It is not unusual in the realm of vintage iron for the best deal, the killer deal, to be far away from wherever you are. You don't know anyone anywhere near there and you are not sure how to validate what seems like a great deal. You could find someone to do a pre-purchase inspection, but this is not some six figure exotic you are looking at, it is just a very good deal on a vehicle that you are after. You feel funny asking some shop you just found online to go look at a non-running but semi-rust-free vehicle of relatively low value. Then there are the deals that are only good if you could get it home for next to nothing. Tacking on shipping just makes it an average deal that you are sure you can find again locally. Or shipping exceeds the value of the vehicle. If you have, or have had a vehicle with a hitch, and a trailer (or access to one), equations begin to change, and you start to engage in what I call “Classic Vehicle Math” (CVM). In this common but largely unheralded branch of mathematics, theorems like the theory of concentric circles and the theory of time shifting are foundations for an understanding of how to purchase a vehicle far away and get it home cheaper than shipping with an insured commercial transport service. The two scenarios following are both true and recent escapades from the Classic Velocity Garage.
Scenario #1: Two for One
I have a habit of scanning craigslist and ebay for a city that I am visiting for business or pleasure. I have found that sometimes vehicles have greater or lesser value in different parts of the country. On a recent occasion, I found an example of a car I had been keeping in the if-I-find-a-great-deal-I-might-grab-it category. It is the Mercedes 190E 16V from the 1980s. I don't think of these cars as classic, but they are 25 years old already, so they clearly are. It was close by, and I went over to take a look. The car was a very good deal if I could drive it home, and just a good deal if I paid a shipper around $500. I was already deciding to pass on the deal when the owner showed me the other car. It was a Euro model of the car without all of the horsepower-robbing rubbish installed on the US cars. The motor was out of the car and completely apart. The owner said that he was selling either but preferably both. When we got down to numbers, the package was a great deal.
Back at the hotel I tried to locate a bargain shipper. Even though I had shipped vehicles before, I learned a few things. It turns out that there is no discount for multiple vehicles, at least not for 2. It turns out that there is no discount for a non-running car, in fact, there is a premium charged. It turns out that all of the shippers between any two points use the same mechanism for dispatch, so once you've called two or three, you can stop because the pricing is all within $50 per car of each other and the same guy is gonna come get your car regardless of who you call. I should mention that this is probably not true at the premium enclosed end of the spectrum, but I wasn't in that market. Lastly, it turns out that there are no small guys running around with a pickup and a 2 or 3 car carrier making runs anymore. I contemplated shipping one and returning for one with a trailer, making two trips, driving the running car, renting a van and dolly, etc, etc, etc. Using Classic Vehicle Math (CVM), each of those was briefly cost-effective, if not time-effective. And this is a key attribute of CVM. It provides equations which make the ludicrous rational, and the absurb viable. Briefly. One should avoid making decisions during these brief periods, instead opting to solve the equation again from scratch. In this second pass, one often discovers a key variable previously obscured, which reverses the results. Variables such as the new storage shed you need, or a divorce attorney for example.
Then I found Uri. He was in New York and gave me a price $100 less than anyone else. At this point, I wasn't sure whether to be happy or scared about this. After all, you give your credit card to some person that you don't know, you ask them to get a car (or 2) from a location far away from a guy you have known for 30 minutes, and bring it to some other place where you will retrieve it in a week. Some guy with a thick accent (or without) offering to do so for $100 less, and requiring cash or certified check for the balance at pickup. can be cause for a pause. I checked a couple of shipping feedback sites on the web and decided to go with Uri anyway. I need not have been concerned. Four days later, both vehicles arrived without incident as promised, and the deal was complete. The driver said he could have sold the cars 4 times along the way, such was the interest.
Scenario #2 : I'll Do It Myself
Hypotestical situation. You have a 30 hour window to purchase and retrieve a motorcycle which is 850 miles away. You have only seen pictures and talked with the owner. Other potential buyers are making appointments (in this case I knew this to be true). The bike must leave the owner's premises by Sunday. It is Wednesday morning, and you are at work. Option one was to pass on the deal. CVM said it would cost me more to do this as I would locate an inferior deal soon that would seem great because I was tired of looking and I would spend more to get it to the condition of the one that got away, cursing the decision and forcing the family to live on ramen noodles for the entire summer. But I digress. Option two was to fly in and ride home. CVM said FP=0.5D-NT For you non-scientific types, failure point (FP) = half the distance (D) to the destination minus the needed tool (NT). Option three was a shipper. It is a curious thing that shipping a motorcycle costs almost the same as shipping a car. CVM determined that getting a shipper to this particular location in a few days would cost more than the gross national product of Krygystan. That left the prospect of a marathon weekend run. Regular readers will know that this is not exactly an unusual scenario, but it is seldom a desired one. CVM said this was cost effective as variables such as the need for sleep and human life, are subjective and generally command a low value.
The motorcycle trailer needed the axles greased, and the small SUV needed a wiring kit for trailer lights that had been on the todo list for some time. I send the seller a small deposit ($50), and order the kit online ($45 with 2 day shipping). As murphy would have it, the next two days are ridiculously busy at work and home. Friday evening I grease the axles and install the wiring kit. At 2am I am on the road and in a familiar routine with familiar stimulants. Dunkin Donuts coffee and adrenalin. If this bike is a piece of crap, I will be highly ticked off and will have a long drive to wallow in misery similar to Chasing the Deal. At the first gas stop, it somehow dawns on me that gas is approaching $4 per gallon. There will be several $50 fillups involved in completing this trip. An uneventful trip leads to an arrival around 1pm, a short test ride, and a deal is struck. I load up and I am back on the road at 2:30pm.
The trailer with motorcycle pulls down the gas mileage a bit and a rainstorm complete with detour impedes progress on the way back. Gas, bathroom, drink, candybar, repeat. I arrive home about 2am, unload the bike, take a shower and pass out. Was I cheaper than the shipper? Yes, but it was a pyrrhic victory. Sunday is a blur. After a late start I tackle all of the things that needed to be done Saturday. I finally get back to the bike in the evening and begin dismantling things to have a better look. I have a few things to checkout and research. It causes me to be up until late Sunday night exhausted with a new work week only hours away. Its ok though, CVM says working for a living is a variable which is subjective and commands a low value.