Home » Have You Ever Bought A Car Sight-Unseen?

Have You Ever Bought A Car Sight-Unseen?

Autopian Asks Sight Unseen
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When you order a new car, it’s expected that you’re essentially buying it sight unseen. After all, what you wanted wasn’t on the lot, and while you may have been able to test-drive a similar model, it’s not your actual car. However, on the second-hand market, buying sight unseen is a different ballgame. It can come with a whole lot of risks, and yet, a whole lot of reward. Today, we want to know if you’ve ever bought a car sight unseen, and if you have, how did it go?

Admittedly, I’ve never actually signed on the dotted line before seeing a car. The closest I’ve come is committing to my Boxster sight unseen, although it wasn’t a case of wiring the funds and asking questions later. I had gracefully been granted a late opportunity to back out, but since the car was nice, I didn’t take it. After all, how often do yellow over blue examples come up for sale?

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However, I do know people who have bought cars sight unseen, and the prevailing trend suggests most of them have been fine. So long as expectations are somewhat tempered as used cars are rarely perfect, deals can be had and rare cars found by searching far and wide. A good friend of mine found his Volvo XC90 halfway across the continent and it’s been an exceptionally lovely family car.

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So, let’s talk about buying sight unseen. Would you do it? Have you done it? How did it go? Regardless of whether you embrace the process or have trepidations, we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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(Photo credits: Bring A Trailer, Thomas Hundal)

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Myk El
Myk El
1 month ago

Sight unseen…not exactly. But I bought my GTO without having seen it myself.

So I couldn’t find an unmolested 2005-06 Pontiac GTO near where I lived, my brother lives where selection was a lot greater and I found a good example, low miles for age, looked great in pictures, etc. So my brother agreed to act on my behalf and examined it. We came to a purchase agreement. I arranged for a mechanical inspection to happen, it checked out, I flew to where the car was and drove it two days home.

As it turns out, the prior owner is a GM lifer. My brother had been at GM for over a decade, they did not know each other but it gave them both some level of confidence it was all on the level, shared experiences and all that. The car is great, yes there were some minor issues, but it’s mechanically solid and has just the most minor cosmetic issues. It’d been a garage car its whole life, not run in the winter, so for a Michigan car, it sure as heck didn’t look like it.

The drive home to Colorado was actually a lot of fun. My dad was my co-pilot, we took the smaller US highway network wherever possible, so basically we went around Chicago, down I-55, to I-72 and then US 36 the rest of the way home, effectively. It’s so much better than I-80 would have been. Hit the Pontiac museum in Pontiac, IL, of course.

RataTejas
RataTejas
1 month ago

I think I have a problem.

I’ve purchased all three of my wife’s cars sight-unseen, but all with differing degrees of foreknowledge. Her Jetta and Taurus SHO were a matter of finding the right optioned car within a reasonable radius, and in both cases, that was in Dallas, while we lived in Houston. Both instances, a one way plane ticket, and a dealer pick-up made the process seamless. The third, was ordering a Maverick Hybrid, and there was no chance to see or drive anything until the day of pickup. That has also worked out great, as she loves the trucklet.

I bought my 1971 Cadillac Coupe deVille without seeing it in New York, and waited with baited breath until it showed up via hauler. It also was exactly as advertised.
I also purchased two motorcycles fly in. One new riding it back home from Vancouver to Calgary in Canada, the other used from outside Knoxville, TN riding back to Houston, via the Tail of the Dragon.

The moral of the story, other than God looks out for fools and children, is that if you know what you’re looking for, and are moderately educated on the car’s packages and issues, you can probably get by.

The World of Vee
The World of Vee
1 month ago

All the time, I’ve bought plenty of cars from auctions or far away dealers and either a good PPI or presentation is whats needed imo and only once was I burned, seller said IMS was done for 996 and there’s no proof of it done.

Will buy my next ride online probably too unless it’s a Merc then I’ll buy it in Manhattan.

