Long Distance Run Around – Buying My 300M Sight Unseen

Thomas Kreutzer
by Thomas Kreutzer
long distance run around buying my 300m sight unseen

The salesman must have thought I was nuts. I could hear the incredulous tone in his voice, “Some guy calling from Okinawa wants to buy a used car that we put on Craigslist? When does he want to come and look at it? He doesn’t? How’s he going to pick it up? He isn’t?” Fortunately for the both of us, money talks.

By the spring of 2010 I had spent six straight years in Japan and I was worn out. Although I wasn’t exactly eager to return to the United States, whether I wanted to believe it or not, it really was time for a change of scenery and the closer my departure came, the more comfortable I became with the idea. A return to the United States meant a lot of good things, I realized. My wife would get to experience life in the land of the free and my kids would get to hear someone other than their dad speak English for a change. It would also be a return to live football games on TV, real bologna sandwiches and, best of all, I might even get the chance to own a cool car again.

As soon as the thought entered my mind, I knew what I wanted, a great American sedan. I spent a lot of time hemming and hawing about the various ones on the market but, when the time came for me to put my money where my mouth was, reality reasserted itself and took control of the situation. As an auto enthusiast, I’d like to say that I refused to settle, but the truth is a couple of my dream cars went out the window, foremost among them the Pontiac Bonneville GXP I had long dreamed about. Then an old memory tickled the back of my skull, what about the 300M?

From the days of the Eagle Vision, I have been a sucker for the LHS cars. Now, of course, I know that some of them have transmission issues, but from the day photos of the Eagle Vision hit the magazine stand those cars have featured large in my own personal vision of the future. Each iteration of the design, the New Yorker, the LHS and eventually the 300M represented another step towards a better, brighter tomorrow. So the 300M really didn’t have 300 horsepower? It looked so good to me that it didn’t matter.

With my departure from Japan just a month away, there was no time to be lost. After reading as many old road tests as I could, I set down a list of requirements so thorough it resembled the build sheet for a brand new car. I chose the 300M Special, a slightly sporty variant of the already good-looking 300M that featured a few more horsepower, fake carbon fiber interior trim, special body work, lower stance and special wheels. I decided too that I wanted the white/grey two-tone interior, a sun roof and all the other options. Finally, I decided that it had to have less than 70K miles and be in perfect condition.

Thanks to the internet, I had a whole world of 300Ms at my finger tips. Thanks to my list of demands, I had very few choices. I found a nice black one in Salt Lake City that looked like it met the criteria, but it was sold when I called. A gorgeous blue one in Sandusky Ohio was long gone, too. Eventually, thanks to a Craigslist search aggregator, I found a dark grey 300M in Tucson, AZ. This time when I called it was still there.

The salesman was shocked, but when I told him I was a cash buyer he jumped at the chance to sell a car. He sent me dozens of pictures and promised me, under threat of a major beat down, that the car was in great condition. From half a world away I held my breath, took the plunge and bought the car sight unseen. Then I had to get it up to Seattle.

Fortunately, I am from a big family and my older sister Connie needed a vacation. For the price of a one-way ticket to Tucson and a few dollars pocket money I was able to solve that problem. I watched her progress via Facebook as she picked-up the car and then headed across the high deserts of the American Southwest, then Northward through California, with a stop to visit the wine country, Oregon and finally Washington state. When I arrived at the airport two weeks later, Connie was there to meet me and the big Chrysler was waiting for me in the airport garage. It was a thrill to step right off an airplane and slide right behind the wheel.

The car was and still is immaculate. I used it to travel from my home north of Seattle across the country to my new assignment in Buffalo. Later I used it for a trip to New Hampshire and another trip to Washington DC. It has, thanks to the birth of my third child and the subsequent purchase of a mini-van for my wife, slipped from daily driver status but considering the winter road conditions here in Buffalo, that isn’t a bad thing. Even now it sits hunkered down safe and snug under its cover and a layer of early spring snow in my driveway. I may have had to move heaven and Earth to get it, but it was worth coming home for.

