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Buying Cars on Ebay: Dissecting An Auction Listing

Posted By Jim On 01/04/2006 @ 3:19 pm In Cars | 2 Comments

In part 2 of the Buying Cars on Ebay series [3], I’ll dissect an Ebay Motors auction listing which can be a little overwhelming. An Ebay Motors auction listing is very similar to any other auction listing in that it’ll have a standard set of information (mileage, transmission, trim, etc.) but it’s the description that you must make careful note of. In this particular regard, the professionalism and transparency of the auction is paramount.

The standard information is the same for all vehicles and looks similar to a book or other commodity type auction (DVDs, concert tickets, etc.). Take this auction for a 2004 Celica for example. The standard information is mileage, transmission, doors, interior, year, warranty, title, condition, engine, VIN (important!), interior and exterior color, and inspection. There is also a list of the standard and added optional equipment on the vehicle. That’s the extent of the required information.

As you can see, that auction doesn’t look as professional as this auction for a 2005 Celica GT Hatchback and the difference is the first is an auction from a private seller and the second is an auction from Precision Toyota of Tucson. Note key and critical differences.

Attribute First Auction Second Auction
# Photos 10 18
Contact Phone # Yes Yes
Words in Descr. 87 297
Terms & Conditions No Yes
Seller Individual Dealer

And that’s just the superficial details of the vehicle.

Photos are important because that’s all you get to see of a car in an Ebay auction. You want to see, at a bare minimum, two photos: one of the VIN and one of the odometer. While they can always switch it on you, at least you know they have the car in their possession. Second, the contact information is critical because before I’m going to commit this much money for anything I’ll want to talk to the seller on the phone (that’ll be for a later article).

I put in the number of words description only because the more detailed the description the better. Of the 87 words in the first auction, half was fluff and meaningless, whereas all 297 words of the second auction were descriptive (though part of that was standard specs for the Celica such as trunk space). It’s not a discriminator but it’s a sign of professionalism. If you can’t spend more than 20 minutes to put together a nice useful description of your car then how much time are you willing to spend on the other things?

Lastly, Terms & Conditions are critical in a transaction like this and they’re standard for dealership listings. Read them over very carefully because if you notice on the second auction, there’s a DOC Fees of $279.00. You had to switch tabs from General to Terms in order to see it. They’re not trying to trick you because T&C is exactly where that information will be and should be listed.

Read over a whole bunch of auctions to get a feel for the types of information given. A lot of private party auctions will have some personal information (I’m selling because I’m moving, my girlfriend dumped me, etc.) but that’s not obviously as important as the specs of the car. If you’re tentative about shelling out so much on an auction, remember that you can always limit your search to vehicles being sold by dealerships.


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