Buying a vehicle on eBay Motors can be a good and cost-saving experience, provided you’ve properly prepared and carefully shopped the Motors listings, particularly with the backing of eBay’s Vehicle Purchase Protection program.
Even with purchase protection, however, nobody wants to deal with the hassle and headache of a vehicle purchase gone wrong.
Though it’s not possible to spot every instance of trouble before it actually occurs, here are some things to watch out for and avoid. If you see any of these associated with an eBay vehicle listing, run a mile in the opposite direction.
Missing images. Don’t spend any time on a listing for which there are poor images, an inadequate number (i.e. just one or two) of images, or even worse, no images available. A seller that can’t be bothered to create a useful and indicative set of images for a sale as important as a vehicle sale is going to be more trouble than they’re worth.
Poor feedback. Feedback that indicates trouble, is too low to be practicable, or shows poor detailed seller ratings is a good foreshadowing of a troublesome, risky transaction. Avoid sellers that don’t maintain good feedback, particularly when buying vehicles.
Refusal to answer questions or provide additional images. Any vehicle seller worth dealing with will answer questions promptly and clearly and will be more than willing to take additional photos of areas/parts of the vehicle that you request and send these to you. You should ask questions and make additional image requests not just to vet the vehicle you’re considering, but also the seller offering it. If they don’t deliver, don’t bother—they won’t deliver.
Wire transfers or other unusual payment requirements. Any reputable vehicle seller on eBay should be willing to accept one of PayPal, cash, credit card, or various kinds of checks. Never, ever wire money to an eBay seller, even for a vehicle, and avoid any “unusual” payment requests. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with escrow requests, but be sure to use only eBay-approved escrow providers, no third parties.
Title issues or “Below Range” AutoCheck scores. Mainstream vehicle listings on eBay come with AutoCheck scores that evaluate a vehicle’s title history, repair history, recall history, and other official records. Unless you’re a serious collector or restorer willing to take risks with your money, steer clear of any vehicle listings whose AutoCheck scores indicate title or other problems.
Refusal to allow for pre-sale inspection. You wouldn’t buy a vehicle from a used car lot without being given permission to have your mechanic look it over. You shouldn’t do this on eBay, either—any seller that refuses to allow inspection (or that claims that the arrangements they’ve already made prevent an inspection on your terms) doesn’t deserve your business.
Inaccurate or aftermarket feature listings or VIN. Unless you’re an expert auto buyer and enthusiast, steer clear of listings that seem to offer features that were never available on a particular make/model/year combination or that have aftermarket upgrades significant enough to make a vehicle significantly different from its fellows, and steer clear of any vehicle whose VIN, as provided by the seller, does not seem to match the vehicle being described (note the AutoCheck details on the eBay Motors listing or consult your insurance company).
Too-good-to-be-true listings. Don’t think that just because you’re buying on eBay you’ll land a brand new Mercedes for the price of a plasma television. You won't—there is a catch, even if you can’t see it.
“Dream” cars that you’ve got no experience with. Yes, it’s true that you can buy some of the most exotic and rare vehicles of the past on eBay, often for a fraction of their original cost thanks to age. But think twice before you get suckered into buying a Lamborghini or a DeLorean, even if you think you can afford the initial cost. Old vehicles are, in fact, old, and are likely to require extensive care, service, and restoration before they perform as you expect them to—and this doesn’t come cheap. The rarer and more exotic, the more likely you’ll spend your pile on the initial purchase only to find that you’re on the hook for many times more before you have a long-term, servicable, street-legal vehicle. (Teens, this goes double for you—be sensible here and think with your head, not your heart!)
One-off or uninsurable vehicles of any kind. There are a lot of vehicles out there that are sufficiently home made or sufficiently old and rare as to be effectively uninsurable without extraordinary amounts of work and red tape. Before you buy, call your favorite insurance company (and/or a few competitors) to see whether they’re able to insure the vehicle. Believe it or not, there are some vehicles, even from major marques like Dodge or Toyota, that they will simply not quote you on or insure—this is especially true in recreational vehicle categories.
Inoperable vehicles that must be transported. This one is a weaker red flag than the rest but deserves to be mentioned nonetheless. It’s fine that you’re willing to transport and repair a vehicle, but first make sure that (1) you know the laws involved in your locality and the seller’s locality, (2) that you’ve understood and agreed to the entirety of the costs involved, which can be greater than many imagine, (3) that you really understand what you’re getting per the AutoCheck score and associated details, and (4) that you can’t get a better or equivalent deal, when all is said and done, by buying an already running vehicle locally or from another seller.
The trouble with buying on eBay Motors is that it’s so easy to fall in love with a listing and get your heart set on a vehicle or even get into a bidding war over a vehicle that you haven’t yet had to live with, day-in and day-out, through all of the trouble that a vehicle can cause.
On eBay Motors, however, discretion is the better part of street smarts. Make “no” your default answer, and only buy when there are no red flags—when every single check box is ticked with a “yes.” Do this and your eBay Motors purchase is more likely than not going to be a positive and pleasant one.