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How to Buy a Corvair (or any car) on Ebay or Craigslist

Updated on October 5, 2009

Buying a car on the Internet

There some universal items one should check into or look at if (if possible) when buying a Corvair. Many of the issues can be asked of any car-it is not rocket science. If you cannot personally inspect the car or have a proxy do it, be sure to asked the correct questions.

As a buyer, you must investigate and interrogate the seller. Failure to do this may yield a car you should not have bought. If you do not get satisfactory answers, ask again, if no answer comes back or only half an answer, that is a red flag. Do some research or talk to other owners and prepare a series of questions that will reveal the condition. Focus on the chassis and engine first, then the interior.

As a newbie to Corvairs, make life easier—buy only a car that runs and has brakes. Buying a car you cannot drive poses all sorts of question marks and unknowns—some think this is fun—I don’t. I consider it a red flag about the true internal condition despite the excellent body and external appearance. There is a reason the car does not run or has no brakes- and it probably is bad and costly! Granted, the non-running car may not run because of some simple issue that the owner does not know how to easily fix (the Carbs may be very dirty and simply need rebuilding and cleaning) but you really don’t know- it is a gamble. Some find taking a gamble is part of the fun in restoration. Finding some junk car and giving it a rebirth to a new car.

Having bought both of my Corvairs online- you must have trust and faith in the seller. If there is any doubt of being ripped off, not getting the truth, don’t deal with the seller. Period.

An Example:

I was going to buy a LM corvair on Ebay. During the auction I asked specific questions that would reveal the car’s condition. Some were answered, most were not. I was suspicious. In the end, I won. I asked the same questions after and this time answers revealed a very rusty chassis, ripped seats under the covers, brakes not working. I refused to pay and Ebay eventually allowed me to withdraw my bid and chastised the seller for non-disclosure of material facts. Facts, had I known about, would have made me not bid for the car. One tip-off regarding the rust was that when I demanded the car at least have some braking capability, the owner acquiesced and tried for three hrs to remove a bleeder nut on the front wheel. When he reported back to me, I knew the chassis was probably quite rusty.

Some Corvairs look like new cars externally, yet their chassis is so rusted (snow, salt or rain) its safety and structure is compromised making it dangerous.

A couple of key questions can reveal the state of the engine, depending on the answer. You can always ask for a video file to listen to the engine. You want to hear a steady engine with minimum clicking or tapping, steady hum and one that is near vibration free (the coil should not be moving very much). If there is excessive vibration, this may indicate bad engine mounts or engine balance.

Here are few key questions:

1. Does the car stall at stop signs or lights?

If yes, it indicates that the carbs are not synchronized and the idle and fuel\mix screws on both carbs are not at the correct setting (both must be near identical settings), timing may also be off, a vacuum leak, clogged carb jets or filters are key suspects. Not a big deal when you learn how to do it.

2. Does it idle steady? If no, same as #1.

3. Does it hesitate on acceleration from a stop? See #1.

4. Does the car leak oil after the engine has been running for 15-20 minutes and turned off?

If yes, it indicated that the O-rings, valve cover gasket, oil cooler seal may be defective. Most likely are the O-rings that fit onto each end of the Push Rod Tube. Even if the leak is bad, once these are changed, the leak will be gone, unless other gaskets etc. leak. Again, once you do this yourself, it is not foreboding. The car does have to be hot (15 min running) and turned off to determine. Running it less than 15 min, does not get the engine hot enough.

5. When the car brakes, are there any scraping or squealing noises?

If yes, probably needs new brake shoes or relined drums.

6. When braking, is the brake pedal spongy or near the floor when the car stops?

If yes, indicates air in the brake line or leak at the Master Cylinder or at the brake lines. A car that needs no brakes will be silent and the pedal will NOT go near the floor, very little foot pressure is required to stop. If there are no brakes in the car, both 5 and 6 are the reason. Also, ask if the Master Cylinder or wheel Cylinders leak brake fluid.

7. Does the Automatic Tranny Stick read (when car is running and hot) empty or very little?

This indicates that the tranny needs ATF fluid added OR a defective Modulator on the tranny. The Corvair TTF level is checked when the engine is hot and running, if the reading is nil, something is wrong. It should read something on the stick. Changing the Modulator is easy with the correct tools.

8. Does the car shift easily?

If an automatic, the shifting is usually between 10-30Mph, if a stick, if it does not go into gear, may be a clutch or something else.

9. Do the instrument gauges work on the dash?

If the fuel gauge does not, it is the fuel sending unit in the gas tank. Either it needs to be replaced or the ground wire that attaches to the car frame is gone\disconnected. Again, not a hard thing to fix. If the car blinkers do not work, it is probably the turning switch inside the steering column. If the blinker arm works properly, yet no blinkers, may be the bulbs or a new Flasher unit needs to be installed or other troublesome electrical issue.

10. Do the lights and wipers work?

If the lights do not work, either the bulbs\connectors are bad or wiring is bad. If wipers, the wiper motor needs to be replaced.

11. Does the radio work?

If no, replace the radio, check the speaker, which may be bad, check for antenna connection, check fuses.

12. Does the car have problems starting?

Maybe be the Starter that is going bad, car may need a tune-up, fuel pump may not be good.

13. Is the chassis and frame free from destructive rust?

This rust crumbles the metal, creates holes, cannot withstand pressure. Surface rust does not, it has not done any damage yet, just discoloration.

14. Are there rust holes on the floor of the car or car body?

If yes, this is a nuisance issue if the car runs fine, but the floor will have to be replaced with new sheet metal, it can get very expensive.

15. Does car ride bouncy?

If yes, indicates that shock absorbers and\or wheel coils need replacing. Not a big deal.

16. Does the car have white or bluish smoke when running?

If yes, the white smoke may indicate that ATF is getting into the transaxle because of a bad modulator, while bluish may indicate that the engine needs new rings around the piston.

17. Is there an oil leak from the Bellhousing area?

If yes, rethink about buying it as the engine must be removed to replace the seal.

I call these my core questions to assess the car if I am buying from a remote location. Besides these, I ask the basic common ones regarding previous owner, mileage, how it drives, paint condition, issues that are critical for operation and non-critical ones, how long the car has been not running, why?, when it ran last, when the car was bought, what has the owner done to the car, last time oil was changed or tune-up. If I can get contact info about the previous owners, I try to contact them to their history of the car when they owned it, good info may be provided.

Naturally, car inspection is always best because opinions differ. If you are unable to, buying the car on the Internet whether from Ebay or Craigslist is totally doable and simply requires an act of faith and more questions than if you could not look a the car yourself. Requiring the seller to send detailed photos or video is common and if they cannot, be a little more cautious.

As a rule, if the seller does not provide details about the car and provide photos in his online ad, I am skeptical. These types of sellers more likely just want to sell and could care less about the answers they provide. The whole purpose of the ad is to sell. If the seller responds to questions with non-direct answers or just short curt ones, look elsewhere or confront the seller with the issue.

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