Phuzz
Phuzz
1 month ago

I was about to say, “no, of course I would never buy sight-unseen”, until I remembered I’d done something even more daft, bought a car I’d never seen just based on my brother’s recommendation. It ended up being the first car I ever bought 100% myself (my folks had helped me out with my fist couple of cars), and I did grow to love it. However, when I’d first picked it up and moved all my tapes etc. into it (my brother was keeping the old car), I drove it up the cobbled road a bit and it seemed fine. It wasn’t until I left the next day, and turned onto the main road that I realised the vibrations from the steering didn’t stop even on smooth tarmac, but continued as if I was still driving on cobbles.
Turned out all it needed was new tires and an alignment, but for the first few miles I was cursing my brother for finding me a lemon.
A Mk2F VW Polo Coupe, loved that car.

Ted Schwartz
Ted Schwartz
1 month ago

Twice.
1) Bought a manual transmission BMW X5 off of Cars and Bids in the summer of 2022. Flew down to Orlando from Austin and drove it home. No issues.
2) Bought a BMW 328i xdrive wagon from a dealer in Dallas completely online in Oct of 2023. Didn’t see it or dive it until the truck driver dropped it off at my house. No problems with that one either.

MP0W3RD
MP0W3RD
1 month ago
Reply to  Ted Schwartz

The common theme here is a BMW with a naturally aspirated engine 😀

Last edited 1 month ago by MP0W3RD
Groover
Groover
1 month ago

I bought my 2001 Holden VU Utility in Sydney, Australia, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and had my Mum go pick it up. That was August 2023 – now it’s February and I’ve finally had a chance to drive it.

There are a lot of little problems – and one huge one (a black ute without working A/C in a Sydney summer) but I’ve been working my way through them in the Autopian Discord and loving every moment of it. It’s not eligible to import to America until January of 2026 but it’s gonna be on the first ship afterwards I promise you.

Buy a ute from the other side of the world. I didn’t regret it, you might not either!

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
1 month ago

It’s been over 10 years now. Boarded a plane to SFO and the seller picked me up at the airport to go buy his ’84 Subaru BRAT. He had warned me ahead of time that the steering column was “kinda janky”. Kinda was an undestatement, it basically felt like it was being held together by a pair of shoelaces. He also didn’t disclose that the stereo system had a ground short, so it would randomly cut out. As I was driving the car over 800 miles home solo, the lack of music did eventually get to me.

But it made it the whole way under its own power, and the two issues cost about $70 in junkyard parts and electrical connectors to fix. That was such a damn fun car to drive. It had even been upgrade to a Weber carb, and still had its jump seats and non-leaky T-tops!

Peter DeTonnancourt
Peter DeTonnancourt
1 month ago

Two; Within the last year and a half. A 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Limited with 30K miles from Carvana, and last week, I received my 2013 Genesis G70 3.3T w3.4K miles from Palm Coast Ford on-line. No complaints so far. Carvana didn’t get the title to me until I only had 2 days left on the temp tags they provided – that irked me but… no matter I got the title in time. Buying directly from the dealer (Palm Coast) was effortless & the G70 was delivered 4 days after the paperwork was completed.

Alex Patrevito
Alex Patrevito
1 month ago

I have never purchased a car sight-unseen before. The closest I have come to that is what I am doing right now.

I am currently waiting on a 2013 Volvo XC90 3.2 R with 53k miles to be shipped to our local CarMax in the Indianapolis area from Colorado Springs, CO. Although we don’t have to buy the car, the $699 shipping fee is non-refundable. Not as big of a chance as some other comments here, but it’s a big amount of money to gamble on a car we have never sat in or drove. Although I have owned several Volvos over the past few years – 2001 V70, 2010 C70 T5, 2015.5 V60 T5 Drive-E, 2019 S60 T6 – I have never driven (let alone sat in) a P2 XC90. My wife hasn’t either. The $699 on the shipping fee is more than both of us have spent on any and all forms of gambling combined (I hate gambling, there is no joy in it for me) so to us it’s a big risk. But worth it, we hope.

Myron Vernis
Myron Vernis
1 month ago

I buy a dozen or more cars per year. In the past five years, I looked at maybe three or four in person before pulling the trigger. The risk is part of the fun!

