I have to tell you about an Australian client we recently helped. He had used our Classic Car Inspection division (www.AutomobileInspections.com) to inspect a 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback in New Hampshire. The car was described as restored and the inspection revealed that it was indeed a nicely sorted example, so he decided to proceed with the purchase. Although we do not know the exact purchase price, we can tell you that it was close to $50,000! Now, having negotiated with the seller he called on us for help with logistics. As I pressed my ear to the phone, he explained his plan ...
He was going to pay the seller with an International money transfer from his bank in Victoria, Australia to the seller's bank in New Hampshire, USA. The inspection revealed that the seller had no Title to the vehicle, but he had promised to provide one for the buyer, along with a letter stating that the car hadn't been stolen and did indeed belong to him. Our client had figured out that as soon as the paper work was sorted, he'd transfer the money to the seller and close the deal. Furthermore, as our client was unable to get to the States for four months, the seller had very kindly agreed to store the car for him until he arrived to pick it up!
At this point, I had "red flags" popping up all over the place, but then I found out there was more…..
Our client's plan was to then drive this car he'd never seen with his own eyes much less driven, over 3000 miles to California and in two weeks after his arrival he'd ship it and himself home from there! Apparently he had read somewhere that "hundreds of tourists do this sort of thing every year".
What he needed from us at Buyer Services International, LLC was a legally binding contract that will ensure that he'd have no problems establishing ownership for US or Australian Customs. Also, as for his wanting to drive to Los Angeles, he couldn't understand why he was having trouble finding a company to insure him while the car was in storage and on the road. He didn't think registration was going to be a problem and as for anything happening on the cross-country journey he said "I do have a fair amount of mechanical knowledge and plan to tour the surrounding areas for a few days to establish how reliable the car will be before I set off, but this car has had a full rotisserie restoration along with the engine and transmission completely rebuilt, so I don't expect too many problems". I love the word "restoration" because it means such different things to different people.
This was my response:
Are you crazy? This is like the worst idea you have had all year (maybe EVER). You are SO setting yourself up to get hurt. Whilst we are not suggesting any impropriety on the part of the seller, you should be aware that New Hampshire is a state where Titles can be WASHED! (i.e. they can make new titles for cars that don't have them – say.. like stolen ones). I told him Make no mistake once you pay for this car you OWN it. If ANYTHING happens to it (like vandalism, being crushed by a falling tree or a wildfire), or as a result of it being stolen it's involved in a hit and run homicide, YOU ARE THE RESPONSIBLE PARTY! The police will come looking for YOU along with the lawyers and their "wrongful death" law suits. Having the seller sign a piece of paper saying the car isn't stolen is worthless, it's your responsibility to prove it BEFORE you buy it. You are then proposing to leave this car (that you've just paid $50,000 for) with a complete stranger? What happens if he moves between now and September and takes your car with him? How do you think you are going to find him? How do you know that the name he gave you is even his REAL name? How do you know that HE even owns this car? What if he's already sold this car to someone else and is just taking your money because he's retiring to Mexico next week? What happens if he shows you a Title in his name and you send him the money for the car, then between now and September a tree falls on the car and crushes it? Do you think he's going to give you your money back? Heck no! If you can find him, he's going to say "Well I sold this to you months ago you should have picked it up." You have no insurance and his insurance (if he has any) won't cover property that is not his. Furthermore, you are thinking of wiring him the money directly from Australia? BRILLIANT! Now you'll have no paper trail. Who do you expect to turn to for help if when you show up in September the seller and the car are gone? Your Australian bank – there will be nothing they can do, it's a whole other country. The US bank? They won't help you, you aren't their customer. You can't even go to the police as it would be considered a civil matter and the States Attorney General won't help because you are not a US citizen. You'd be pooched!
Now as for the second part of your "cunning" plan – the road trip. Understand this: In order to register a vehicle to be used on the public highway in America you will need to show (a) Proof of residence in the state you are trying to register it in and (b) Proof of insurance by a nationally recognized carrier. Unfortunately, no company will insure you or your vehicle if you are not a legal US resident. SO, that means that in order for you to get a license plate for the car, you will need to first get a US resident visa. Then you will have to (at the very least) rent a property in the state you want to register the vehicle. You will need a social security number to get a driving license and then you can apply for insurance. With that you can go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and apply for a temporary license plate. Oh, I neglected to mention that when you get to the DMV (as you are now a legal resident of their state) they will ask you to the 6% sales tax on the vehicle you just purchased! That would be a cool $3000 on this Mustang plus Title transfer and license plate fees.
If you are thinking of taking your chances driving an unregistered, uninsured BRIGHT RED "MINT" MUSTANG 3000 miles across country without being noticed you have bigger gonads than I do my friend. But know this, if you breakdown, or have to stop overnight and leave this car in the motel parking lot unprotected or get pulled over by the police, you can kiss the car, your vacation and possibly your butt goodbye as you will likely be arrested as a flight risk. The car will be impounded and by the time you get out of prison for driving an unregistered / uninsured car across country, the "mint" car you just parted with $50,000 for will have been handled by monkeys driving wreckers who would have it securely locked up and you won't get it back until you can prove that you are the legal owner and that you have a way to get it transported to the port so it doesn't touch the road! Oh, and don't forget you'll have those towing charges and storage fees to pay first. That's how quickly adventure holiday can turn into a nightmare.
Hey, I like an adventure as much as the next guy, but this is such a BAD idea on so many fronts its laughable.
We would recommend you let Buyer Services International, LLC handle the transaction, we will check the paperwork etc. (and the seller) If all is in order, we'll complete the purchase of the car, get it picked up and transported to New York and shipped in a secured container to Australia. It'll be insured and protected while in transit to the port and on the ocean.
Australians please spread the word. Broadly speaking, there are two types of classic car sellers in America. 1) Decent honest people that are sadly fearful of dealing with overseas foreign buyers because they think they are going to get scammed, so they prefer to deal with local buyers and 2) Unscrupulous individuals who are happy to deal with foreign buyers because they know that there are those among you that will wire them the money for a car you haven't seen and by the time you find out they were lying about the car's condition, there will be nothing you can do about it. Of course there are a few exceptions to the rule but how will you know? Tip: ALWAYS get the car inspected by a company such as www.AutomobileInspections.com and NEVER wire the money to the seller until you have someone there ready to remove the car from his possession at the same time. Contrary to "folk lore" while there ARE a lot of Australians buying Classic Cars from America right now, there are NOT "hundreds of people" doing the fly/drive holidays in classics they've just bought. Whilst there are probably a couple of nongs each year that'll try it, if you've had a similar idea for an adventure holiday, know that it may be time to put down the Fosters and call it a night.
Jeff Webster / CEO
Buyer Services International, LLC.