Evaluating Your Project Car Part 3

Rewind to last issue and you’ll recall we addressed appraising a car (part one of this series discussed a personal experience I had with appraisal). That article showed the basics of a stationary evaluation. If it passes (and looks reasonably safe!), it can be started and, if possible, test driven. More below. Next week, I'll key you in on the best ways to find information on getting your build done to perfection. But first, I’ll share a long distance shipping experience with you. You might be surprised! Start the Car! In many, many cases, the appraiser (or you) cannot take the car for a test drive. There might be a lot of reasons for this – no insurance or registration, not roadworthy, poor weather and/or road conditions and so on. But if the car passes all of the items in a stationary inspection, the next step is to check the operation of everything electrical - lights, horn, fan, radio, windows, wipers, etc. Once that is complete, check the fluids and start the car; check the operation of engine, transmission, brakes, park brake, accessories (for example, the air conditioning) and so on. The appraiser will inspect gauge operation, carefully examine the odometer (to see if there’s evidence of a rollback) and with the owner’s permission, check operation of the transmission, check for unusual drive train noises, leaks, exhaust system performance and the like. With many appraisals, this is usually the time the car gets photographed. Typically, the appraiser photographs the good and the bad. And with digital cameras, it’s not hard to shoot 25-50 photos of a given car. Obviously when it comes to photos, the more, the better. How Much Does It Cost? So how much will all of this cost you? Depending upon the appraisal company, expect to pay between $250 and $500 for a quality appraisal. And depending upon the location of the car (and the location of the appraiser), you might have to pay travel mileage expenses. For that money, you likely won’t receive a blow-by-blow list of matching numbers. It takes way more time to research and document absolute correctness, and you can expect to pay much more for that type of service. Instead, you should receive a comprehensive report on the condition and overall originality of the car. You should also receive a number of high-resolution photos along with comments on what needs work. The Real Bottom Line… Is the appraisal process worth it? Just ask me! I spent well over four times the cost of a good appraiser to personally visit that misrepresented Buick T-Type in Texas. A few days later, a stunning T-Type turned up in Florida. I learned my lesson: I hired an appraiser with Buick experience (along with big volume insurance company experience). The car checked out perfectly. $300 for an appraisal definitely beats flying completely across the continent. And by the way, that Florida Buick ended up in my garage. For a closer look, see the accompanying photos. If you’ve found a long distance love affair, hire a good appraiser. It’ll be worth every nickel. The Long Distance Checklist… SEARCH – Finding the Car - Print resources - Internet resources INSPECTION – Checking Out the Car - High resolution photos of the car - Close up photo of the VIN - Photo copies of all paperwork, including the Title - Compare Title to VIN - Hire an appraiser to evaluate the car - Contact a friend or acquaintance to check out the car - Fly in or drive in to examine the car - Google the seller’s name, address, telephone number - Cross reference the seller’s phone number with the telephone company, checking street address - Zoom into the street address with Google Earth or Google Maps - If necessary, have the title searched for liens (Car Fax and other companies offer this service for a minimal fee) PURCHASE – Dealing with the Money - Down Payment • Credit card down payment • Paypal down payment • Wire transfer down payment • Cashier’s check down payment - Final Payment • Cash • Cashier’s check • Personal check • Wire transfer • Escrow service • Paypal • Money forwarded to close friend or associate who turns the money over to the seller and in turn, takes possession of the car - Title, spare keys and other paperwork sent to you by way of Fed-Ex or other courier SHIP IT – Getting the Car Home - Drive it home yourself from the purchase location - Rent a truck and trailer at the location of the car and haul home - Have a friend or acquaintance haul the car - Trucking companies (see the accompanying sidebar) - Insurance – buy transport insurance. It’s critical!

Evaluating Your Project Car Part 3

Rewind to last issue and you’ll recall we addressed appraising a car (part one of this series discussed a personal experience I had with appraisal). That article showed the basics of a stationary evaluation. If it passes (and looks reasonably safe!), it can be started and, if possible, test driven. More below. Next week, I'll key you in on the best ways to find information on getting your build done to perfection. But first, I’ll share a long distance shipping experience with you. You might be surprised!

Start the Car!

In many, many cases, the appraiser (or you) cannot take the car for a test drive. There might be a lot of reasons for this – no insurance or registration, not roadworthy, poor weather and/or road conditions and so on. But if the car passes all of the items in a stationary inspection, the next step is to check the operation of everything electrical - lights, horn, fan, radio, windows, wipers, etc. Once that is complete, check the fluids and start the car; check the operation of engine, transmission, brakes, park brake, accessories (for example, the air conditioning) and so on. The appraiser will inspect gauge operation, carefully examine the odometer (to see if there’s evidence of a rollback) and with the owner’s permission, check operation of the transmission, check for unusual drive train noises, leaks, exhaust system performance and the like.

