Buying a car on eBay - a good idea?
You may have seen web pages or printed articles that suggest that buying a car on eBay is a great idea. I think it is not quite that straightforward. Of course you will make yourself familiar with the reliability / safety etc ratings of the year/ model that you are going to bid on (check consumer reports!) and you should pull the CarFAX report for the VIN provided.
If you don't want to pay the CarFAX fee, you can ask among your friends if they have a current CarFAX access. On CarFAX you can either purchase one report or buy access for a period of one month and during this one month you can run unlimited reports. If one of your friends bought the second type, then you get your CarFAX report for free. You can also post in an automotive forum a request like 'can anyone run a carfax on this VIN..?' and you're very likely to save yourself $15 there.
Anyway, getting back to eBay. So you did your homework, you know the car's year/ model and are sure this is what you want. You ran the CarFAX report and it came out clean or at least no surprises. (Keep in mind that minor accidents will not get reported, so just because CarFAX knows of no major accidents, that doesn't mean there haven't been any. All you know is the car has not been declared totaled / has a clean title (no junk title).
Now comes the problem. With the wide selection that buying on eBay offers, and this is particularly an advantage if you want to buy a rare car like say a 1967 Firebird , V8 engine in black - you are not very likely going to find this gem at your local dealer, even if you live in a huge metropolitan area.
The downside is that a lot of bidders from all over the world can bring up the price.
I have seen many times cars sell on ebay for prices almost twice as much as they would sell in my home area by owner. (This home area is the San Francisco Bay area, one of the 2 or 3 wealthiest parts of the United States. So cars aren't selling cheap here because people have no money.) In general, people believe that they get a great deal since they often buy directly from the owner but in reality, it's just an OK deal, they could've gotten a similar price from a local dealer or even better.
Ebay is a great source for used parts that you cannot order any more. Someone 2000 miles away may be parting out an old car and you can get a great deal for that pump. Or not, if it is a hot item.
Some more advice:
- check the seller's history. Even if the seller has a clean record of hundred percent positive feedback after 100 sales, are those sales cars? Or did he use to buy doll houses and sell old comics and now he offers a car?
- To build trust, does the seller offer an appointment to inspect the car? Has the car been inspected by an independent mechanic?
I once bought a car on eBay and right after the sale closed, the seller requested that I pay $500 deposit. His auction stated that I have to pay the $500 within 72 hours – so I offered I would come by next day and pay it then – which clearly would be within the 72 hours. He did not like that and I should have recognized this as a red flag. He wanted me to pay $500 before I saw the car because he was not so confident I would pay him anything once I would see it – but I was stupid.
So I drove in a rental car the 400 miles to Los Angeles to pick up the car. It was not in as good shape as I had hoped. The auction had said 'inspected by a mechanic' and he stated then this was a mistake – there had been no inspection. I also noticed a noise from the rear axle which he had not disclosed.
However, I had already put in the effort of driving there, and it was a beautiful car (a classic 1974 Mercedes) in its own way, I drove it safely those 400 miles back home. The noise turned out to be a bad axle - $600 to be replaced. Also I could not help but conclude that in the recent years the car was not taken care well off. There were quite a few things that did not work on the dashboard.
Here's the trick. I had not left feedback yet for this seller. I liked the car so-so, but I was angry that he had not disclosed the noise and not-functioning controls. I fixed a few things but then returned the car to the seller. Since he wanted to keep a perfectly clean track record on eBay, he actually refunded me the full price, so all I had lost was the money for the trips. On top of that I learned something.
I certainly would not buy a car unseen. Photos can be misleading. The airfare may be a few hundred dollars and cost you time, but it's well invested.
If you want to buy a car really cheap, I would suggest Craig's list at www.craigslist.org
That site has a section 'Cars and Trucks' and you can find cars my keyword/ price limit in your neighborhood.