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Guide to Buying a Car on Ebay

Posted By Jim On 06/07/2005 @ 8:00 am In Cars | 26 Comments

The term “guide” above is used very loosely… Anyway, thus far I’ve purchased two cars in my life – both were off Ebay and both were resounding successes. The first was a low-mileage 2000 Acura Integra and the second was a low-mileage 2003 Toyota Celica, both were off Ebay, and both were shipped to my location. I’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of buying Ebay along with some simple to understand strategies or informational tidbits so that those of you considering buying on Ebay will understand a bit of what you expect.

Using Ebay
You’ll run into two types of sellers on Ebay: Dealers (or their representatives) and private parties. Whereas Kelley Blue Book will list two different prices depending on who you’re buying from (dealer being higher), this difference doesn’t exist on Ebay – you will pay what the market will bear, which is typically lower than both KBB values. You are afforded no additional benefits or warranties by purchasing through a seller who is a dealer (just like in real life).

Ebay Protection Programs [3] – Due to the risky nature of buying a car, sight-unseen, Ebay will protect you (like any other auction) as long as you purchase it through them. The main part of the program is Vehicle Purchase Protection, free, which will protect you up to $20,000 or the value of the car.


Benefits of Ebay:

  1. Information: Use it as part of your research process in figuring out how much the car is truly worth. Ebay will always bring in the lowest price because of the large market and the low number of buyers willing to purchase via Ebay. Remember to add in about $600 to $1000 for shipping, depending on where you are and whether you want covered or uncovered transportation.
  2. Price: As mentioned before, Ebay will probably always be the cheapest price.
  3. Low Mileage: Not always but Ebay cars tend to have lower mileage because of the exponentially greater risk in buying a car with higher mileage without a test drive, this is especially true with manual/standard transmission cars. Would you buy a 50,000 mile manual vehicle?

Drawbacks of Ebay:

  1. Sight-Unseen: You can always get an inspection on the vehicle but you will never be able to test-drive it, unless it’s a local seller. I cannot stress this enough – get the monthly membership to CarFax and pull up the information on every car you see.
  2. Shipping: Unless it’s local, you’re going to have to ship it and it could cost up to, if not more than, a thousand bucks.
  3. Registration, Titling, Taxes: You would also deal with this as a private party sale, but if you were to purchase a car from a dealer you would probably be able to avoid going to the DMV to register, title, and pay the tax on your car.
  4. Beware Salvage Titles: The listing should have this information (or you should walk away) or otherwise CarFax definitely will. They typically aren’t trying to deceive you because if they don’t list it and the title comes back as salvage, Ebay protects you, but you need to read it carefully. Most states have much stricter rules for registering salvaged cars.

Strategies to Use on Ebay:

  • READ THE LISTING THOROUGHLY! Ensure that’s the vehicle you want with the features you want before going any further. Finding out that it’s a cloth instead of a leather interior after you receive the car is something that should never happen. I personally lean towards auctions with a copious number of photos that give you a very good idea of the interior and exterior of the vehicle.
  • The reserve price is usually around $500 under the Buy It Now price. This is something I’ve learned through observation and usually is a pretty good way to guess at what the reserve price is.
  • Note that the vehicle history report available via Ebay (for $7.99 or $14.99 for ten) is through Auto Check by Experian, NOT CarFax.
  • Note the location of the car. You should put a premium on vehicles within driving distance because of the shipping costs especially since you’ll probably be looking at used cars under $20,000 and an extra $1000 is a solid 5% to the price. It’s also a pain to have to talk to the truck driver and find a suitable location for the drop off since he/she will be driving a huge truck and probably can’t just pull up to your apartment/house.
  • Consider calling/emailing the seller. Most sellers are entertaining only a handful of buyers so talking to them may give you an idea of their background and their trustworthiness. I purchased the Acura from a dealer representative and the Toyota from a private seller in Florida, I spoke with both before the sale and they gave me confidence everything was on the up and up.
  • Restrict your purchase to slightly used cars, preferably still within a manufacturer’s warranty. The usual 36 month, 36,000 mile warranty typically will transfer without cost. In some cases, like in those 10-year 100,000 mile warranties on some cars, the warranty will drop to 5-year 50,000 miles from whatever it is. Also, a good barometer of how many miles to expect in a year is 12,000 – less is much much better. This is where CarFax comes in handy…
  • USE CARFAX. Find out if it was a leased or owned car, what its former life was, etc. You’ll find that some cars sat around on a lot for a while (titled to a dealer inventory), moved a bit, and then sold later (as was the case with my Integra). So it may have accrued that 8,000 miles last year in the span of 4 months and then sat in a lot for 8 months. While the mileage is still low, it had some heavy driving for 4 months! That’s the information you’ll need to discover using CarFax.

I would say that buying a car on Ebay is as safe as buying from a private party, except you can’t test drive the car. You can still get an inspection if you want, so that option is still available and Ebay still protects you up to the value of the car or $20,000. If you have any questions about my personal experience, feel free to ask and I’ll try to answer promptly.


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[3] Ebay Protection Programs: http://pages.motors.ebay.com/help/buy/contextual/buy-with-confidence.html

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