If I Buy A Car From Far Away, Is It Better To Ship It Or Drive It Home?

Image: Mack Hogan (Jalopnik)

As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve decided to pick a few questions and try to help out. This week we are talking about buying cars from far away, custom orders from Japanese luxury brands, and how to ethically off-load a lemon.

First up, if you are purchasing a car from a distance, is it better to fly out and drive it home or ship it?

“I’m at near final stages of picking up a low-mileage used Lexus (reliability reliability reliability!), but it’s 1900mi from my cozy home.

Do I hop on a flight and drive the vehicle back over a few days, or find a way to ship it?

Searching the web, there appears to be an even mix of shipment broker/company horror stories. I asked the dealer if they can help arrange or have a preferred vendor nonetheless. On the flip side, if I drove it back, it’d have to be timely, since I do not have the flexibility at the moment to take extended time-off and make a countryside exploration of a drive.”

This is an excellent question. I will say that over half of the car deals that I work on a monthly basis are longer distance deals for my clients. Often customers want to minimize transportation costs so they try to grab a flight and take a long drive home. The thing is once you start calculating the costs of the long drive, including airfare, food, fuel, things start to add up.

But you also don’t want to forget what may be the most important component to this equation, your time. Everyone’s time has a monetary value and when you add all the hours you are going to spend plus the other costs, shipping often doesn’t seem so bad. In almost every case I have worked for cars that are far away, the transport is usually cheaper than or equal to the personal expense of traveling. What I will say is that if you want to do the long drive as a getaway and see some sights with your new car, that’s worth it.

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However, the cost and type of car matters when it comes to the ship vs drive scenario. You will likely want to evaluate a cheap or project car in person before deciding on a purchase, but you may not want to rely on that project car to get you all the way home.

Next up, can you order an Acura crossover how you want it?

“I recently test drove an Acura RDX and really liked it, I had my heart set on an exterior blue ( the fathom blue pearl) with a tan or dark brown interior, they shockingly only offer it with a gray interior which I hate. I read your old article that Honda generally does no custom, but have you heard if this extends to Acura ? I emailed the company direct but have not heard back.”

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When it comes to large Japanese brands like Honda/Acura and Toyota/Lexus, they don’t really do “orders” in the same way the European automakers do. Most of these automakers try to be as efficient as possible in their manufacturing methods, and fulfilling factory orders slows that process down a bit.

With the exception of the NSX, which is made in its own special facility, the mainstream Acura models can’t be special ordered. So if you want that blue exterior you are stuck with the gray interior. However, I will say that even if you were to order a European car you are usually confined to what the configurator will allow in terms of color combinations. Naturally, if you are spending serious money on something like a Porsche 911 Turbo S, that is a different story.

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Lastly, what’s the best way to ethically sell a car that has some issues?

“We want to replace our 2013 Subaru Outback with a similar SUV. The problem is that this is one of the oil burners with bad oil control rings. It has progressively consumed more oil as the miles went up. Now that it has about 200k miles on it, we get about 300 miles before the oil light comes on and we have to top off the oil. The exterior and interior are in very good shape, so we’d like it to find a good home. The only dilemma is how to sell it and make sure the final user knows about the oil consumption.

If we trade it in or sell it on craigslist, we can’t guarantee the first buyer won’t turn around and offer it for two to three thousand dollars more (and not disclose the oil issue). At first I thought about etching the dashboard with “CAR BURNS OIL – NEEDS NEW ENGINE!” so any buyer would know exactly what they were getting. Now I am thinking about tossing a bolt in one of the cylinders and turning the key. We’d like to preserve the most value in the vehicle for its next purpose in life, but also want to feel confident that anyone buying it down the line doesn’t get sold a lemon. What do you recommend doing?”

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While it’s noble of you to try and prevent someone else from buying this problem car unknowingly, your only real obligation is to disclose the issues to the first buyer. What they do with it from there is not your concern. Just be super upfront with the person you’re selling it to.

Furthermore, a dealer is just going to toss this car to auction, so who knows how many hands will touch it before it ends up with another buyer.

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