Always stay on your toes.

Buying a classic car can be an exhilarating experience. That’s especially true if it’s something you’ve fantasized about owning for decades, like the car that first turned you into an enthusiast long ago. While we certainly recommend anyone who can afford to grab one do so, unfortunately there are always scammers out there looking to cheat people out of their money with a bad deal. You usually can’t just find a car, believe everything the seller tells you, buy it, and go on your merry way feeling like you’ve made the purchase of the century.

photo credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

As the old saying goes, if you find some screaming deal on a classic car that seems too good to be true, it likely is. There are some exceptions out there, don’t get us wrong, but you need to scrutinize everything before taking the plunge. The following advice should help you avoid getting taken advantage of, however there’s always the risk you could be duped, so stay on your toes and be wary.

Buying cars online without seeing them in person first has become increasingly common these days. If you’re doing this through a dealer or some other third party with a reputation, which also inspects the vehicles, that can help protect you against misrepresentation. Thanks to Photoshop and other picture editing software, just about anyone can make a car that looks a little rough appear immaculate. It’s always best to inspect the vehicle in person or have someone you trust who lives nearby do so before sealing the deal.

Look to see if it’s a numbers-matching car. Many sellers will state theirs is, but you should double-check before handing any money over. Look at the VIN tags, data plates, engine stampings, etc. to see if everything lines up or not. If you’re not sure where to find these identifiers on a specific model, buy or borrow a reference book or talk to a club specializing in it for help. Many fellow enthusiasts are more than willing to help ensure you don’t get taken for a ride.

photo credit: Daimler

When checking the VIN tags on a car, pay attention to small details. Mismatched screws, damage like scrapes of dog ears on the tag, etc. could indicate it was removed from a different vehicle and the car’s original tags are no longer present.

The seller really bears the burden of proving a car is what they say it is. However, you’d be wise to do some homework of your own, as there have been clever individuals who have falsified some convincing-looking documents, pictures, and more.

As for documentation of any restoration work. Receipts, photos, and other info are usually provided by reputable sellers. They also will usually hire a shop with a good reputation, one that specializes in restoring the kind of car you’re buying. If they can’t or won’t provide any of that information, it’s safe to assume the restoration is sketchy at best.

photo credit: Ford

If possible, check the historic registry for the vehicle you’re purchasing. While they don’t exist for every make and model out there, you might be surprised which ones are dutifully maintained. They can confirm details about a car as well as its history, which you can compare to what you’ve seen and been told about the vehicle for sale. If things don’t match up, it’s probably time to walk.

If a car has been built in the past 4 decades, give or take a few years, you should be able to get a CarFax report on it. While they’re not perfect, such a report will show documented repairs, ownership over time, and other details you might not have access to otherwise. It’s just another layer of security, but don’t use it as the only one. s

Of course, there’s more to it than just this. With scammers constantly dreaming up new ways to separate you from your hard-earned money in dishonest ways, you have to stay on your toes and be alert.

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