17 October 2004

Cross-Country Car Collecting

When you buy a collector car you’re purchasing a piece of automotive history, but the process often involves links to your own past as well. That ’53 Corvette may be the neighbor’s car you envied when you were a kid or that totally-stock ’70 ‘Cuda may match one you saw coming off the car hauler at the local Dodge dealership over 30 years ago. Now you’re older and that dream car is finally within your financial reach, but it’s no longer parked next door or down the street. You’re in Portland, Maine, the car is in Portland, Oregon and there’s 4,000 miles in between. How do you go about buying a car that’s all the way across the country?

This question is asked more and more these days, with people buying vintage vehicles via the Internet. But even before we had cyberspace, collectors were buying cars long distance through national hobby publications. As a result of the broadness of the hobby marketplace, there are many places to get help when buying a car located in another state.

Local talent

Let’s assume that you found the car you’re interested through a reputable magazine or well-known website. This gives you some degree of protection to start with. The established hobby magazines “police” their advertisers with a complaint system. If a certain number of negative comments are received, advertising privileges are revoked. This helps to keep things on the “straight and narrow.” When buying on Internet auctions, such as eBay, you can look up a seller’s “history” of positive and negative comments.In both of these cases, you are protected when dealing with regular sellers, but that one-time deal could still be a problem if you aren’t able to inspect the car in person.

That’s why it pays to get some “local talent” to look at a car for you. This could be a friend, a member of your car club or a professional appraiser who lives near the car. If you ask a friend to inspect the car, make sure he or she has specialized knowledge. They may be willing to help, but if they don’t know much about the type of vehicle you’re buying, they won’t be able to spot the flaws. Using a club member might be a better option, if you already belong to a club for that type of car. Check the club roster to see if a member lives near the car. Rosters usually list the type and number of cars a member owns. Look for a member who owns the same kind of car – or even better, several of them.

Hiring a professional appraiser is another option. Make sure the professional has specialized knowledge of collector cars. There are several organizations that certify antique auto appraisers and those who belong these groups proudly feature the logo of the sanctioning body on their business cards and in their advertisements. If you need additional help chosing an appraiser, you can do one of two things. First, contact the hobby magazines they advertise in to see if any complaints have been registered. Second, find a vendor or company that sells parts for the specific type of car and ask them if they can recommend an appraiser. They usually know top-notch restoration shop owners who can handle appraisals because they’ve worked on such cars.

Legal issues

When buying a car from another state, different laws apply. In my state, you are allowed to operate a vehicle purchased in another state for 48 hours before registering it. Therefore, you can purchase the vehicle, arrange insurance by phone and legally drive it home as long as you get temporary tags within two days. In other states, you have to register the vehicle immediately. Others offer temporary tags for moving the car from between states. The NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) publishes guides to state vehicle laws. These guides can be used to research the rules that apply in your particular case.

Vehicle transporters

Hobby publications are filled with advertisements from individuals and companies offering vehicle-transport services. To select a reputable transporter, again check with the magazine’s advertising department. Do they have any recommendations? Do they have a history of complaints against any transporters? They may prefer to avoid the negative and just tell you which advertisers have never had a complaint, which works just as well.

Rates for vehicle transportation can vary depending upon the load, the miles and other traffic going in the same direction. Some services haul cars on small single-vehicle trailers, some use enclosed car haulers, some use large trailers pulled by semi trucks and one service even offers a combination of truck and railroad shipping. As you move up the ladder of services, the prices will climb, so often the final selection depends on the vehicle being transported. An open trailer may be fine for a Mustang, but for a $1 million Duesenberg, you’ll want the pricier semi truck service

Whichever way you go, make sure that the hauler has a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) license and good insurance coverage. I have seen cars damaged even when being transported by the high-priced haulers. Accidents happen, so make sure the transporter is well insured. And read the fine print in any contract you sign so you don’t inadvertently release anyone from normal liabilities.

As with a household move, you will have to check the vehicle over carefully before taking delivery. If you weren’t there when the car was loaded, it may be hard to spot damage incurred during transport. Hopefully, you got your friend, club member or appraiser to document any nicks or scratches and take dated photos.


After you have purchased a collector car, insure it immediately under a collector auto policy. Most companies can be contacted before you make the final purchase to initiate a policy upon concluding the sale. You will have to report the type of car, how you plan to use it and provide an “agreed value” for that type of vehicle. Later, you’ll probably be required to send pictures of the car.

If you deal with a reputable firm, you should not encounter any pitfalls when securing insurance coverage. You will probably be asked to informally certify that the car is in “stock” condition and that you plan on driving it on an “occasional use” basis. There are insurance plans for modified cars, but some of the details are different. Naturally, you won’t be insuring the vehicle for everyday use or for competitive events such as vintage racing.

Satisfaction guaranteed?

Some dealers will offer a verbal or written warranty on a collector car sale. This can come in handy. A friend on mine purchased a Falcon sedan delivery from a nationally-known collector car dealer. Very soon after he bought the truck, the automatic transmission went out. The dealer told him to have it repaired near his home and send in the bill. It was promptly paid. In this case, there was no written warranty, but it was definitely worth buying from a professional who stood behind his deal.

John Gunnell is automotive books editor at Krause Publications, Iola, Wis. He has been collecting old cars since 1972 and writing about them for almost 30 years. He has toured the country in his oldtime autos.

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