» 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
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
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
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
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 - Who is the person/company selling the vehicle?
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
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
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
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
For less than $300 you can virtually guarantee protection for both parties in
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!
Suggestions for this page?
Please feel free to let me know!