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Apr 06, 2013

    Haven't bought anything used from the Internet, but we did buy our 08 Mazda 5 out of state in May of 09. Mazda was offering cash on the hood off of remaining 08's and no dealer near us had any. So, I increased the Auto Trader search to 300 miles. It turned up a Mazda program car in Michigan with every option including Nav with only 5k miles. And then it turned up City World Mazda in the Bronx, which had 20 new Mazda 5 left. We wanted a GT model, which we had never seen while shopping them,because you got leather, heated seats, HID's and a moonroof. This dealer had the color and equipment we wanted, so I called. Of course, the salesman I spoke to thought I was pulling his leg. Then he thought "from Pennsylvania" meant Philly, Allentown, etc. We faxed information back and forth and I bought 2 one way tickets on Usairways to LaGuardia from Pittsburgh.. A cousin of mine was living there at the time and picked us up. The dealer was a hole in the wall and as is the norm in the area, had 15 ft fences with barbed wire surrounding the tiny Mazda lot. We met our salesman in person finally, a nice Puerto Rican kid who was maybe 20 if he was a day. We were much earlier than planned, since my cousin picked us up instead of taking mass transit. When I told him we flew in, it really hit him that we weren't "from the area". After a long delay and some paperwork mistakes, we waited for our car.I don't know what happened, but it took 6 hours from the time we hit the showroom to drive the car away, barely prepped. Some of the worst service I've ever had while buying a car, combined with the NYC indifferent attitude to life and it was getting ugly. Now nearly 3pm after arriving at the dealer at 9, we finally took delivery of the car. It had 1 mile on it, possibly the newest car I'll ever buy, though it was a year old. A quick drive around the block, slap a 60 day tag in the window and we were on our way home. Stopping for fuel only an hour from home, the gas cap broke(a problem for the 3 and 5 at the time it was built). I was able to get the remnants of it off and fuel the car, but it wasn't the way I wanted to welcome the car to the family. About a month later, we received a notice from Zales stating we had overdrawn our account. Except we didn't have a Zales account. The charges started in the NYC area and went down I-95. So did the charge accounts. One for Babies R Us and Kohls. Someone stole my wife's identity. We caught it fast enough, but it was very annoying and unnerving. We figure it must have been stolen at the dealership while faxing information back and forth. Another week goes by and I'm wondering where the PA plate for the car is. As we found out,the dealer never filed the paperwork with the car, so the temp tag was never registered and the PA plate never applied for. A call to the NYDOT fixed that, they weren't happy about that either. Sometimes the car is fine (and still is only 30k later) but dealer isn't, even if it's a big name. I'd still travel to get another car, maybe buy sight unseen (with lots of pictures) but not to NYC.

  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Apr 23, 2013

    When I had to replace my '96 Regal GS in 2005, I was all set to buy a nice '02 300M. Then on a lark I stumbled upon a '97 Volvo 850 which I've had ever since. Great story on a great car, I hope your example treats you well!

  • Inside Looking Out The next 4Runner will be BEV.
  • The Oracle This is a proper Italian red sauce turd.
  • Carson D This isn't a notice of a wait time for 4Runner fans. This is a deadline for the opportunity to buy one new before they're gone. Whatever comes next, there is no possible way that it will be as good at doing 4Runner things as what is available today.
  • Bkojote There's a lot "just right" with the current 4Runner, and having spent time in more contemporary equivalents for road trips, I completely understand why they sell a ton of these.Here's some topics that aren't super common among 4runner owners - excessive carbon buildup in the engine after 40,000 miles (Audi/VW), bent valves (Bronco) , failed oil coolers (Jeep), cracked engine blocks (Jeep), dead vehicles from OTA updates (Chevy Colorado), being stranded due to opening the door too many times (Defender), malfunctioning engine sensors (Defender, VW), dead batteries due to electrical system malfunctions (Jeep), unusable defoggers (Jeep), waiting for seat heaters to boot up (Subaru), randomly catching fire (Kia/Hyundai), crappy build quality (Ford, Tesla).The interior feels solid and rattle free, and everything feels substantial in the way a Jeep Grand Cherokee or Kia Telluride does not. 14 year run means accessories are plentiful and well sorted. The control inputs from the radio to heated seats to climate control work better than 99% of the cars you can buy new at this point and are dead simple and ergonomically satisfying. Even dynamically (I drove a model with the KDSS system to be fair) it is a surprisingly composed vehicle on mountain roads- it's far more civilized than a Bronco or Wrangler, and hell, it was far more pleasant than the past two peastant-grade Benz crapmobiles I've been in.So I get it- car journalist rags whine about how overly complicated and tech-heavy modern vehicles are while their substance is cost cut, but here's the literal definition of 'don't fix it if it aint broken.' . It's a trusty Ford Econoline in a world of craptastic Ram ProMasters.
  • Frank Sounds like they dont want to debut it at the same time as the new Land Cruiser, which is probably smart. The new 'runner is ready to go I am told, so there's a reason for this delay.