On: December 6, 2020 In: Classic Cars Comments: 3

Tips for Buying or Bidding on Classic Car, Trucks and Automotive Products Online or at Auction

These tips are written to help you bid on and buy that hard to find collectors piece that you’ve just got to have or really need to finish the project, the family heirloom or the car or truck of your dreams. The 11 tips below do not cover every potential little nuance you may run into, nor are they written as a know all, tell all about how to buy parts online. They are just things for you to consider, to ponder and to help you deliberate so you make a good purchase.

We all know that buying something online from a person or company you do not know about can feel a little unnerving to downright daunting. Yet, we roll the dice because we know that “that part” is not likely going to be at a garage sale next door nor will it always be found at your local swap meet or club meeting. Heck, it could still be in a barn on the other side of the country yet to be discovered.

These tips are written to help reduce your stress, to help reduce your risk and most of all to help you ultimately feel like you got a good deal.

One last thing, we hope that you’ll use and join the Avid Autos Community Boards to help you find the vehicle or part you need, the information you seek or possibly a car club to join or best of all, maybe you’ll find a new friend.

Let’s Get Started.


  1. More Than Anyone Else, You Know What You Want and Most Importantly What You Need

There are many experts out there that are fully educated on what they have and what they are selling. In the automotive community these folks are great to have as a friend or on your side. They are often a great source of information and they love to show you and tell you just how much they know. However, many sellers are far from being an expert or even worse they are that guy who knows enough to be dangerous.

You more than anyone else, need to make sure that the part being offered is the correct one for your project. You need to do your research and you need to ask clear questions of the seller. It is important to get data and factual information. Automotive stories, history, and tales (often tall) are the essence and energy that drives us to complete our project, but data and photographic evidence is king. This leads me to number two.


  1. Get the Part Numbers, Stamped Numbers, Casting Numbers, Date Codes and Build Sheets

This cannot be said or stressed enough, find any distinguishing I.D. number on a part that you can. This is always helpful for you to determine if “that part” is correct for your car or truck. As important and as helpful as this information is, it may not always be enough. Sometimes the manufacturer part numbers have been updated or superseded across the production years your car or truck was manufactured. Having a copy of the manufacturers part and service manual can help with this but again these manuals are not infallible.

Part numbers, casting numbers or stampings are also not always the same from product to product as mentioned above due to updating or superseding across production runs. Look at the part you already have, inspect it for a number or other identifying marks and then when you see a part you want to buy, compare the two to make sure the one you want to buy is the same as the one you want to replace.

Date codes will determine when the part was made and will help you in getting the correct part. When you are trying to accurately complete a restoration, date codes become more important. Date codes are even more important when undertaking a concours restoration.

If you are trying to buy a part that you do not already have and possibly have never seen first-hand or have not held in your own hands, try the internet, and do an online search. Here you enter the parts name as well as the year, make and model of your car or truck. This will likely produce photos, drawings or service manual images and some of the missing information you need. Look for a part or casting number on the item(s) in those photos. Once you find it, search again using the name and this new-found number. If this is correct, more images and data will likely come up. To reduce the chance of it being incorrect, try to find multiple images and references where the part is described as fitting your specific car. The internet is not 100% foolproof, but most of the time the part will be correct.

As mentioned above, you can also reach out to the Avid Auto Community Board for help.


  1. Photos, Engineered Drawings, Exploded View Drawings and Service Manual Images, etc.

If you are not satisfied with a photograph or drawing in the listing, ask the seller for more. It is important that you have enough information to make an informed decision. If the images do not reveal what you are trying to find, contact the seller and ask them for more. If they can accommodate your request, you may get what you need to make an informed decision. Most sellers in our community are enthusiasts like yourself and they want to be of service. They want to see you happy and they like to see you successfully get you vehicle back on the road. If they balk, or hesitate you may want to reconsider doing business with them at this point.