With many appraisals, this is usually the time the car gets photographed. Typically, the appraiser photographs the good and the bad. And with digital cameras, it’s not hard to shoot 25-50 photos of a given car. Obviously when it comes to photos, the more, the better.

How Much Does It Cost?

So how much will all of this cost you? Depending upon the appraisal company, expect to pay between $250 and $500 for a quality appraisal. And depending upon the location of the car (and the location of the appraiser), you might have to pay travel mileage expenses. For that money, you likely won’t receive a blow-by-blow list of matching numbers. It takes way more time to research and document absolute correctness, and you can expect to pay much more for that type of service. Instead, you should receive a comprehensive report on the condition and overall originality of the car. You should also receive a number of high-resolution photos along with comments on what needs work.

The Real Bottom Line…

Is the appraisal process worth it? Just ask me! I spent well over four times the cost of a good appraiser to personally visit that misrepresented Buick T-Type in Texas. A few days later, a stunning T-Type turned up in Florida. I learned my lesson: I hired an appraiser with Buick experience (along with big volume insurance company experience). The car checked out perfectly. $300 for an appraisal definitely beats flying completely across the continent. And by the way, that Florida Buick ended up in my garage.

For a closer look, see the accompanying photos. If you’ve found a long distance love affair, hire a good appraiser. It’ll be worth every nickel.

The Long Distance Checklist…

SEARCH – Finding the Car

- Print resources
- Internet resources

INSPECTION – Checking Out the Car

- High resolution photos of the car
- Close up photo of the VIN
- Photo copies of all paperwork, including the Title
- Compare Title to VIN
- Hire an appraiser to evaluate the car
- Contact a friend or acquaintance to check out the car
- Fly in or drive in to examine the car
- Google the seller’s name, address, telephone number
- Cross reference the seller’s phone number with the telephone
company, checking street address
- Zoom into the street address with Google Earth or Google Maps
- If necessary, have the title searched for liens (Car Fax and other
companies offer this service for a minimal fee)

PURCHASE – Dealing with the Money

- Down Payment
• Credit card down payment
• Paypal down payment
• Wire transfer down payment
• Cashier’s check down payment
- Final Payment
• Cash
• Cashier’s check
• Personal check
• Wire transfer
• Escrow service
• Paypal
• Money forwarded to close friend or associate who turns the money over to the seller and in turn, takes possession of the car
- Title, spare keys and other paperwork sent to you by way of Fed-Ex or other courier

SHIP IT – Getting the Car Home

- Drive it home yourself from the purchase location

- Rent a truck and trailer at the location of the car and haul home

- Have a friend or acquaintance haul the car

- Trucking companies (see the accompanying sidebar)

- Insurance – buy transport insurance. It’s critical!

“Nightmare Transport”

A few years ago, I purchased a (super) low mileage 1969 Nova from a dealer in the Southwest and, as mentioned earlier, I live in the Pacific Northwest. I had to get the car from point A to point B. I checked various companies for rates and also asked the dealer if they had someone local they used regularly and trusted. They did. The dealer also figured they could get me a discount on the transport costs. Bonus! I booked the transport through the dealer, and my only stipulation was that the same folks who owned the transport company would haul the car.

Going into it, I knew that the car would be torn down in short order and repainted (it was a low mileage piece but had a mediocre paint job once in a past life, and I knew going in there was some prior damage to the right side of the car – but I certainly didn’t know the extent of the damage – see last week’s issue for the inside story). Because of that, I decided the $600 difference between an enclosed and an open hauler wasn’t worth it. I went with the open hauler. My only other request was that the car be top loaded at the front of the trailer. So far so good. I had the telephone number of the transport company. They provided me with the cell phone number of the driver. I was to make contact a day or so into the haul to arrange the drop-off.

The driver was a day late picking up the car (thus far, I was still talking to the original trucking company dispatcher). I chalked it up to weather (49 states had snow that winter), but things started to unravel quickly from this point. I made contact with who I thought was the driver. His accent easily gave him away as a Russian ex-pat from Brooklyn, New York. I couldn’t hear any trucks or traffic in the background. As it turns out, he wasn’t the driver at all. Instead, he was supposedly the “dispatcher” for another trucking company. For the sake of this article, let’s call it “Nightmare Transport.” Somehow my stipulation about who hauled the car was ignored. The car-hauling outfit I had contracted with (through the dealer) had subcontracted the job. Things were going from bad to worse.

