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Cruisin': Buying a car from out of state
In Aug. 7 Issue
Russell County News
By Ron Cowell, Columnist

In the past I have had several people ask me about buying a car from another state or on eBay. It's important to find out all you can when you are buying a long distance vehicle.

One of the keys to making a successful 'long-distance' purchase of a car is to learn the car's story. The story I am referring to is the one that tells us where the car has spent most of its' life, which part of the country, which state, if it's been in the city or the country, in the snow or the sun. If it traveled from coast to coast, how many owners it's had, and how has it been cared for. Things like if it was garaged or parked outside, was it serviced regularly, or not at all. Was this maintenance done professionally at a garage, or privately by the owner?  The more you can find out about the car the better you able to tell how the car will perform if the future when you own it.

 How do we actually find out this information - especially on a car that's fifty years old?

There are ways. Certainly with newer cars the job is made a lot easier. Vehicles produced after 1981 had their Vehicle Identification Numbers, VIN recorded buy the Department of Motor Vehicles, DMV almost from the moment they first set a tire on the highway. Every time the car has any modifications made to the title, it's recorded buy the DMV. That includes emissions and safety inspections as well as change of owners and addresses. Carfax is one of the biggest companies that supply these reports for a fee, however many people don't understand the information and take the 'Clean Title Guarantee' as the last word.

 There are plenty of cases where a car can appear to apparently have a clean title, even though it does not.  Maybe the insurance company has totaled a car and it has been paid for, but the car has a clean original title and nothing dishonest to obtain it. The system is not fool proof, and it's still 'buyers beware'!

 Well one of the simplest things to do and is one that is often overlooked is to ask the seller to fax you a copy of the title. This is good practice anyway and you will be getting some kind of proof that the seller is indeed most likely the legal owner of the vehicle you are about to purchase. Also often times the name of the prior owner can be found on this title. Sometimes this is because the current owner has never transferred the vehicle to their name, and other times, it's just because it's the way a particular states does things. Either way, if you are lucky a quick search through directory will get you a phone number, and another piece of the car's story that will reveal itself to you. Some folks manage to trace back two and three decades of a cars history simply by asking this prior owner what they can tell you about the person they brought the car from, then doing a trace on that owner and carrying on down the line. There are times when the news you uncover is not what you want to hear, like the guy who tells you he wrecked the car years ago and last saw it on the back of a flat-bed truck on it's way to a wrecking yard! But in the big picture when you think about it, it's all good news.

Depending on how much time you have to work with, you can  write to the DMV in the state where the vehicle's last title was recorded and ask them to do a title history search. There is of course a special form you have to use to make the request which you downloaded off the internet and a fee, usually not more than about $15 for the full search.

If the title turns out to be a dead end, the next thing to do would be is to use the services of a professional inspection company, such as Automobile Inspections LLC, they offer a full check of the vehicle from top to bottom. Once again here you will want to not just read the obvious from the report, but read between the lines, try to learn what the condition tells you about how the car has lived and been cared for.

Other ways to learn about the cars past come in the form of receipts for parts and service records. Don't think that because a car has been fully restored this stuff isn't important, it is and maybe even more so. How else will you be able to tell how well a restoration job was done unless you see the receipts and cancelled checks for the parts and labor? With these receipts, pay attention to the quality of the parts used, look for name brands, as well as the size of the bills for labor.  If you can call the body shop or the person who did the paint job or bodywork on the car and ask them how the car looked when they first got it. Also how long it took them to get things looking the way it does today.

Finally as a last resort try finding out what you can about the current owner/seller. Start by interviewing them about the car, ask how long they've owned it , what repairs they have had to make to the car during that time, and if they were going to keep the car what is the next repair they would want to do.

Try to find out things like what they do for a living, want kind of house/neighborhood they live in.  If they have sent you photo's of the car look in the background of the photos. See if it's a nice house with a well kept yard, or a front yard that looks like a wrecking yard! Is this the kind of person, who takes care of problems quickly and correctly when they arise, or someone who gets it fixed out of desperation? This is a good indication of how they likely maintained their car.

Of course, no matter what you do when buying a car long distance, there is always some risk involved. The objective in finding a car's story is to try to minimize that risk as much as possible. This is something that you can achieve if you do your homework before writing that check!

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