There are hoards and piles of buyer’s guides out there for how to purchase a boring cookie-cutter used car. Who even needs a multiple page guide to know how to buy a silver on beige Toyota Corolla sedan? We all know full well they need less oil to remain operational than the typical high mileage BMW tends to leak after a drive! Playful jokes aside here, buying and looking for a new-to-you vehicle is absolutely something many people detest and would totally avoid for an entire lifetime given the opportunity.

I know a few people certainly who feel this way. Purchasing can be a stressful thing, nobody wants to dump a large sum of hard-earned savings into a car that has a secret dark history and may just be begging for more shiny coinage. So why on earth would anyone want to possibly risk heightening that chance of purchasing a turd, and dive blindly and head-first into a vehicle so far out of grasp?

The Benefits of a Used Car Purchase Adventure Trip

This little discovery I came across some years ago now has morphed into a bit of a current way of life for me. The basic premise here is a “used car purchase adventure trip” crafted from the journey of seeking out such a desired car to buy. A car purchase, seasoned with a side of quick vacation road trip if you will. Fly out, purchase a car, and drive it back home again on a lengthy road trip where one gets immediately familiar with the newly acquired machine. Simple enough it seems in concept here, right?

Expanding Your Options: Searching Beyond Local Radius

You’d be shaken by how many people have never even considered this as a possible option, and simply just purchase local within their own small radius. Even for us car enthusiasts, this isn’t exactly common practice to travel very far. In hindsight looking back, this only severely limits your available options and you’re really missing out on a great experience to be had here! The hard truth is – that it is kind of nuts to purchase something thousands of miles away, sometimes maybe even putting non-refundable deposit money down sight-unseen.

Udder madness and lunacy some would think, why go to all the effort here? Because we really do both enjoy and care about what we drive, of course! When we aren’t doing car things, we read about car things. Before venturing out on my first crack at this totally unhinged method of purchase, I kind of secretly thought it was pretty wack too. Wildly unrealistic, fearful at first thought even. What happens if things don’t go according to my plan?

Oops, a new added fear on top of the already maybe stressful situation. If you have recently found yourself grouped in the used car buying pool, congrats because this may very well be an affordable and realistic option! Look closer, and I’ll find you a sparking reason to go and try this out yourself.

The Challenge of Finding Specific Features in a Used Car

If you are on that car hunt, there are features in a used car you’re probably (hopefully?) going to be particular about. For us non-beige-Toyota-driving car snobs, this “requested features” list can quickly turn into a lengthy search filter that denies most of the cars that could come up. If you’re as big of a total stereotypical BMW snob on this as me, you might have just search-limited yourself to just a single car or two across the entire country.

Don’t even get me started on how narrow my search requests are here, I am aware I have a serious and ever-growing problem! If you’re only buying locally, it’s both a plain compromise and a “get what you get” with what’s available at that given moment. The younger me would never have guessed that present-day me would have done this 5 times now already and consider this as the primary method for all purchases moving forward.

Overcoming Rust-Belt Limitations: Seeking Clean Cars Out-of-State

If you’re the car enthusiast like me though, you already well enough realize how difficult it can really be to find a now possibly 20-year aged car of choice..with one prior owner, low miles, a manual transmission, clean and well documented history, rust-free, and built with several specific options on the radar. Ouch, that list just price-jumped things over the moon if by luck it even exists. Fortunately, if you are willing to compromise on an item or two, that list of available options indeed does indeed open right back up again. When shopping for something older and unique, it’s very rare to have your cake and eat it too. Keep that in the back of your mind if that’s you, especially if on time constraints for purchase.

Being a midwestern rust-belt inhabitant, options of a rust-free and clean car here are limited to only what is brought in from out-of-state. The selection is almost none, it just doesn’t exist. Zero chance then for purchasing a clean several-generations-old BMW with a standard transmission on top of it! To make matters all the worse, cars that are forming rust bubbles are also over-priced and just seen as the norm. Gross.

Financial Sense: Cost Comparison and Added Expenses

When I finally decided to be more forward, stubborn, and demanding with my buying approach this method was just the only way forward. The only way out is through, I suppose. It wasn’t much longer before I realized that this just made sense financially, too. These cross-country vehicles were just cleaner, better kept, and needed less work and energy to be great and reliable. The brake rotors didn’t even need to be 20-pound sledgehammered off at regular replacement! The cars I immediately found costal oriented were often even slightly lower on pricing and didn’t look like they were crane excavated from the depths of the ocean on the undercarriage.

