Let the Rodder Beware
Tips to Consider When Making a Purchase
Tips to consider when making a purchase
Caveat emptor is a Latin phrase that means "Let the buyer beware." That’s advice that has never been more appropriate than when it comes to buying a car on the Internet. Recently we’ve heard a variety of horror stories concerning street rods that have been purchased sight unseen that turned out to be misrepresented by the seller who was either deceptive or uninformed.
Buying a car on the basis of photos and a written description is a risky proposition. A case in point is a good friend who bought a '32 Ford with what was said to have a “fresh” engine. Hearing the rods knocking when it was unloaded from the delivery truck was the first indication that something was wrong, and it took $7,000 in repairs to make the engine right. While that was bad enough, the engine turned out to be the tip of the iceberg as the Deuce had to be overhauled from one end to the other, including replacing the doors that were more plastic than metal.
If you’re interested in a car that is located out of your immediate area, plan on making a trip to check it out for yourself—a plane ticket may save money in the long run if the vehicle in question turns out to be a dud. If traveling isn’t feasible, or you lack the experience to determine the condition yourself, enlist the help of a professional. Check Hemmings Motor News or, even though it is somewhat ironic, the Internet for a certified specialty vehicle appraiser/inspector. A complete report will usually run around $350, which is relatively cheap insurance—we’re sure our friend would agree in hindsight.
When examining a prospective project yourself there are a variety of factors to consider; mechanical condition is one. A testdrive will usually make any deficiencies in the vehicle obvious. Listen for strange sounds and check the fluids for any evidence of contamination. Look for signs of blow-by or oil leaks and smoke from the exhaust pipes. If time allows, and you’re suspicious of the engine’s condition, ask for a compression or leak-down test.
Along with the engine and transmission, pay attention to the brakes and steering and check the operation of all the electrical accessories. Again, turning to a professional for advice may be wise if there are any doubts about your own ability to make those judgments.
While the mechanical condition may or may not be critical as modifications are often planned, the condition of the body is usually the top priority. First off, don’t overlook missing or damaged trim or other components that may be hard to find and expensive to replace. Check the alignment of
the doors and body panels. Look carefully at the underside of the body, paying particular attention to the rocker panels—check the floors in the passenger compartment and trunk. Then, of course, be on the lookout for excessive use of plastic filler, or “bodyman in a can,” that hides damage that has not been properly repaired.
A common question is: “How much filler is too much?” The usual recommendation from suppliers is a maximum of 1⁄ inch after sanding 4 (however by street rod standards that’s a lot and an 1⁄ inch is often seen as the 8 max). There are a variety of ways to detect the presence of filler, particularly if it hasn’t been skillfully applied. Sand scratches can be an indication as well as mismatched panels and crooked body lines. Even running your hand over the surface (use your left hand it you’re right handed) will show highs and low that may indicate repairs that have been made (or those that are needed). Of course there is the old trick of using a refrigerator magnet, which won’t stick if plastic filler is present, but the most accurate means is with one of the thickness gauges that are available. For as little as $20, testers are available that will measure the thickness of any filler, primer, or paint with surprising accuracy.
Regardless of whether you do it yourself or hire professional help, don’t let the initial excitement of looking at a prospect or the fact that there is money burning a hole in your pocket influence your decision. It’s wise to be skeptical so investigate any purchases thoroughly—and let the buyer beware. Take a look at these two examples that prove the point.
For the digital experience: https://bit.ly/2Ot1qBF
■ Here’s one of our projects in waiting, a '56 DeSoto. From 25 feet it looks pretty good, but it has some common issues that will be expensive to repair. A car like this has to be purchased for a price representative of its current condition, not its potential.
■ Typical of a car its age, the Mopar has some dings that are not difficult to fix. Another bump behind the wheelwell, again not too difficult to repair.
■ Now we’re getting into more serious problems—there is evidence of rust in the rockers. The right rear fender was snagged on something, leaving behind this complicated repair.
■ Since the rear quarter is badly rusted from the inside it will have to be replaced. There are no replacement panels available so it will have to be fabricated or a donor found. Fortunately the passenger compartment floor is solid and will only require cleaning and paint.