How To Verify a Car’s Documentation Before You Buy

When it comes to buying a collectable vehicle, documentation adds value.  Various types of provenance could include service history or factory paperwork that’s been tucked into a binder along with an owners manual.  As a perspective buyer however, how do you know it’s real?

Think about it, the vehicle in question could be four or five decades old and have had several owners.  While the paperwork is great, who is to say that even the seller knows for certain if it’s real or actually belongs to the specific vehicle in question?

GM used build sheets but those too often were misplaced, not included with the car to begin with or are from the wrong car.  For FORDs there is the Marti report that can prove quite useful.  There are a few other sources, but for the most part this type of information could be scarce.  So how can you verify the documentation before shelling out the big bucks?

Well, there is foot work involved.

For starters, make sure you are truly interested in the vehicle and that you feel that you and the seller will be able to arrive at a price agreement.  You don’t want to waste time researching a car you don’t think you’ll end up buying.

Then obtain copies of the paperwork.  If the seller refuses, that’s a red flag and you should probably move on after making a polite excuse.

Next with the information at hand, start examining the service record.  If any shops are listed, try to get in contact with them and verify that they are familiar with the vehicle.  If the shops are no longer operating, Google a bit to see if you can find a record that the shops exist.

Google the car itself, either description or VIN number, see what comes up.  Most importantly locate the correct books or other information for the vehicle to decode the VIN and make sure the information matches with that provided by the seller.

An interesting history fact play importance in this instance.  In the US cars were required to have a VIN number in 1954, so a vehicle older than that may not have a VIN, but if it does try searching for DMV records, you can do so at the link below.

Contacting previous owners may not always be good idea but it may give a glimpse of the vehicles origin and ownership history.

If any awards were won or there are records of shows, try to verify these.  A Google Image search may help here.

If you feel serious about the purchase and the car was made after 1981 (some modern classics or future classics were), consider obtaining a carfax report.  It may have tidbits of information that you may not find otherwise.

If the seller is a dealership, check out their record with the Better Business Bureau, hopefully this will re-enforce the warm fuzzy feeling you already have about the car.

Finally post on forums relevant to the vehicle, you may find someone that can provide more information to confirm or contradict the information given to you by the seller.

Researching any classic car for sale is a worthwhile task if you’re a truly interested buyer. The process can be long and sometimes painstaking but it will lead more information that will aide you in the decision process, if nothing else it may get you bargaining points that will lead to a better price.  And who doesn’t like that?

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