Buying Cars on Ebay: Vehicle Choice & Research

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This is Part 1 on the Buying A Car On Ebay Series and this one goes through the process of pricing research so that you’ll know how to take advantage of Ebay. I’ll identify what I considered the three “markets” of used vehicles, help pricing vehicles, and how to take advantages of the differences between the different markets. This step isn’t specifically Ebay-related and should be the first step in any car buying process.

With the advent of online car buying research sites, finding the price of your target vehicle is relatively straightforward. If you break up the pool of used vehicles, you’re limited to a dealer used vehicle and a private party used vehicle (coincidentally, these are categories of pricing available on Kelley Blue Book). Within the private party used vehicle, you have local and long distance sellers. In the past, long distance wouldn’t be an option but with the growth of these sites and of Ebay, buying a used car long distance is now easier (albeit with a bit of added risk).

For the discussion below, I’ll be looking solely at Toyota Celica’s made within the last five years (2000 – 2005).

Dealer Used Vehicles
Price will always be higher but risk will be lower (a typical tradeoff).
1. Check CarMax – CarMax reminds me of the Best Buy for used and new vehicles. They have a no haggle price and are very friendly, they aren’t like the horror stories you hear about dealerships with a lot of pressure. At one point I asked what CarMax’s commission structure was and the sales clerk told me!

Here are some sample prices (for Laurel’s CarMax or locals with $0 transfer fee, what appears when you click that link will probably be different as their inventories obviously changes):

Year Make/Model/Trim Price Trans Miles
’02 Toyota Celica GT $13,599 Auto 73k
’03 Toyota Celica GT $16,998 Auto 20k
’03 Toyota Celica GT $16,998 Manual 21k
’02 Toyota Celica GT $12,998 Auto 71k
’04 Toyota Celica GTS $19,599 Manual 26k

What’s nice about CarMax is the sheer number of cars available so you can do some price comparisons. There are two ’03 Toyota Celica’s listed Autos listed: 1) Blue Automatic 20k at $16,998, 2) Yellow Automatic 15k at $17,998, 3) Blue Automatic 13K at $17,998. (there are more but this is sufficient) What you can learn is that 5-7k in mileage will cost approximately $1,000 in price and you can use this general barometer as a scale. It is generally accepted that typical mileage usage in a year is 12k-15k – any higher usage and most places will consider it a high mileage vehicle. Remember that benchmark number.

2. Check CarsDirect (or any of the car list websites): Just like the airline ticket websites, I think they all use the same database of vehicles so anyone you pick will give you similar data. You just want to know the basic going rate for the vehicle make and model in your area. A search for Toyota Celica’s in my area code on a site like this shows private party and dealer used vehicles.

Year Make/Model/Trim Price Trans Miles
’04 Toyota Celica GT $17,995 Auto 23k
’03 Toyota Celica GT $16,995 Auto 42k
’03 Toyota Celica GT $19,488 Manual 19k
’02 Toyota Celica GT $12,922 Manual 61k
’02 Toyota Celica GTS $14,995 Manual 59k

Prices will vary but I’ve found dealerships usually have worse deals than CarMax, there are exceptions of course, because CarMax deals in high volume and will take a smaller cut. For example, the CarsDirect listing of a ‘03 Toyota Celica GT Auto 42k was $16,995 compared to a CarMax ’03 Toyota Celica GT Auto 20k listed at $16,998. Granted, you can’t just look at transmission and mileage but the same price for 20k difference in mileage is significant. (Also recall that 42k in miles was put in probably under 3 years of service).

Private Party Used Vehicles
I’d suggest your local Craigslist or the local paper’s classified advertisements for good deals on vehicles. The selection will of course be limited but you can find some real gems. I’m afraid I don’t have much experience but you should get a general idea of the going rate.

Finally, you can always rely on the numbers given to you by Kelley Blue Book or an True Market Value but remember that they’re averages. (if you do a search for used vehicles on those sites, you’re typically rerouted to another site) Your mileage will vary.

Summary: This quick research will inform you that in general, an ’03 Toyota Celica Automatic with average mileage will probably run you around $17,000 not including all the ancillaries (taxes, title, etc.). Armed with this information, you can start looking on Ebay to see if the risk is worth it. (I bought a ’03 Celica Automatic with 15k mileages for $16,000 a little over a year ago) Incidentally, there is a 2003 Toyota Celica GT Hatchback with 36k miles (Manual) listed with a Buy It Now of $16,900.

In the next installment, I’ll discuss the importance of contacting the seller prior to bidding or buying the vehicle they’ve listed.

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One Response to “Buying Cars on Ebay: Vehicle Choice & Research”

  1. Weekly Roundup – 01/06/06
    Another busy week in the world of personal finance. Here are some of the most useful things that I ran across this week at my favorite sites…

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