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
1 month ago

Yep, my 2000 Ford Ranger EV, sight unseen from Ebay. It was across the country too so had to get it shipped, first time doing that too. And it was in great shape, everything worked, heat, AC, drives, about 40 miles of range.

I could not have converted a compact truck and give it that much range for as much as I won it for and spent to have it shipped, which was my original plan before I found out they made these factory and started scouting for them.

Luckily the guys I got it from are basically the caretakers of a good amount of the leftover stock of EV Rangers, great for any questions after, and even had some adapters and updates I bought after to be able to use J1772.

JKcycletramp
JKcycletramp
1 month ago

In 2021 I bought a 2016 E350 wagon sight unseen from a dealer 2000 miles away. It’s been great! I never buy cars from dealers in the state I live in, always get better deals somewhere else. I also ordered new cars with out of state dealerships in 2016 and 2023.

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
1 month ago

Bought 4 new cars sight unseen using a broker. 2005 Honda Civic to replace the ex’s 2004 that had been totalled. 2011 Impreza, 2016 Honda Civic, and 2020 Honda Civic, all with manual transmissions. Half of those were to replace cars of the same make/model/generation. Test drove all of them before buying but I don’t want to sit in a dealer’s finance office with a foursquare and some sweaty guy in plaid pants asking how much I can afford a month for 72 or 84 or 96 months.

Pat Rich
Pat Rich
1 month ago

I bought my cruiser long distance, sight unseen.

Fatallightning
Fatallightning
1 month ago

Twice, both imported cars from the UK. First was a TVR Chimera from a high end specialty dealer. They had plenty of photos and did a walk around video on a lift for me. The shipper left it in the NJ port with the windows down for 2 weeks. I don’t think they knew how to operate the admittedly bonkers interior door release. Wankers. Second was an S1 Elise privately. Always a bit of a crapshoot wiring money across the world to a rando you’ve only talked to on Whatsapp. The shipper/customs left the roof half off with the windows down in port for a week. They also cracked the hood prying for the vin (presumably).

Eric D
Eric D
1 month ago

Did for the first time last week. 2016 M235i convertible. Bought from a used car dealer outside Chicago and the shipper dropped it off on Wednesday. It’s in great shape and a quick drive didn’t turn up any issues, but got a low battery warning next day. It’s been sitting on a battery tender which is now green and planning on taking it out tonight for date night.

StalePhish
StalePhish
1 month ago

Several! Only one used, many new.

Used:

  • 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth (won on Cars&Bids in 2021 and had shipped from Florida to NH)

New:

  • 2007 Pontiac G5 (new in 2007, dealer swap to the local dealer))
  • 2009 Pontiac G8 GT (new in 2009, flew to Ohio and drove home to NH)
  • 2015 Fiat 500 (won in a raffle in 2015, rental car to PA, drove it back to NH)
  • 2015 Mazda 6 (new in 2014, dealer swap to the local dealer)
  • 2018 Tesla Model 3 (new in 2018, home delivery)
  • 2023 Tesla Model Y (new in 2023, bus to New Jersey, drove it back to NH)
Piston Slap Yo Mama
Piston Slap Yo Mama
1 month ago

I bought a Honda Beat from an auction just off the grounds of the 2018 Amelia Island Concours, thought I’d gotten a good deal at $6000 on one with 70,000 km. Problem is, I didn’t inspect it prior to purchase as I arrived late to the auction and just trusted them to be honest. The turd they offloaded at my house after me shipping it across the state ran poorly, had a dying throwout bearing, check engine light, stinky exhaust, rattles aplenty and more.

I poked around in the car and found a hidden compartment behind the driver’s seat which contained the owner’s manual – and a number of JDM receipts that showed the car had more than 185,000 km’s on it before the odometer had been rolled back. The auction company resisted my angry requests for a full refund – but later gave me a partial refund as long as I signed a NDA to not reveal who they were.
Point being: trust but verify. Take a close look at your potential purchase before making the plunge.

Aoife McKechnie
Aoife McKechnie
1 month ago

I committed to a trade for my 92 Jetta and a friend of a friend’s Toyota Aristo sight unseen, although the Aristo had been vetted by said friend, so it only sort of counts.

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