Gary Pronman
  Buyer Beware - Learn how to protect yourself from dishonest people that prey on classic car collectors

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Home How to Protect Yourself

Unfortunately whenever you combine good trusting people with high-dollar hobbies, you seem to attract additional attention from the less-than-honest types. In addition to rare automobiles, this "dark-side" of collecting has shown itself in fine art, jewelry, antique furniture, wine, and toy collecting.

I originally created this web site to let the car collecting community know about how I was defrauded by the Pronman brothers. Its original intent was to prevent anyone else from becoming another one of their victims. However, as I continued to tell my story, I realized that I wasn't alone and that the Pronman brothers weren't the only predators to be concerned about. Other individuals that have taken advantage of fellow hobbyists include Dennis Tuttle and Fred Engelhart. At least some form of justice was served to Engelhart, who was sentenced on April 21, 2010.

Therefore, I've updated this website in a continued effort to educate other car enthusiasts on how to not become a victim.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and there is no doubt they are correct. Based of my personal experience, and the experiences of others I've spoken to, here is the best advice I can offer to help ensure your first or next classic car purchase turns out to be a positive experience.
 

As a buyer:

Try to avoid auctions unless you are an expert on the specific vehicle you intend to purchase. A large percentage of the vehicles that roll across the block are hiding something. You typically don't have time to thoroughly inspect the vehicle (and you probably won't have an expert with you). There is no lift available and many important casting and stampings are on the underside of the vehicle. You usually can't review and authenticate any paper documents which accompany the vehicle being auctioned. If you are well-prepared, auctions can be a great opportunity for the experienced buyer, but more often than not, they are the best opportunity for sellers to take advantage of inexperienced buyers.

Avoid the 'experts' with a hidden agenda.  There are two types of 'Hidden Agenda Experts' that I've encountered: Those that will tell you everything is wrong with a car you found just so he can sell or direct you to a different car where he can make a profit, and those that will make the car seem worse-off just to sell you his own restoration services. This is easy to avoid by working with dedicated experts (consultants) who have no direct financial interest in the actual restoration process or selling you a vehicle.

Handshakes only go so far. If you agree to terms with a broker or seller, get those terms written down on paper! Remember, contracts are for when something goes wrong -- they can only help.

Avoid vehicles with 'stories.' Remember, the story may be good and believable, but you'll have to tell it (sell it) to the next potential buyer.

Try to avoid international deals unless you use a bonded escrow. Should a problem arise with the transaction (for example, you pay-in-full but the vehicle is never released to you), the issue of which court has jurisdiction can be a tricky and expensive battle to fight.
 

You've found the vehicle you're interested in:

First and foremost -- make sure the car isn't stolen. You can check the vehicle's VIN with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) for free at www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck. If the vehicle is a late model car, CarFax is a good way to find out if the car's been involved in any accidents www.CarFax.com.

Examine the overall quality of the vehicle. Is it a true survivor or has it been restored? How is the sheet metal on the car? Were the quarter panels, floors or trunk replaced? How about those matching numbers? Do all VINs match? What about part numbers and date codes? Each of these factors influence the price of the vehicle. There are a number of experts out there. Here's a list of a few that I've dealt with before.

Research, research, research - Who is the person/company selling the vehicle? Google and RipoffReport.com searches should be performed on the seller's name, company name, phone number, email address and website -- you'd be surprised at how much information is out there. Additional searches can be performed on various automotive enthusiast forums. Comprehensive background searches like those from www.intelius.com can be well worth the price when buying a high-six or seven figure car. My mistake was that I only focused on researching  the vehicle (verifying sheet metal, date codes, VINs) and never once researched the individual selling it to me.

More research:  What is the history of the vehicle? Who where the previous owners? Who restored the vehicle? Did the vehicle come from a well-known collector? Has it appeared in magazines? Has it won national shows? There are well-known restoration shops and then there are ones you will never want to own a vehicle from. Be leery of vehicles that no one has ever heard of before because often times they are not real.
 

Research complete, proceeding with purchase:

Have the seller fax or email you a scanned copy of their driver's license and the vehicle's title showing the title is clear of any liens and that the seller is the true owner of the vehicle.

Bring your expert, bring the money and bring a trailer. I've heard too many stories about the buyer and expert flying out to inspect the car, wiring payment, and having the car delivered weeks later -- only to find out the carburetors are no longer are numbers matching and/or the shaker is suddenly a reproduction part. This is what happens when a less-than-honest seller performs a last-minute parts substitution between the time you inspect the car and it is picked up by the transporter.

If you can't pick up the vehicle yourself, consider using a bonded third-part escrow service such as Escrow.com. For less than $300 you can virtually guarantee protection for both parties in the transaction.

 
What happens if I do get ripped off?

Contact your local police department and file a report; hire a lawyer; don't give up and above all don't let the crooks get away with it!

It's important to note that there are a couple lawyers that I've come across that specialize in classic car law, and they're car enthusiasts too!

Brian Shook
Phone: 717-975-9446
Email: bshook@dplglaw.com

Web:
www.vintagecarlaw.com
Blog:
www.vintageautomotive.net
Twitter:
@palawyer
Corporate:
www.dplglaw.com
Bruce Shaw
Phone: 215-657-2377
Email:
bshaw1@comcast.net
Web:
www.shawlaws.com
 

 

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