porsche in Los Angeles. “A lot of poorly restored cars look great in photos to the untrained eye.”

If you are really serious about the vehicle, consider traveling to view the car personally.

“I flew to Birmingham, England for a [pre-purchase inspection] because I didn’t trust the photos,” says Valenzuela.

For many expensive classic vehicles, the price of a plane ticket is negligible compared to what you will pay to buy it. You wouldn’t buy an expensive sofa without sitting on it, or a fancy bed without lying on it, would you? It pays to go see a car and drive it. Either you’ll find that you don’t like it and save money, or you’ll gain confidence that it is indeed a vehicle you want to own.

Monitor the sale

Some cars are listed as “No Reserve”, which means the highest bid at the close of the sale will win the car. Other cars have a reserve, which means that if bidders don’t meet a minimum set by the seller, the car will stay with the owner. Find out if a reserve has been placed on the car you want — and figure out for yourself how much you can afford; don’t get carried away by emotion.

For example, a car that you have determined from your research to have a market value of $75,000 would be a good deal if no reserves are listed and you can buy it for $65,000. Conversely, if you find that the market value of the car is $75,000 and the reserve attached to the car is $80,000, it is overpriced. Pass.

Don’t be too upset if the auctions aren’t right for you the first time you bid. Don’t let your heart get the better of you and force you to bid higher than the value of a car or more than you can afford.

Read the piece

Take note of who is bidding on a car when the sale opens. Is it a random assortment of anonymous handles bidding somewhat arbitrarily, or are two bidders going back and forth with alternating bids? People who are already fighting to win the car may be willing to pay way more than it’s worth.

Beware of bidders who rush in early and bid fervently. Often they’re there to make a name for themselves or build hype for their own auto businesses, says high-end auto broker Peter Brotman. Or a friend of the seller might try to raise the bid.

Bid at the right time

But not right now. There is no sense in jumping into the auction early. It is best to wait and monitor any activity first. Keep reading the comments as they pile up. Then bid an appropriate price gradually above the previous bid and hope you win. And don’t forget the bidding limit you set for yourself; there is no point in breaking the bank for a special car.

“Personally, I like to show absolutely no interest in [a car] then bid in the last few minutes,” says Valenzuela.

Be patient. Remember that even if you’re bidding on a $4.7 million Ferrari La Ferrari Aperta, there’s always going to be another example of what you want out there – or in the case of the La Ferrari Aperta, 209 d ‘between them ! Trust that the right car will find you; when it does, the timeline and finances will fall into place.

Don’t get distracted by the peanut gallery

Half the fun of buying a car online is reading reviews.

“Remarkably, on BAT, the community has become full of information and stories,” Brotman says. “Some of them are bs, and some of them are actually quite good. You have very smart professionals giving very valuable advice, which you would never get without them.”

When it comes to old cars, it seems everyone has a hot plug and likes to share it, whether it’s been asked for or not. Most sales at Bring a Trailer carry dozens of comments about the vehicle; they offer a deep dive into the finer details of the car, from paint colors and vintage seat upholstery to wheels and door handles. These are very useful in assessing the authenticity of a given vehicle.

Yet the screams of cheap seats can also serve as a distraction.

“Anyone with an account can comment and ruin good bids,” says Valenzuela. “I see a lot of horrible cars making way too much money.”

Don’t get distracted after a rabbit trail online conversation about things that don’t matter to the real value and merit of a car; a conversation about the car having an old set of tires, for example, simply distracts from a vehicle that may be worth serious consideration. If you buy the car, put new tires on it.

Expect to pay, even after your winning bid

Did you win the car you wanted? Awesome! Now get ready to spend more money. Unlike most live auctions, where the buyer must pay the auction house a percentage premium for the purchase, most online auctions require no such payment from the buyer. However, you will probably have to spend more money once you have it.

One of the benefits of online sales is that it expands your network in terms of cars you can view and purchase. It also increases the likelihood that the car you are buying is not in your city. The transport to return the vehicle to you will be expensive. An open-air truck ride to move your new baby from, say, Nashville to Los Angeles costs around $1,800 and can take well into the week. Transporting the car by truck with a closed trailer is even more expensive. Registering a vehicle, having it tested if necessary, and paying additional costs (such as for insurance) will all come into play.

Hope for the best; Prepare for the worst.

No amount of photos or even videos can properly control a car. You will likely have to pay for at least some minor maintenance or repairs when you receive your new price. Things such as repairing the electronics in the dashboard or repairing the windows or seat belts are minor but essential to making the vehicle ideal for use. If you’re lucky, the car you buy online will be very close to what you expected.

That’s part of the fun of owning a classic car. There is always something to improve.

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