Q: Greg I’m considering buying a collector car either on eBay or from the ads either in area newspapers or in collector car magazines I receive like Hemmings Motor News and Auto Round-Up. I see many cars for sale that look good at fair prices. What’s your advice on buying online or from a magazine or newspaper ad?

-- Don R., Illinois

A: Don, I’ve purchased a 1959 Edsel Ranger from a magazine ad and also a 1980 AMC Concord from eBay. I’ll explain later about each purchase, but neither were big money purchases. If you find a car for sale in your local newspaper, that makes everything easy as you can have the car checked out without difficulty.

However, buying a car online or from an ad in a magazine takes a different approach. Although easy, you’ve got to follow some important steps. If you buy from eBay, they have excellent information online about buying a car (See their “9 Safety Tips”). As for magazines, Hemmings Motor News and/or Auto Round-Up both have similar information about buying from private owners where you’ll find buyer tips, dealing with sellers and also advice so you don’t fall victim to a scam.

From my perspective, and especially if you are going to spend some serious money, I recommend having a professional mechanic check your dream car in person before you buy. There are many cars that look great in pictures when in reality they are loaded with unseen problems and sold by people you don’t want to deal with.

Additionally, eBay Motors has guidelines for its sellers, including clearly stated refund policies, seller feedback ratings and so on, which is all good. However, nothing is foolproof in this business and eBay and the respected magazines you mention try their best to inform prospective buyers of scams and fraud.

Online sellers may or may not have protection policies or buyer disagreement clauses in place. Usually an “as is” sale is just that, “as is.” If you buy from a private owner or one with a personal website, I double emphasize you have the car checked before you buy.

To explain further, I once checked out a great looking 1968 Chevy Camaro SS for a friend and it looked beautiful sitting in the well lit garage I visited. However, when I raised the trunk to check the trunk floor, it was very heavy and couldn’t stay up on its own. The trunk flew down with a force that could have broken my finger. Thus, I knew it was loaded with body filler, regardless of how good the paint was.

Another example I remember reading about dealt with an enthusiast who bought a rare 1970 Plymouth Superbird online for close to $100,000 from pictures only. The owner said it was numbers matching and fully restored. When the car got to his home he noticed an area that needed a touch up. A trip to his hometown body shop for a minor repair turned into a horror story as the car was loaded with body filler and even heavy cardboard in the trunk area. Still, it looked look like a $100,000 car and could have fooled an uneducated buyer even in person.

As for my ’59 Edsel, I found it in a magazine ad and had my brother, who lived only 12 miles from the car in North Carolina, check it out and report back. My brother said it was “as advertised,” drove well and I bought it. When the Edsel arrived at my home, it was just as he and the seller described flaws and all. In this case, we were dealing with an honest seller, a low price, and I knew up front the only way the paint looked good was if you stood 25 feet away. Overall, some minor rust and all, it was a fair condition car with 120,000 miles on it. Still, if you judge solely from the attached photo, it looks pristine.

My 1980 AMC Concord came from eBay Motors from a seller with excellent, 100-percent positive buyer feedback. He lived in my state and the price was very low for a car with just 26,000 original miles. The eBay seller also told me the paint was thin, it had some minor body rust and to make sure I added anti-freeze as he had the radiator fixed and only put water in it for the summer. That’s an honest seller.

In ending, if you buy from a private owner and don’t know anyone where the car is located, call a reputable garage in the area and ask if they can check the car for you. You’ll be surprised how many independent mechanics will do it for a reasonable sum, usually $100 (more or less) depending on where the car is.

Good luck in your search and let’s hope you find something in your area newspapers first.

-- Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other GateHouse Media publications. He welcomes reader questions at greg@gregzyla.com.