Lessons Learned in Buying a Car Over the Internet

1992 Jeep Cherokee

The wife and I had the privilege of flying over to Seattle this past weekend to purchase a car (yes, in fact, the very one you see adjacent to these words).

Beyond just having a good time (which we did), we learned some things. Hopefully they will help you if you find yourself in a similar situation.

  • Don't buy from unpleasant people. If they are unpleasant on the phone (when you're about to give them money), there's a good chance they'll be unpleasant and unhelpful during the entire transaction.
  • Before you commit to buying it (or flying out to see it), get pictures of EVERYTHING (literally). And make sure they're detailed, clear, and complete. Evidently, when some people say "perfect", "immaculate", and "whistle clean", they really mean "pretty good shape".
  • Before you spend the money to travel to see the vehicle, establish some sort of contract. The contract should cover your right to buy the vehicle for a given price if you pay them by a certain date/time. It should also cover specific reimbursement should the seller break the contract. Ideally, you would even include some sort of reimbursement if the vehicle was materially misrepresented. While an oral contract should stand up here (at least in Idaho), your best bet is a written one, as it's so much easier to prove (and use to get them to pay you without hiring an attorney). Oh, and my caviat here is that I'm not an attorney, really have little knowledge about the law, and am just throwing out my opinion - following my advice here entitles you to no damages from me. =)
  • Run a Carfax on it. We didn't do this, and I hope we don't regret it. It's $20-$25, and well worth the potential savings.
  • Remember that there are other cars in the sea...err...on the land. This "perfect deal" is not the only one of its kind, and patience may be your quickest way to the best deal. Don't pull the trigger if you aren't positive.

All of that to say - we're happy with the vehicle we have now, but would probably do it differently if we were to go again. Live and learn, my friends, live and learn.