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Sight Unseen

Buying a car sight unseen is nerve-wracking, to say the least. Maybe it’s not 100% sight unseen since I have seen photos of it, but anyone who’s halfway decent with the most basic photo editing software can make a terrible car look great. I had found a car that ticked all the boxes. Everything I said I wanted was right there in perfect pixel form on the internet. But, I can’t physically touch it or drive it. And this… this lovely red 996 that was everything I said it should be, just doesn’t happen. It can’t be real. Yet, I’m still pursuing it.

One of the cardinal sins of car buying is to buy a car you haven’t driven. And one of the biggest rules is always have a PPI (pre-purchase inspection) performed. Corinna was 2,492 miles away and my pockets aren’t deep enough to fly out there just to look at a car. Not to mention, I don’t know any mechanics in Georgia. Immediately, doubt sets in and I start wondering why I ever opened this can of worms in the first place. I had decided to fix the Boxster, why did I do one last search??

I have a number of friends and acquaintances who have purchased a car without ever seeing it in person. There’s mixed stories; some are good, some are not-so-good, some are great, while others are devastating. I had never done anything like this, I didn’t even know where to begin. Or do I? I thought about it and realized that I had already begun. I had contacted the seller. That’s beginning! I had already taken the first step, I’m sure the remaining steps can’t be too difficult.

It made sense to verify a few things before getting too deep into this. The seller had sent many photos to me already, and in those photos I found some receipt records. I also had the VIN. There are sites like CarFax and AutoCheck that let you run VIN numbers to see if there’s an accident history. There are also sites that will list all the information about a car when you enter the VIN, such as this one. Those help a lot, in fact, that’s when I discovered the wealth of options this car has. But, I really wanted, no, needed to have a PPI performed. Ron was willing to take it in, so, it was up to me to do some research.

The PCA (Porsche Club of America) has regions all over the country. I looked up the region where Ron lived and contacted the President of that PCA region. My inquiry was simple enough: I’m buying a Porsche from someone in your region, but I live in California. Can you recommend a good mechanic who could perform a PPI? Later that same day, I received a reply with two recommendations and a link to their regional PCA site that had several others. Perfect.

One of those recommendations was a small business called Covenant Motorwerks. This was a small independent shop that only worked on Porsche and Jaguar. The shop owner answered the phone and after a short conversation, he offered to do the PPI at no cost. What? Ron scheduled an appointment and took the car in a couple days later. After the PPI, the shop owner gave me a call, I couldn’t believe what he had to say:

Well, I looked at that 996. Man, I gotta say, I just couldn’t find anything wrong with it. Nothing. I couldn’t even find a spot of oil anywhere. It was perf… You know, Chris, that’s the best example of a 996 I’ve ever seen. I don’t know why he’s selling it, but, yeah, it’s a good one.  The best. I mean, it’s pristine. It’s just perfect. You don’t really have anything to worry about.

Remember in my previous post I said if something’s too good to be true, it probably is? This didn’t help. I mean, sure, the car is pristine and perfect, but this is a 16 year old car, it should have some problems. And, he didn’t charge me for the PPI. This continually shapes up to be more and more unbelievable. On top of this, Ron and I had been emailing and calling regularly and he’s an incredibly great guy who has clearly pampered this car. The way he talks about the car is the way only an enthusiast could.

I took things a step further and called Flat 6 Innovations to inquire about the IMS Bearing solution they had performed on this car a few years back. Turns out, they were also incredibly nice and helpful. The gentleman I spoke with remembered the car, he told me everything they had done to it, and he recommended a few things for me to do in the future. He even noted the excellent condition of the car at the time they performed the work.

Despite everything being too good to be true, I did it. We settled on a price and I sent a cashiers check to Ron overnight. I actually bought the car. Okay, that seems risky, why not use an escrow service? That’s easy: Trust. Ron and I had built a friendly, open and honest relationship via email and phone calls. I not only felt as though I knew everything I needed to know about the car, I also felt I had known Ron all my life. There were specific photos of the car I had requested, he went out and took those pictures. He volunteered information, like a wrinkle in the leather dash (the only thing that’s apparently wrong with the car). He spoke about Corinna with the kind of love and pure emotion most people reserve for their children. He named his cars. All of his cars. If that doesn’t convince you he’s real and this is not a scam, then what would?

Once Ron received the check, I arranged shipping. Fortunately, I had talked to my friends and acquaintances who had done this before and learned more than I ever wanted to know about transporting cars across the country. For example, don’t ship on an open trailer because your car will be delivered with at least one (but probably multiple) rock chips in your windshield. I later discovered most places can’t ship exotic cars, including Porsche, on open trailers because they’re too low to the ground; the ramps and loading system on the trailer will cause undercarriage damage. Most shippers will contract drivers and your car will change trucks and drivers several times on its trip to you. The more your car is loaded and unloaded, the more risky it will be. Additionally, they will sometimes drive your car from a drop-off location to a pick-up location when switching trailers, thus adding mileage to your car. If this 996 is as perfect as I’ve been lead to believe, I don’t want to take any chances with shipping.

I settled on a company called Horseless Carriage. Their drivers are not contract drivers, they only use enclosed trailers, and your car stays on the same trailer the entire duration of the trip. There’s only a handful of car transporters that operate this way, and most of them specialize in moving exotic, classic, antique and collectors cars. These transporters cost a bit more than all the others, but you’re really guaranteed to receive your car in the same condition in which it was picked up. That peace-of-mind is worth the extra money.

Everything about this interaction went perfectly smooth. From my first contact with Ron simply asking a few questions about his car, to setting up transportation and having it picked up. Ron even took photos of the car getting picked up and loaded on the truck, and the mileage, so I would know exactly what it should have. The seller, the mechanic, the guy at Flat 6, the shipping company, and the driver of the truck have all been amazing, friendly and extremely accommodating people. The best of the best. But then it hit me… this is the point where the car is completely out of Ron’s hands, and mine. It’s on a trailer somewhere in America making a trip across this big country.

Maybe this is where too good to be true comes into play.




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