Lifestyle

How to Buy a Supercar


Learning how to finance, insure, and properly drive your new supercar are the best ways to ensure a sound investment

You've had a good year. Whether because of a big bonus or because a cash-rich private-equity firm bought your company, now it's time to stop daydreaming about that beautiful high-performance supercar you've been lusting after and actually buy it. But before you sign that check and cruise off into the horizon, make sure to put in the due diligence that will save you from getting taken for a financial ride.

It's easy to fantasize about choosing between million-dollar cars like the Pagani Zonda and Bugatti Veyron, but actually paying for one is something else. Creating a sound financial plan for your lease or purchase is the most important detour you should take between your door and the car dealership.

Financing companies like Woodbury (Conn.)-based Premier Financial Services and Hallandale (Fla.)-based LeaseTrader.com specialize in the leasing of collectible, vintage, exotic, and luxury cars, and act as liaisons between dealers, banks, and leaseholders.

Leasing: Approach With Care

Premier CEO Mitchell Katz says that potential leaseholders should be cautious about the lack of flexibility in traditional lease arrangements. "People are so anxious to get the car, they don't always take a look at termination clauses," he says, which could lock you into a big investment for longer than you think.

His company offers a program called Simple Lease, which gives clients the options of terminating the lease at any time, switching cars mid-lease, and buying or selling the car for its residual value upon the termination of the lease.

The company deals only with cars valued $25,000 or higher, though the typical client springs for wheels in the $200,000 range. The company's list of 10 hottest cars to lease in 2007, based on consistent consumer demand and strong resale, include the Ferrari 599 GTB, Lamborghini Murciélago LP640, Aston Martin DB9, and Porsche 911 Turbo.

Special Insurance

Don't forget that your supercar will also need super insurance. If you go with an average insurance agent and underwriter, you will most likely enter into an Actual Cash Value policy, where an adjuster decides what amount you will receive for damages when they happen.

A handful of standard insurance companies, and a growing number of underwriters that specialize in luxury cars, offer Agreed Value policies, where repair values are negotiated from the beginning. An estimated 95% of all standard insurance companies do not provide Agreed Value policies, because collector cars present too many risks and variables like mileage that create too much fluctuation in their market value.

Since 1991, Fresno (Calif.)-based Leland West has offered the Select Auto Insurance Program, a selection of Agreed Value policies specifically tailored to coverage of expensive and hard-to-replace autos. Their plans place restrictions on ownership, such as annual mileage, business or commuting use, parking, and alterations to the car. But being insured by a company that knows how delicate your investment is means that you will be able to do things like take the car to special-treatment repair shops or get towed from an accident on a flatbed truck.

Super Driver's Ed

Once you've balanced the books, one question separates you from the open road: Do you know how to properly drive a car that could be worth more than your house? If you're planning on driving your supercar—which will likely accelerate from zero to 60 mph in under four seconds and max at over 200 mph—to anywhere near its high-performance capacity, a few professional driving lessons are a wise investment in both your personal safety and your car's. It will also help bring down those insurance premiums.

One option is Skip Barber Racing School, which is held at more than 20 racetracks in North America. Would-be Jeff Gordons can enroll in the High Performance Driving School, a $1,595 one-day or a $2,895 two-day course. Pro instructors in the school teach students how to handle challenging real-life driving scenarios, such as what to do when approaching wet surfaces at high speeds.

"While the car industry focuses a lot on high-performance hardware, driving school is about the software—what's in your head. How are you setting yourself up to drive this vehicle?" says Dan Hubbard, marketing director for Skip Barber Racing School.

Carmakers' Schools and Car Clubs

The High Performance Driving School, a new program for 2006, also gives potential buyers the opportunity to test a variety of high-end European cars, such as the BMW M3, Porsche 911 Turbo, and Audi S4, before they commit to a lease or purchase on the basis of a dealer test drive alone.

Also, most of the bigger high-end performance carmakers also offer their own driving schools, including Ferrari, Porsche, and Lamborghini, which may be arranged as part of an ownership package. Those lucky enough to buy from British boutique builder Ascari can get schooled at the Race Resort Ascari, near Ronda, Spain—supposedly the world's most exclusive track and the world's only racing-dedicated resort.

Before the salesman hands you the keys, one more piece of advice: Car clubs are a great opportunity to educate yourself, access all the resources a supercar owner might need, and find a group of people with a common love for driving fast and showing off.

Click here to see a handy tip sheet you can take with you if you're lucky enough to be in the market for a supercar.

Douglas MacMillan is a staff writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York.

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