In our current world of mass media, there may be one photograph, drawing, or image or there may be hundreds out there. Seldom these days will there be no image at all but be prepared this can occur.  Obviously, the more photos, drawings, and images, the better.


  1. Buy the Entire Assembly Including Component Parts and Accessories

Buy the item you need and also when possible, buy as many additional parts, components and accessories that you can. This will almost always save you time and money. I mentioned exploded view drawings earlier. These drawings can help you see the complexities of assemblies. They will highlight for you the brackets, the hardware, the cables, the knobs, face plates, handles, diaphragms, seals, O-rings, etc. They visually highlight for you all of the parts you may need to get the whole assembly back in working order. If you had to purchase these additional parts separately, you may need to go to different sellers in different locations and chances are this would cost you more time and you would have to also pay shipping for each individual part. So, the top tip here is to always keep an eye out for complete assemblies and components.


  1. Do Not Buy the First Example That You Come Across

Haven’t we all come across that seller who thinks that their vintage automotive part(s) is the next priceless work of art, or that missing piece of automobilia that holds the key to life itself. Maybe that person is you, well, if it was you, wouldn’t you charge accordingly. Anyway, if you really have to have that part, and are willing to pay the price, then make that choice.

Experience tells me that you may be helping yourself by doing a little comparison shopping first. In the automotive community there are often additional sellers’ offering the same product and maybe even the other assembly parts, pieces and components mentioned above. Being informed, finding what you need at a good price is the name of the game. However, if it really is that much cherished part that you believe you won’t be able to find anywhere else, then make yourself happy and buy it, after all maybe the first seller was right.


  1. Don’t Buy the Lipstick on the Pig

I know that sounds a little harsh, but it would not be said if it did not need to be said. Just because something looks pretty, clean, and new, does not mean that it is correct and in pristine condition.

Here are the most common ways a used part is listed and represented for sale.

  • “As is” – this does truly mean “As-is”. This description means it includes all of the wonderful and sometimes not so wonderful patina, wear, and tear. It means it still has all the time earned scars and scratches from being driven around for years. It often also includes the road grime, mud, tar, and paint that has accumulated when on the vehicle.
  • “As is” – version 2.0. I know the description is the same but this time the part(s) or products have been cleaned by the seller, but this does not mean that they have also been refurbished and or repaired. It has been cleaned to the point where it can be identified clearly, and it looks good in a photo.
  • “Refinished” – Next is cleaned and refinished, and sometimes both are questionable. This does not mean that the part has been cleaned properly, prepped, refurbished, or repaired. This is important to understand and even more important to clarify with the seller. Too often this minimal process has been done to simply make it look good online or in a photograph. It is this option where the “lipstick on a pig” comment above comes from. Watch out for copious amounts of spray paint used to hide imperfections such as flaws, cracks, chips, or poor attempts at repair, etc.
  • “Restored or Refurbished” – Stripped down, thoroughly and properly cleaned, prepped, repainted and properly refurbished ready to install in a driver. Hopefully, at this point it has also been repaired.
  • “Repaired to Factory Specs” – Stripped down, thoroughly and properly cleaned, prepped, and repainted to the factory correct specifications including color and texture. It has been properly repaired and is thoroughly detailed down to the correct hardware and /or decals and it is ready to install in a competition or show car.

The above highlights the significant differences in the type and quality of products out there for sale. It is clearly to your benefit to ask questions, seek clear photos, be educated and to determine which option fits your needs before you start your search. Preparing like this can be a big relief upon receiving the part you are considering, because it can decrease the chances that you are not disappointed when you receive it.

In the first three options described above you have to be cautious because there is a chance that the issues or defects mentioned have been hidden, so please be very specific about the information you ask for. In the last two options above the seller who took the time to restore the part thoroughly and professionally will likely be more apt to be proud of their work and be more willing to explain to you how and what they did to it. Again, photos and information are your friend.


