Keith’s Blog: Don’t Forget to Ask About the Keys

I’ve gotten spoiled by Bring a Trailer.

One of the benefits of their bespoke listing format is that sellers have learned to be complete in their descriptions. If they are not, the BaT peanut gallery is sure to chime in.

A case in point. A friend of mine recently purchased a 14-year-old BMW from a private party.

When the car arrived, he discovered that it had only one key, and there were no owner’s manuals.

Getting another key and having it programmed is well over $600.  Manuals are available on eBay Motors — and that’s another $175.

There was no intentional misrepresentation here. The seller had a lot of cars, drove this one rarely, and never even thought about the keys or the manuals.

If this car had been for sale on BaT, and if the keys and manuals had not been addressed in the description of the car, the BaT trolls would have raised the question.

So when you are buying a car, don’t forget to ask the simple questions. Does it have a spare key? Are the owner’s manuals included? Are the jack and tools included?

You might even ask if there is a spare.

Asking about service records is a good idea, and having access to a CarFax is important.

These little things don’t affect the underlying condition of the car. They may affect the market value, but not to a major extent. They become negotiating points.

But they can make taking delivery of the car a much more pleasant experience — one best described as “no surprises.”

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market, now in its 33rd year. Keith has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and had his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity. He has received many honors, including the Lee Iacocca Award, the Edward Herrman Award, was inducted into the Concorso Italiano Hall of Fame and more. He is on the boards of directors of The LeMay Museum and Oregon Ballet Theater, and was formerly the chair of the board of the Meguiar's Award.

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  1. …and always ask , “do you have the Original Window Sticker from the factory “ !… surprisingly, many Sellers don’t
    Deem this important !

  2. Some cars come with three keys, one of which is a master that allows programming of other keys, sometimes without the need for special equipment. Ferraris are a good example. Make sure you know how many keys the car you are buying came with from the factory.

    1. Been there, done that, and spent an entire Sunday looking through tall grass in a backyard filled with cars and parts for the lug nuts that went to a ’55 Chevy Bel Air I purchased. Ah, the good ol’ days.

  3. I purchased a car in the early 80s after inspecting it and test driving it. While being dropped off the next day by my boyfriend, who insisted on following me home in case the car broke down, I was informed that the wheels and tires were not included in my purchase. Lucky for me that my boyfriend was with me (evil grin). The wheels and tires brought me home at a smooth 70 mph.

  4. Another one to be careful about is when a seller says “new tires” as this can be misleading. Three blowouts in three days taught me the hard way. A car with brand new tires that has been garaged for 25 years…needs new tires. Always ask how long ago the new tires were purchased.