Bruce's Guide to Buying a Used Mercedes
I've bought literally hundreds of cars, and over 70% of them long distance. There are some hard/fast rules to keep in mind:
1. EVERY seller lies. Let me repeat that; EVERY seller lies. OK, OK, 99.9% of sellers lie. Some lie because they are dishonest and want to sell their car for the most money possible, so they hide any flaws and lie about the rest. Some lie because they disclose an issue but either minimize it or think they know what's wrong (and it's always a cheap/easy fix) and give you the wrong diagnosis. Some lie (and granted this isn't a 'lie' in the true sense of the word) because there are problems they just don't know are there. A leak that has not hit the ground and puddled yet, A/C that has not been used in a while but no longer works, etc.
There is one seller in a thousand that not only accurately discloses flaws, but gets an inspection done on their own car and either fixes what's found or discloses what's found. I am one of the few idiots that does that, and I many times lose a sale as a result of disclosing what's found (so keep that in mind when selling a car...hahaha). I was in that exact situation recently....sold a gorgeous 2003 S600 with 84K miles, told buyer it was at Benz dealer for inspection, dislosed what was found and offered to fix it at my expense, and buyer got cold feet because car 'was supposed to be like new and need nothing' and backed out. Oh well.
2. So that brings me to the inspection. GET A PRE-PURCHASE INSPECTION ON EVERY CAR YOU CONSIDER BUYING. I don't care how nice the pics are, or how good you are at looking over cars (OK, unless you're Jono or Hef or someone professional), or if the seller shows you records of routine maintenance. In the world of buying cars, this is the cheapest insurance you can ever get. I mean, who would not spend $150 or so to find out if that creampuff they're considering is actually a sh*tbox or not? You can't even argue it's not worth it on cheap cars......if the car is $1500, it's not worth $150 to prevent you from throwing away $1500? Of course it is.
The PPI must be from an authorized dealer or independent mechanic that specializes in the marque or knows it well. YOU HAVE TO FIND AND HIRE THE SHOP. You can not let the seller go to his mechanic, or take it to the shop the seller recommends. Too risky. The shop has to work for you and you only, and not have a cozy relationship with the seller, especially if buying long-distance. I don't even offer to have my mechanic do the inspection when selling a car, it just is so ripe for a conflict of interest even if I told him to make sure to be extra careful. I pay him every week, and the buyer does not.
The PPI must be presented to the seller in a nice way. Speaking as a seller, it is kind of a pain in the neck to do this, and if everyone wants one, and since most people are not serious when they say they want to buy a car, all I'd be doing is going back and forth to dealers to get PPIs done. So make sure you've worked out the price and terms, and tell the seller that you're going to buy the car as long as it gets a decent inspection report. You have to be realistic as a buyer too; no older car is going to get a perfect report. There will always be things to do, you just want to rule out major stuff. Let the seller know he can drop it at their convenience at the shop you've chosen (pick the closest/best place to the seller) and you will pay for it. I even offer to pay the shops' $25 (or whatever) rental car fee while the inspection is getting done. I can't expect someone to sit around for 4 hours for an inspection.
Of course, if you're nice about it and the seller refuses to get a PPI done, or only wants their mechanic to do it, you should start asking yourself why that is.
3. Get a cosmetic opinion during the PPI (assuming it's not a project car or rolling chassis or something). Most shops do not want to do this; cosmetics are subjective and too open to dispute. But ask nicely, ask (if it's a car dealership and not just a repair shop) if the used car manager could come by while the car is in the shop and take a look, with a paint meter preferably to check for original paint. Tell them you won't quote them or hold them to anything, you just want to know, since they are your eyes on a long distance purchase, if the car is reasonably nice and as represented by the seller, or if it looks like it fell off a cliff. Offer to pay a little extra for this, it's worth it, especially on a car you're considering for its excellent condition or that is high priced. You also want the shop to check frame and unibody for any signs of previous repairs.
4. Protect yourself when buying...get a copy of title front and back, verify seller's address/DL#/home phone, pay by a trackable method, etc. The car being dropped off for PPI (verify the VIN# and run carfax while it's there, if not before) is a good sign too, at least the seller has physical possession of the car. Just be careful, this is usually thousands of dollars, long distance, to someone you do not know. Be smart!
Last edited by brucemendel; 04-19-2010 at 07:11 AM.