What was I thinking? Sure, when the deal was struck a couple of weeks ago, this little adventure seemed to make perfect sense. But now at 29,000 feet, doubt had struck. In less than an hour I would be landing 1500 miles from home and handing a guy I'd never met a rather large check for a car I'd never seen. Yep, I bought a car via the Internet.
Remember that 'For Sale' sign my wife suggested after the Griot's "Lost Weekend' made my Jetta presentable again? Turns out she was serious and with the faithful GLX ready to turn 100,000 miles I couldn't really argue the point. I spend a lot of time on the road and unlike some of my friends in the business, live too far away from the office to rely on long-termers for basic transportation. I drive far too many miles a year for a lease and so the search began.
I needed four doors - for the kids and dog, and a certain fun-to-drive factor tempered by the need to drive hours on end and arrive fresh enough to work. I also need something good in the snow and - probably due to Bidrawn's questionable influence - a good base for a possible project car. And ever the optimist, the car should only be a year or two old.
On my journeyman's salary, M3s and M5s (the M Experience will leave me lusting 'til the end of my days) were a bit out of reach and would certainly be a handful through a Northeast winter. There were no 330Xis or S4s that fit my mileage/price point either. An A4 would handle the ice and snow just fine but frankly they are everywhere and I don't care for the new nose. R32s don't have four doors and after driving V-dubs and Audis for twenty years, I was open to change. Subaru's Sti and Mitsubishi's EVO are among the most entertaining cars in the world -for a couple of hours at a time anyway - but these high-strung standouts aside, I have yet to find a Japanese car with any soul. Mercedes have never pushed my personal buttons and the little Volvos were, like the Saab 9-2X, well, little.
Saab. There was a thought. On a whim I searched eBay for a 9-3 Vector. But long-waisted as I am, I don't fit a 9-3 with a sunroof. Back to Cars.com and more time spent searching BMWs, Saabs and Evos. Then, a week or two later, there it was. A 2003 9-3 Vector, listed on eBay, with only 2,900 miles and every option except the sunroof and automatic. Perfect, a six-speed with headroom. The opening bid, though reasonable, was just out of my range but the listing's description kept bringing me back.
This car is brand new. It was put into storage and covered one month after I bought it, because I was deployed to Afghanistan with the Army National Guard. It is in showroom condition. I have two other vehicles (2004 Dodge Viper and 2004 Ram 4x4) and my civilian company is furnishing me with a company car (a 4 door sedan). It makes no sense to have 2 sedans, so I'm selling the Saab. Car is loaded....
Original MSRP was $34,860.00. I still have the window sticker.
Showroom perfect. One small scratch on the left rear wheel (came from the factory that way). I custom ordered it from the factory and was there to receive it when it came off of the delivery truck. I did not let the dealership do any prep work on it, so the black paint does not have the swirl marks that dealers often accidentally put on black while trying to "prep" the car for sale. This car has been babied and looks beautiful. Interior is perfect. Always garage kept. Has only seen rain once.
A week later, no one had bid and the car was re-listed. I contacted the seller and he told me more of his story including that he had traded in a Z06 Corvette on the Saab. What single guy in their right mind would do such a thing. The Saab is a great car, but really. A Google seach turned up only a couple of hits on the seller's name - from the Z06 owners registry. Apparently there was a girlfriend involved. A Viper SRT-10 sat in the background of one photos and when the seller e-mailed a photo of his insurance card (to clear up a typo in the VIN) the address matched the one in the background of another photo. The Carfax report came back clean.
When no one bid the second time around, the seller and I agreed on a price. The manager at Thomas Saab in Tulsa (918-665-3420) agreed to look the car over and we had a nice chat. His name and number matched the information I had looked up earlier and his description of the car matched the seller's. It was perfect except for a scrape under the front spoiler! Friends at Saab ran the VIN and gave me the thumbs-up. Shipping the car would run about $1,500 and take 6-8 weeks. Still reluctant to buy a car sight unseen, the seller said not to worry about a deposit, my word was good enough. My wife and I decided it was time for a road trip.
