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Buying Restored Vehicles

I’ve had this one on my list to post for a while…


My friend (financial counsellor) Joe wrote about almost buying a restored vehicle (wrecked, declared totalled, restored to DOT standards by a mechanic, sold for a fraction of blue book value). I have seen both the good and bad side of doing this so I want to tell about it.


My family knew a guy who restored vehicles and we bought a handful of them from him. Through the years I think we bought 5 vehicles from this guy. Out of all of them I think mine was the only one from hell. I’d have to let my brother and sister speak for their own. Here’s my story…


It was a Jeep Grand Cherokee – loaded. Nice for a college kid – which I was a sophomore in college at the time I bought it. Got a great deal on it – probably eight or ten thousand off the “blue book value”. But it was a restored total. So how much are those really worth? I guess it depends.


I drove it for about 6 months when a bad woman driver swerved in to me on the interstate. Before all the women make negative comments to me I didn’t say all women are bad drivers – just that this particular one definitely was. It was her second wreck in two weeks and what she did to cause this one was an unbelievable swerve from the on-ramp to the middle of 3 lane interstate – swerved all over me going about 45mph and I was going about 80mph. I tried to miss but needless to say I clobbered her with the jeep. It was her fault because of the stunt-woman swerve.


Now the problem. We both had the same insurance agent who of course wanted the easiest way out for the best interest of the insurance company – not the best interest of me the customer. Normally I wouldn’t mention any names but even though I’ve forgiven this situation in my heart other people deserve to know who the culprits were because they’re still in business and for all I know they could still be doing people wrong. Dan Combs was the agent. He has the largest State Farm agency in Dalton, GA. The adjuster was Chad Painter and since then he has started his own State Farm agency. For the record I still use State Farm but I live in SC now so my agent is different. I think State Farm is a good company but I wouldn’t touch Dan Combs or Chad Painter agencies if they were the only State Farm agents in my town. They did me wrong. They’re forgiven but since they never apologized or asked for forgiveness I feel no obligation to protect their image.


Anyway, enough about the insurance people. What happened was at a glance my Jeep looked like it could be repaired. The repair estimate (mechanic and adjusters job) must have been about half done because once the repairs started they found more than double the damage they estimated. To keep a long story short I can sum it up by saying if they had done a thorough job of assessing the damage up front they would have totalled my jeep rather than tried to fix it.


I drove a rental on State Farm’s tab for 5 months while they went around and around with me trying to fix that Jeep. The reason I wouldn’t accept it is because there was a popping sound in the suspension and the frame was bent (it went down the road crooked like a puppy walks). They tried and tried at multiple mechanics but it just couldn’t be bent back in to proper shape. By the end of the ordeal State Farm could have bought me a brand new vehicle with all the money they spent on my rental and the repairs. But it was too late to do that because they already spent it trying to fix what should have been scrapped.


You’re probably wondering what we did about it or thinking to yourself what you would have done. Trust me every bad thought possible crossed my mind at that time – including driving the whipped puppy Jeep through Dan Combs front door to see if they would claim it totalled after that.


The problem was my dad and I didn’t have much of a case when Combs and Painter claimed pre-existing damage since the vehicle had been totalled and then restored before I bought it. Our hands were pretty much tied. It looked like the only thing we could do was risk major legal costs to take the case to court.


It was definitely a bogus claim of pre-existing damage because I would have known if my vehicle was going crooked like a puppy before the wreck. I think Dan Combs and Chad Painter (and probably the mechanic too) were wrong and should have eaten the cost of the mistakes they made on the front end damage assessment. They should have replaced my vehicle.


My dad was handling all the dealings with State Farm since I was still in college and still on his policy, so he basically made me back down and drop it. I was stuck with a wrecked Jeep for over 4 more years. People would ask me “what’s wrong with your Jeep?” and I would get pee’d off all over again remembering what happened as I explained to them how I got screwed. More problems developed because of the frame not being right, and there was always a popping sound in the suspension that wasn’t there before.


For a while I had Shawna and Devin riding around in this unstable vehicle. Finally one day I guess my dad felt sorry for me and helped me buy the mini-van we have now. So I was able to get rid of the Jeep.


Just so you know I was completely honest with the college kid who bought my heep – I mean Jeep. I told him everything wrong with it and recommended that he stay off the interstate with it. He just needed something to get around town so it was a good buy – at about a quarter of what it should have been worth without the damage.


Moral of the story – think long and hard and do some very thorough research on any vehicle you consider buying ‘restored’ and on any person who is selling it to you. Get references of other people who have bought from them and do not buy from them without talking to the references. You can get CARFAX reports, let other mechanics take a look, probably even research the accident the vehicle was in to see pictures and reports from police and/or insurance claims so that the ‘restoration’ can be assessed for how well it has been done and how good of shape the vehicle is actually in.


As for me I don’t want to say I’ll absolutely never buy another restored vehicle but I will say it is almost completely unlikely. I think mechanics who do that kind of work for the most part probably take pride in getting it right and selling a sound restored vehicle. But after it’s bought you can’t control what an insurance company is going to do if some moron runs in to you. 

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