How To Buy Your Dream Car Sight Unseen From The Internet

by Ur-Turn
how to buy your dream car sight unseen from the internet

Let’s give a hearty “Welcome back!” to our friend Rebecca, who previously wrote about her Tacoma on these pages. She just picked up this beautiful Z4 from a dealership hundreds of miles away from her home. This is her story on how she did it.

This journey started in October of 2007 when the lease on my 2005 Z4 3.0 matured, and I had to give the car that I dreamed of, and built on BMW NA’s site for two years, back to the dealership.

Since then I’ve had the recurring dream that I still had that car — it’s just been in storage all this time. I have serious commitment issues with cars, so it dawned on me three years ago that this was the one that got away. Fast forward to April 2016, I’ve saved for this car for a couple of years, and casually checking out the market with the plans to purchase before the end of the year. I happened upon a couple of white ones just outside my price range, and decided it was worth the stretch.

So what was my process?

I started with two cars that I really wanted, and a handful of backup options from across the country. I found cars using,, Craigslist, and then used CarGurus to check for time on lot and pricing history. After a month of phone calls and emails, I worked out a deal with a dealership on one of my original two (the other had sold). To protect the innocent, we shall just say that this dealership had a very Select inventory of Cars in Cleveland. Anyhow, after negotiating the deal, I left a deposit over the phone, and arranged to have the car brought to a BMW shop in the area for a pre-sale inspection.

Tip #1 Use Your Resources:

A good friend of mine has a Z4M and he gave me the rundown of the common issues. I also checked the forums for other common issues. Before the shop performed an inspection, I gave it my list of what I wanted them to check on the car. Once I got word that the car had passed and received the list of little fixes, I reworked the terms with the dealership and booked my flight to Cleveland.

Tip #2 Book Round-trip Tickets:

This could blow up in your face and you need to find a way home. I happened to have a work meeting scheduled for two days after delivery, family not far away, and a ton of rental car points, so my backup plan was to do a one-way rental.

The day finally came, and I flew out of Boston at 7 a.m. A salesman picked me up from the airport and took me to see my baby for the first time. I had it in my head that it was going to go one of two ways: the car was going to be immaculate, or it was going to be a turd.

Tip #3 Don’t Compromise:

After this many years of planning and waiting, I was going to get exactly what I wanted. I had every intention of walking away if I got any bad vibes from the car. At this point, I had asked three different people if there was “evidence of paint work” on the car. I choose my words carefully here when I buy a car, because asking if the car was involved in an accident or has a clean CarFax leaves much room for interpretation and excuses.

Tip #4 Be Familiar With How To Check For Paint Work

First thing I do when I look at a car is check the body panels for tape lines. I always start with hood, door jambs, fenders, and make my way around the car. I was running my finger along the top of the front bumper when I felt some overspray. I asked the salesman to pop the hood and sure enough, the front bumper had been re-sprayed on the car (for those of you who are less familiar with body work, this means that there was virtually no prep, and the front bumper wasn’t removed prior to paint). Upon closer inspection, I could see that the paint was pulling away at the edges revealing factory paint and clear coat underneath. I made a call to my body guy (always a good idea to have one handy), and sent him a couple of photos. He said the body gaps on the rest of the car look great, didn’t think it had been hit, and gave me a quote for the cost to fix the bumper. I told the only manager on duty that I wanted that cost to be deducted from the price of the car, and in not so many words he told me to go screw myself. I was then informed that I couldn’t get my deposit back until the owner was back in a few hours. After he said “Did I stutter?” I called for my rental ASAP before I caused a scene.

After renting a beautiful Hyundai Accent to get me home, and grabbing a bite to eat, I went back to the dealership to see the owner and get my money back. He was much calmer, and asked what it would take to make me happy. Let’s examine the facts. The car had been there for 130 days, most convertible buyers finish their shopping early spring, and the car isn’t as cherry as I had hoped. All I wanted was to be compensated for what it’ll cost me to fix the bumper. We went back and forth a bit, he showed me how much he was losing (irrelevant to me), and we finally agreed on a new sales price. I did my paperwork and went to New York.

A couple of more pieces of advice:

  • Plan a fun route home. In my instance, I had family vacationing at Lake Chautauqua, NY, and then had to get to a work meeting in Burlington, VT. I took the NYS Thruway then went up through the Adirondacks to Vermont. I made a ton of stops along the way, took lots of pictures, and my favorite parts were areas with no cell service.
  • Don’t pack more than what you can fit in your new car. Fortunately, this is my second Z4, so I was familiar with the trunk size. I carried on and still managed to use almost all the cargo space.
  • Bring sunscreen (if you’re bringing a convertible home). I made the promise to myself that I’d do the entire 800 mile journey topless. I encountered a couple of rain storms (not a problem if you keep your speed up), and was within 30 miles of home when I got stuck in rush hour plus a rain storm. But yeah, bring the good stuff. I was recently asked if I was Southeast Asian.
  • Bring a friend. I’m fiercely independent to a fault, but there were times on this trip I wished I wasn’t alone. When things went sideways at the dealership, I felt really overwhelmed and could have used a third-party that wasn’t emotionally or financially committed. It also would have been nice to share the journey home with someone.
  • Budget for unplanned expenses. In my case, I was prepared for the fact that I might be coming home without the car. I also put some money aside for maintenance items the car may need. Since it wasn’t clear if the car’s valves had ever been serviced, I provisioned for having Turner Motorsports give the car another good once over, adjust the valves, change the spark plugs, and send off for an oil analysis.
  • Download SnapChat. I SnapChatted the journey to my friends across the country as I went, hollerrrr (that’s what the kids are saying these days right?).

Article and images by Rebecca Turrell.

Join the conversation
6 of 74 comments
  • PeterPuck For years, Ford has simply reworked existing designs originating from Europe and Japanese manufacturers, not being capable of designing a decent car in the USA.What’s the last clean sheet design from the USA? The 1986 Taurus?And they still can’t manage to get things right.why is this? Are they putting all of the competent engineers and designers on the F150? Is woke diversification affecting them, as some rumours suggest? Are they rewarding incompetence?
  • Brandon What is a "city crossover"?
  • Tassos What was the last time we had any good news from Ford? (or GM for that matter?)The last one was probably when Alan Mulally was CEO. Were you even born back then?Fields was a total disaster, then they go hire this clown from Toyota's PR department, the current Ford CEO, Fart-ley or something.He claims to be an auto enthusiast too (unlike Mary Barra who is even worse, but of course always forgiven, as she is the proud owner of a set of female genitals.
  • Tassos I know some would want to own a collectible Mustang. (sure as hell not me. This crappy 'secretary's car' (that was exactly its intended buying demo) was as sophisticated (transl. : CRUDE) as the FLintstone's mobile. Solid Real Axle? Are you effing kidding me?There is a huge number of these around, so they are neither expensive nor valuable.WHen it came out, it was $2,000 or so new. A colleague bought a recent one with the stupid Ecoboost which also promised good fuel economy. He drives a hard bargain and spends time shopping and I remember he paid $37k ( the fool only bought domestic crap, but luckily he is good with his hands and can fix lots of stuff on them).He told me that the alleged fuel economy is obtained only if you drive it like a VERY old lady. WHich defeats the purpose, of course, you might as well buy a used Toyota Yaris (not even a Corolla).
  • MRF 95 T-Bird Back when the Corolla consisted of a wide range of body styles. This wagon, both four door and two door sedans, a shooting brake like three door hatch as well as a sports coupe hatchback. All of which were on the popular cars on the road where I resided.