Now, I live on an island. To speed up the process, I had called the Nightmare Transport “dispatcher” and made arrangements to meet the transport on the mainland in Washington state on a specific date. I rented a trailer from U-haul, hooked it to my pickup truck and jumped on the ferry. When I reached the meeting point, I called the dispatcher again. The response was dismal – they were late. I tried to determine how late, late really was. The dispatcher couldn’t (or wouldn’t) say). To make a long story short, the truck eventually ended up being 72 hours late. I had to stay in a hotel room for three nights waiting for the car.

The car ended up being delivered at 5:30 AM on a Sunday (dark o’clock). The Nova was top loaded all right – loaded at the very back of the open trailer, where it was blasted by salt and sand for the better part of a week. It was absolutely filthy. Inside, it wasn’t much better, and it looked like the trunk was used to haul stuff (there was a considerable amount of broken brown Bakelite in the trunk - where that came from is anyone's guess). And to throw salt on my wound, one tire was flat and the gas tank was bone dry.

But before the car could be unloaded, the driver and co-driver (both of whom barely spoke English, making things even harder) demanded a $500 “unloading fee.” I pulled out my cell phone and asked both of them if “Nine-One-One” was the right number for the police. As I started to punch in the numbers, they both proclaimed they’d made a mistake. The two eventually saw the errors of their ways and helped push the Nova to my truck and trailer (likely more concerned about the potential for police intervention than actually making amends for their “mistake?”). Given how much hidden damage was actually in the car, it was a portent of things to come.

In the end, because of staying in a hotel room for three nights, meals, trailer rental for an extra three days and missing a day of work, I was out well in excess of $800 (over and above the original quote to move the car). That doesn’t take into account the fact that I had at least a dozen different delivery times scheduled over a three-day period. Stress was eating me alive (at one point late Saturday, I was sure the car was stolen, and my contact at the trucking company I originally contracted with concurred). I could have used a big name reliable hauler to move the car. And it would have been enclosed. To date, the original trucking company has offered a small portion of the cost ($300) as a refund. But I’m not holding my breath.

Bottom line here: Learn from my mistake.

“Nightmare Transport” 1

The photo above shows the Nova I was talking about. As you saw in the previous photo, it was loaded exactly opposite from how I requested. The road conditions didn’t help. Neither did the delivery time.

“Nightmare Transport” 2

Loaded on a rental U-haul trailer, the car looked even worse for wear than it did the night before. Fortunately, it did clean up (although the entire purchase was a big mistake), but that didn’t help the pain of the multiple nights in a hotel that I didn’t plan for. Bottom line? I could have saved money by using a reliable company.

“Nightmare Transport” 3

Since my lesson with Nightmare Transport, I started to use Passport Transport. Pros cost a bit more but they can save you big bucks in the end.

Evaluating Your Project Car Part 3 1

Even on a dreary, wet day like this you can find out a lot about a car with a short test drive. For example, this Nova came complete with a jammed shift linkage. To drive it, you had the choice of either first and reverse or second and third.

Evaluating Your Project Car Part 3 2

Right about now, it’s a good time to check the electricals. Anything that runs off battery power should be tested for operation.

Evaluating Your Project Car Part 3 3

This Nova was superb when it came to cosmetics and it was also near perfect for mechanicals. The only issue (and it wasn’t a big one) was that the park brake paddle switch clip was broken. That meant the brake light was constantly “on.”

Evaluating Your Project Car Part 3 4

These old cars are simple and easy to test, and they are also easy to work on. This is a good time to shine a light up under the dash and have a look at the wiring (harness, etc.) and other under dash components.

Evaluating Your Project Car Part 3 5

I put this car through a full test, and aside from the brake light switch and the lack of excitement from the straight six and three-on-the-tree, it was perfect. The mileage (13,602 showing) is original.

Evaluating Your Project Car Part 3 6

Before road testing a car, it’s a good idea to check fluid levels (even if the owner claims they’re golden). I’ve seen them where oil levels aren’t right, where automatic transmission fluid is burned, where coolant is low, where the brake fluid hasn’t been touched for decades and so on.

Evaluating Your Project Car Part 3 7

Another thing to check before the road test is the trunk. A flat spare does you no good. Neither do missing jack parts. Again, this is a very, very nice original car with a minute amount of flash rust on the trunk floor (caused by a vinyl cover).

Evaluating Your Project Car Part 3 8

One more thing: Prior to moving an inch on the car, check the tires! These are pretty much new radials, but that blue Nova in an earlier photo was wearing original fifty-year-old bias plies. The car drove like it was on fifty-year-old tires too. Don’t put too much trust in them.

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