  1. Is a Refurbished or a Reproduction Product an Option?

Before you purchase a used product and have to get involved in the repair and maintenance of this product yourself, you may want to check restoration companies or companies that provide remanufactured products as part of your research. You may be pleasantly surprised to find a reproduction replacement available for less cost. Please remember to always do your homework to see if the quality of the reproduction is up to your desired standard and that the product looks and fits like it should before you buy.


  1. A Little Briefing or Introduction About Bidding at Auction

Auctions are fun and can get quite exciting but please be careful of the latter. It is the excitement of an auction that has caused some of us to pay more money than we originally intended. In an auction setting, it is easy to get competitive with another bidder and get caught up in a bidding war. Doing so may lead to you spending more money than you want to. Go into the auction knowing what your maximum amount is that you are comfortable spending and then do your best to stick to it.


  1. How Do I Know When to use the “Buy Now” Option Over the Bid Option

Some auction sites offer a choice of bidding on the product or simply buying it now at its listed price. The advantage of a buying it now listing is that you know the amount you are buying the product for. This option is selected if you do not want to risk losing it to someone else in a bidding war at the end of the auction. Another advantage is that you will likely get it more quickly because you don’t have to wait for the auction to end.

The disadvantage is that you may pay more for it than if you bid on it. Sellers often list their ideal price in a buy it now listing, because they do not want to risk selling the item for potentially less in a live auction. It is up to the buyer to decide if the buy it now price is worth it.

How do you decide? It really depends on your need and the knowledge you have about the rarity or quality of the product listed. It is your perceived value and ultimately if you think that the buy it now price is fair. If you think it is a good deal and the above criteria is met, you should likely select the “Buy Now” button. If you think or know that the part is easy to find, it is inexpensive, and you can get it where and when you need it, you may be better off bidding on a live auction to save some money.


  1. Shipping

Shipping companies vary greatly, and each carrier has their way of doing things. Shipping costs and delivery times also vary greatly. This makes it a little difficult for you to know if you are or are not getting a fair price. It is up to you to do your research and to work with the seller to figure out the best way to get your new item delivered. Educate yourself regarding the customary prices of shipping from point A (the seller’s location) to point B (your place).

Sometimes a seller is genuinely not aware of what shipping costs customarily are. In other, less honest situations, a seller may be baiting buyers by offering a low product price on the item and then trying to make up the price difference between the price offered and what he really wanted to get by including it into the shipping cost. Either way, you lose. Again, educating yourself is in your best interest.

What is becoming more and more popular is free shipping. This is a positive option for both the buyer and the seller if it is done with good intentions. However, it can work in reverse of the high shipping price scenario mentioned above. In some cases, the lure of free shipping is attractive to the buyer and then he or she ultimately pays for shipping anyway in a higher-than-average purchase price.

Some sellers offer many products, and this creates an opportunity for the buyer to package or bundle their purchases in one shipment to save on shipping costs.

Some shipping companies insure packages automatically (to a price point), some do not, and they charge an extra fee. How shipping insurance helps is that it can save you from potential hassles of fighting over whom is responsible, should a part get lost or damaged in shipping. It is important to be aware of and consider the price of the item and its shipping cost when discussing shipping insurance with the seller. More often than not, the cost of the insurance has been cheap enough to warrant getting it.


  1. Return Policies and Restocking Fees

It is in your best interest to clearly understand the seller’s return policy in advance of you bidding on or buying an item. Knowing that the seller takes returns can take a little pressure off of the purchase for the buyer, since the buyer knows that they can return it if they are unhappy with it. However, if a seller is good enough to offer a return policy this is not a green light or an excuse to by something that you only might want. It is a big waste of time and shipping fees for both parties if you return a product simply because you changed your mind about buying it.

Another possibility to consider is being charged a restocking fee for returning an item. Sellers often do this to cover the time they spent preparing and shipping your item only to have it returned. Most restocking fees are applied in good faith and are fair, but others can come at a high price.


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