Buying a car unseen over the Internet could be the best or worst decision you’ve ever made. But either way, it’ll be one hell of a ride
Oakley Wheelwright is a serial shitbox buyer and the current owner of Miles, CT’s now-legendary 400,000+ mile Skoda Octavia
We’ve all been there, idly scrolling through eBay or Facebook marketplace when suddenly a car pounces on your impressionable brain and lodges itself there for good. It’s a problem I seem to encounter quite frequently. I had no requirement for another car and yet I could not shake this feeling that what my life really needed was this bargain-basement Suzuki Jimny.
It looked a little rough around the edges, but it has a year’s MOT, a sure sign of integrity. A quick flurry of messages and one phone call later and the deal had been struck at £1000. The very next day and the seller was driving from over 100 miles away to deliver it – in hindsight, this was a giant red flag waving itself in front of my face but I was too blind to take heed. A few hours later as I watched it drive down the road towards me and seeing no plumes of smoke trailing behind it my hopes were high. After all, how bad could it be?
The answer: really, really bad. The interior was liberally smothered in more topsoil than my back garden, the smell was a potent mixture of sun-ripened manure and marijuana, the radio was held in place by slivers of wood and the gear knob was composed almost entirely of duct tape. At this stage I remained optimistic, bearing in mind it had been a steal.
The engine was coaxed into life upon the first turn of the key, and we were away. It immediately became apparent that all was not well. On the move, there was more wobble than jelly on a trampoline, and the back end felt like it was trying to socially distance itself from the front. Coupled with steering that required a compass to find straight ahead and an exhaust note that sounded more suited to a McDonald’s car park than a green lane and I knew our first trip was destined to be to the workshop.
We made it to my favoured garage (lucky them) and wasted no time in getting it up in the air on a ramp this is where it started to dawn on me just how bad the situation was. All of the mounting points had rusted away to within an inch of their life which meant the body was one emergency stop away from parting ways with the chassis.
The exhaust was effectively useless, missing a catalytic converter and leaking from front and rear, the arches had enough holes to trigger a full-blown panic attack in a Trypophobia sufferer and a long list of other pressing concerns ranging from minor inconveniences to slightly more dangerous things like the brake fluid discharging itself all over the floor. The scariest part is that it had passed an MOT the week prior with no advisories.
Fast forward a few weeks of work, four new tyres, various new wings and a good service and I am now the proud owner of a well-sorted and capable Jimny. The running total stands at something in the region of £2650 but who’s counting? In defence of this seemingly lavish expenditure on a ropey old Jimny, my theory is this: it would be all too easy to spend a similar amount on a seemingly well presented Jimny only to find at the next MOT that it required lots of welding carrying out. At least by buying cheaply and investing in the project I now know that the next few MOT tests should, in theory, be a breeze.
In the pursuit of balance, I’ll quickly recount the tale around my most recent acquisition. I was doing my usual perusal of the latest adverts when up popped a Dragon Green Mk3 VW Golf. Chatting to the vendor I learned that the Golf had been his mother’s daily driver since the year 2000. A much loved and much-used member of the family, then. It had been used to tour the length and breadth of the UK, racking up somewhere north of 140,000 miles in the process.
The seller was also an avid Car Throttle fan, even sharing a name with a certain Mr Kersten (I seem to be making a habit of buying cars from people called Alex). He was made up to meet Miles too, so how could I say no? Errol the Golf made the 200-mile journey home faultlessly and continues to impress, the ride especially is one of the comfiest I’ve encountered. There are plans afoot surrounding a VR6 being shoehorned under the bonnet while retaining the steel wheels, Dogs Trust stickers and meek appearance. Watch this space.
So then, sight unseen car shopping; is it a pursuit purely for fools like me or can it be a great way of grabbing an automotive bargain? In truth, I think both. It can definitely snowball into a very expensive nightmare but equally, it can mean you pip others to the post in securing a bargain.
Last year I saw a gorgeous Volvo 940 advertised for what seemed like a price so good it must be a typo, I transferred the cash there and then and a few days later arrived in Cambridgeshire to find an immaculate, well-maintained car owned by an F1 engineer and complete with a boot full of OEM spares. If I had hesitated it would have been gone. This did subsequently kickstart a Volvo buying period (three so far this year) but that’s a story for another time.
Go forth, buy old cars, fix old cars and have fun doing it. I’m a big believer in treating cars in a similar fashion to as treat spa days, expensive restaurants and luxurious holidays – we happily spend our hard-won money on experiences which we know we will thoroughly enjoy and give no thought as to recouping any of the expenditure. Normalising the purchasing of cars with no thought given to the resale prospects is one healthy attitude shift we can all strive for. If you come across any Volvo 940 estates with the low-pressure turbo, however, walk away, I will probably be on the phone buying it.