How could the clean, rust-free, beautiful cars cost so much less than the clapped-out ones in my hometown? When re-aiming my endless wasted search time and efforts for hunting local gems and deals as well, it became even easier to find something on the warm-weathered USA coasts. California, Florida, Texas, Connecticut, Virginia, and Arizona jumped right off the page with hot deal metropolitan cars ready to enjoy.

I began thinking right away how easy it would be if I could only be out in the online spotted areas myself, rather than looking at one or two cars a month locally. I could now see the options I had twice over, all in the same weekend. The only thing left to do now was determine the costs of plane tickets and fuel to road trip it back home again. Factoring in the generally cheaper pricing of overall purchase with the newly added expenses of my own retrieval and delivery, these desirable clean machines hardly cost anymore!

If I was already all-in on buying something and ready to spend several thousands of earned dollars on my next daily driver, what then is another 3-10% added cost for the vast options I was being previously kept from? I am a massive car enthusiast after all, aren’t I? Was I supposed to be afraid of a trip and the time, a tiny bit of added financial cost, and driving and enjoying the car I seriously wanted to commit to buy and use daily? Is there not a better case for a small splurge than on something you plan on using daily for the coming years? Why do we so easily settle for the mundane and bland here? Gee, some of us can hardly locate our daily cars in the vast sea of boringness at the supermarket.

I absolutely knew I didn’t want that for myself, time to go all chips in!

Embracing the Road Trip: Turning Buying into an Adventure

Shortly after a quick blur of scoping out and negotiating my buying options across a typical work week, I somehow found myself landed at LAX on a Saturday morning. It was happening, despite being hastily and at the last minute planned out. My other half was just as pumped and adrenaline-filled about this idea as I was, and we both had to work again the coming Monday morning. Not the best of situations by any means there, but this turned into something of an adventure I’ll never forget. It wasn’t hard to find three good cars available to see on that day, with a SLIGHT compromise to my strict search query.

Photo by Cam Dauer

The snob guy in me caved, just a teeny, little bit. A quick AM rideshare to the first car on the list revealed a very well-kept silver gray metallic 2004 BMW E46 325i 5-speed sedan. The car’s second owner was quick to pull out the 3″ ring binder of every receipt since showroom fresh, and proudly display us the full set of original keys and window sticker. The car had flawlessly passed a full purchase inspection just prior, and all the boxes we strictly had set out to cover were checked right off. With final costs at hand, it was hardly any pricier than the corroded junk that showed up local to me back home. A short test drive in the E46 3 Series sealed the deal, with the bonus of a free hand mixed Russian rap CD loaded in the now-dated yet super slick fold-out factory navigation system.

Windows down cruising on the 405 over to Huntington Beach was what the E46 was made for, just as much as carving smoothly over the twisty and steep Angeles Mountains. The seller thought we were mad lads trying to pull this off as a weekend event, even called his parents to make fun of us! He was kind of right given the time constraints, but the buying transaction between us led to a newly formed close friendship.

Trusting Your Purchase: Return Trip and Building Confidence

I can tell you first-hand the memories made and joys from this style of purchase method are well worth any extra costs. If you ever embark on a purchase trip like this, you also get the added benefits of a return direction road trip. What a seize the day opportunity to see national parks and landmarks! Just about any BMW ever manufactured is perfect for doing this exact thing, these cars are all made for highway road trips.

A fair and properly investigated buy here will more than likely have no issues returning you back home again, outside of the normal risk taken on by such a trip. That well used E46 ran us non-stop over the 2,000 mile straight-through trek home AND took me (very drowsily may I add) to work that following Monday. A good honest car absolutely will make such a trip back and start you off with a strong trusting bond of confidence between human and machine.

What more could one want for a new daily driver purchase? Certainly, much better than the roof slapping salesman across town! Afterall, shouldn’t the car you trust to drive daily be able to make such a trip anyway? In due time, keep an eye out for some tips and lessons learned from several different purchases using this approach.

Until then, happy motoring and joyous hunting, my fellow enthusiasts!