In a nutshell, you should move deliberately but with a sense of purpose: these cars have a tendency to sell fast – at least the good ones do.
The first thing to do once you think you have located a good candidate is to make contact right away. The method of that contact is up to you: some of us do better with a carefully worded email; others prefer to just pick up the phone and make a call. Often, general-consumption car posts like those found on Craigslist or Autotrader, to name a few, work more smoothly when followed up with a phone call. More often than not posters don't reply to written correspondence in a timely fashion and if they do their answers don't always contain the level of detail one would hope for. Our advice is: when possible contact the seller using the phone.
In the case of eBay Motors you may have no choice and in case a phone number isn't listed you'll have to make contact using eBay's internal email. As for dealers, whether boutique or not, the telephone is usually the best method. Which in the end works better for the buyer as well, for a quick phone call can uncover potential seller idiosyncrasies far more promptly than any email.
Have a short list of questions at the ready as you get ready to make the first contact: ask for a Carfax if one hasn't been provided in the for-sale post as well as ask general questions about whether maintenance documentation is available as well as additional pictures of any areas of the vehicle that you would like to learn more about – such as the underside. Remember that this first contact is as much a test for the seller as it is a quest for additional information. At the end of the call you should ask yourself questions like: “would I want to do business with this seller”? “Did the seller come across as a genuinely trustworthy person”? “Did the seller take the time to answer my questions or did he/she seem to rush me”? And so on. You'd be surprised how many sketchy individuals try to sell equally sketchy supercars: a little common sense on the buyer's part can help sift though all that nonsense.
Remember that vehicles of the caliber we are discussing in this series of guides should never be purchased without seeing them in person first. The risk for a costly mistake by buying sight-unseen is just too great.
Once the first contact has been made and the additional requested information has been received it's time to make a decision. Is this car worth pursuing? Is it located close enough to go see in person without having to spend a day or two doing so? If the car is indeed located far away are you comfortable with traveling long distance to go see it? If the answer is “yes” then pick up the phone once again and create a deeper rapport with the buyer: start laying the foundation for a site visit and try to find a time of mutual convenience to do so. All the while don't forget to continue keeping an eye on other cars that may be popping up: while you may think the vehicle you are pursuing may be the one, it is by no means certain it actually is – until after you see it. Meanwhile other, potentially better opportunities, could be going past you.
Remember that vehicles of the caliber we are discussing in this series of guides should never be purchased without seeing them in person first. The risk for a costly mistake by buying sight-unseen is just too great. While one can arrange for a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) remotely to be conducted at a shop of your choice near the seller's location, oftentimes the logistics associated with an unmotivated or procrastinating seller make that option a difficult one to pursue. If a PPI is too difficult to organize you can still pursue the vehicle but you'll have to take a good look at it on your own (if you are sufficiently knowledgeable) or with a friend with a strong mechanical inclination (obviously you'll have to travel together during the site visit).
Once you decide to look at the vehicle in person (with or without a friend), you'll have to travel to the seller's location and find a way to put the car on a lift so that you can take a good look underneath. The recommended course of action is that you schedule a PPI at a nearby performance shop that specializes in high-end vehicles. Call around and find one: if you are unfamiliar with that location locate similar shops on Google Maps and contact them: a thorough PPI usually will set you back about $400-$500 – but prices vary wildly. If the seller has no lift available you can also try taking the car to a nearby tire store and offer them $100 (or whatever amount you deem appropriate) to use one of their lifts for an inspection. Call ahead the various tire stores near the seller's location until you find one who is willing to do it.
Get under the car and take your time: wear a pair of protective gloves and check all the various items that you know are at grater risk of failure on that specific model – following the research you performed in step 2. Take pictures as needed. If the car isn't what you expected or wasn't described properly then don't hesitate to pass. But also keep in mind that what looks like oil dripping from the bottom end of the engine (yikes!) could be as simple as a cam cover gasket leak that is finding its way to the bottom of the engine (much easier fix). In other words, be sure you know what you are doing: if your knowledge of engine and all things mechanical is uncertain then perhaps scheduling a PPI through a specialized shop is the best way to go.
If the car checks out be ready to move to the next step. Remember that supercars are relatively rare birds (especially the good ones) and you want to move quickly if you believe you have indeed found the one.
The next step has to do with your money. Follow us to the next article that deals with the financial aspect of acquiring a pre-owned supercar.