United got us to Tulsa on time, the seller met us as promised and we walked outside to - rain! 'My' car had only seen rain once and now my first sight of it was to be wet and dirty ?!? Still when the car pulled around to pick us up, I knew this was a done deal. As described, the car was flawless. I drove it back to the seller's house to take care of the paperwork and I very nearly completed the transaction without even looking under the hood. The seller had graciously even had the oil changed. We had a bite to eat and hit the road.
Some quick research on www.roadsideamerica.com laid out the first couple of legs of our trip. It was getting dark by the time we made a pit stop at the world's largest McDonalds in Vinitia, OK. We bypassed the drive-thru (propane powered Jeeps) Fantastic Caverns in Springfield, MO, the Precious Moments Chapel (Carthage) and Stearnsey Bears (Stotts City), only to find the Caveman BBQ and Steak House, located in a cave overlooking the Gasconade River in Richland,MO , closed for the season. It was too dark to stop in Marionville, MO and hunt for white squirrels, but the Ground Round in Rolla, MO - home of the Stubby Stonehenge created by the U of MO High Pressure Water Jet Lab - had $2.50 pints of Bass on a two-for-one special. So after 290 miles we called it a day.
Being a time zone west has its advantages, while we passed Meramec Cave (Stanton) and the Jesse James museum and never found the apocalyptic Screamworld (formerly Silo X) at exit 272 on I-64, we were first in line when the Arch, sorry, the Jefferson Expansion National Memorial, opened at 9am 100 miles down the road in St. Louis. After the Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour we set out on I-64 headed for Kentucky horse country. We missed Olney, IL's white squirrels (check out the controversy on the website above) but seeing the World's Largest Catsup Bottle made stopping in Collinsvile, IL worth the delay.
We overnighted with friends recently moved to Lexington, KY from Ithaca within walking distance of Smarty Jones' retirement pastures. The next day we stopped in Cincinnati and had a late lunch with Aunt Mary, still going strong as her ninetieth birthday approaches and headed up I-70 to Columbus where aunts, uncles and cousins were waiting at the downtown Claddagh Irish Pub. To bad we didn't have enough time to visit the world's largest cuckoo clock in Wilmot, O or stop by the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in Dayton for the Beyond Bizarre - a collection of oddities and curatorial embarrassments from museums all over - exhibit. A pint of fresh Guinness and a plate of Shepard's Pie took the edge off my disappointment.
With 500 miles to go, we fueled up with a big Amish-style breakfast at Der Dutchman in Plain City, O. Worried we had asked too much of GramMa and missing our kids, we bypassed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and Train City in Erie, PA. Unfortunately, the winerys around Hammondsport, NY and Glen Curtiss museum were closed for the day as we hurried over the back roads to Mom's house outside Watkins Glen. The Saab proved to be a tremendous vehicle for eating up the miles, comfortable and stable at speed and fun through the twisties. Frugal as well, averaging 30 mpg while cruising at 80. But the dampers are a little soft for my tastes and more power is always welcome. The brakes are superb but I'm ordering 17" snows - just to be sure there is room for even bigger rotors. Stay tuned, I don't think the Vector will stay stock for long.
I was lucky everything worked out. Buying a car unseen from an individual can have obvious drawbacks. But both CARFAX and eBay Motors have protections in place. If a CARFAX Vehicle History Report does not show a major problem that was reported by a DMV, CARFAX will buy the car back. EBay offers a free Vehicle Purchase Protection of up to $20,000 to help guard against fraud an misrepresentation as well as a free one month/1,000 miles Limited Warranty on sight unseen powertrains. Autocheck Assured Reports are available by clicking the VIN on any eBay listing and there are independent inspections available around the country for reasonable fees.