After ploughing my way through the van listings in the entire USA on the Disabled Dealer website, I found an ad for a van in my state that looked right, and made contact with the owners.
In the first few phone calls, I asked all of the questions noted in Part 3 of this series of articles. Asking the questions not only got me the information I wanted, but also let me get a feeling for the people I was dealing with — Are they organized? Are they flaky? Do they seem straight-forward? Are they honest? Can I trust them to go through with the sale properly?
Over the course of a couple of days I spoke to all three members of the selling family: husband, wife and son. They seemed to be good, solid people — there were no worrisome contradictions in anything they said, no evasiveness, no defensive or wary behaviour. Their reason for selling the van made sense, too — they’d been waiting quite a while for a state grant to buy a new one, and it had come through. They didn’t need both the old van and the new one.
When the van (and the sellers) passed all these early checks, I asked about the vehicle history. I asked if the sellers were the original owners, how long they’d owned it, what work it had had done, and if they had service records. Everything checked out, and seemed quite reasonable. By the time we’d gotten through all this information, I thought I had a good fix on the sellers, and, I suspect, they probably felt they’d scoped me out pretty effectively, too.
This sounded like the right van, but there were a few more checks to perform. I got the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) from the sellers, and used it to do two things. First, I ran a CarFax report to see if there was anything unexpected in the van’s history — repairs, damage, any problem with the title. That single report cost about $25 (USD), but, if I’d needed it, I could have run an unlimited number of reports on other vehicles for the next thirty days. As it turned out, this was the only report I ran, but I considered it money well-spent.
The CarFax was clean, so I took the VIN number to my local police station and asked the officer there to run the VIN. He seemed a little surprised — I guess people don’t do this often — but thought it was a good idea. All I wanted to know from the officer was that the van hadn’t been reported stolen, so this wasn’t a privacy issue for anyone. The officer didn’t tell me that the van wasn’t stolen, he just told me that it didn’t show up on any database as stolen. He was the cautious type, but that was good enough for me. The sellers and I had been talking for three or four days at this point — likely long enough for someone to notice that the van was missing, if it were, and report it.
I double-checked the titling requirements while I was at the police station, confirming that I would need photo ID to buy the van, a copy of my dad’s Power of Attorney authorizing me to buy it in his name, and verification of insurance. Since my dad does not drive, and does not have a license in my state, the vehicle had to be insured under my existing policy, not one written just for my dad.
The next stop was my insurance agent. The agency confirmed that they could add the van to my policy, and that the office would be open on the afternoon when my husband and I went to pick it up. They couldn’t add the van to my policy before it was paid for, and we couldn’t title or license it until it had insurance, so this little dance had to be coordinated carefully — especially since we were picking it up in the middle of nowhere.
The sellers agreed to accept a personal check for the van, and made arrangements on their end with a notary who would verify my identity, register the vehicle, and supply the plates so that we could drive it away.
To make sure we didn’t have any problems with the check, I also called an officer at the financial institution where I’d be writing the check to let them know the amount of the check, and to warn them that they might expect a call verifying that there was money to cover it in the account. This let them do a dry-run on the account balance and made sure that nobody would goof things up at the critical moment, in case the sellers did call.
That was it. Within a day or two, Paul and I set out to pick up the van. I packed two forms of ID (my driver’s license and passport); a current insurance card; FAX and phone numbers for my insurance agent; the POA; the right checkbook; and a phone number for the bank (in case the sellers wanted to verify that the check woiuldn’t bounce). We were good to go!
Next, the purchase.