That's not to say that there are no risks or issues associated with the internet auction houses. As most of us know from our experiences with social media and other places around the web, the perceived anonymity of internet can leave you exposed to some less than desirable comments, remarks, and behaviors. These auctions are great because they're open to public and they can be a bit painful for the same reason! There are ways to limit the bad experiences while enhancing the good ones. We'll get into that in a bit.
CMB has sold over a dozen vehicles on the internet. We've sold boats, racing cars, trucks both large and small, classic cars, beat-up old jalopies, and even a tractor! We've seen the best and worst of what these auctions can offer.
We've also bought a few vehicles this way. Perhaps you've considered buying a car at an online auction site, but are unsure about the potential for fraud and unscrupulous sellers. Buyers are often more apprehensive than sellers when it comes to major transactions over the internet. That's understandable. There are simple ways to protect yourself from the most common scams and other bad apples on the web. We'll explore a few of those here as well.
This isn't intended to be a step-by-step guide to using the sites. eBay offers excellent tutorials and they'll teach you as you go. So be sure to check those out while keeping our tips mind. We've outlined some of what we understand to be best practices for online auction sales here:
Tips for Sellers
- Be painfully honest in your auction description. You may not want to talk about that little bit of oil that drips on the driveway from time to time, but you're just setting yourself and your buyer up for a bad experience. It's better to disclose EVERY issue with your vehicle's condition that you can recall. Remember that a little quirk in your car's behavior may not bother you a bit, but it might be a very big deal to your buyer.
- Put yourself in the buyer's shoes. What would you like to know if you were looking to buy a car online? Chances are good that your buyer doesn't want any unpleasant surprises. What would surprise you?
- Take good quality pictures and lots of them. For a modest up-charge, eBay Motors allows for 24 "super-sized" pictures for your auction. The more detailed your photos, the more serious bidders you'll have.
- Be accessible to potential bidders. Be sure you're available for in-person showings and test drives of your vehicle while the auction is running.
- Set a reasonable reserve and "Buy it Now" prices. The reserve price is the lowest dollar amount you'll accept for the vehicle and should be a realistic "bottom dollar" price. Set this too high and bidders will assume you want too much money for your vehicle and move on. Set it too low and you risk losing-out on the price you deserve.
- A "Buy it Now" price gives a buyer the ability to end the auction early by agreeing to pay that amount. We typically set this number at what we think represents a strong deal for us as sellers. This is optional and has a small fee attached, but it's worth it. The comfortable selling price for both buyer and seller should fall somewhere between reserve and BIN.
- Allow potential buyers to have a third party such as a mechanic or local friend come and inspect the vehicle if they're out of town or unavailable during the auction period. Put this offer in the description. It shows good faith on your part and lends credibility to your auction description.
- If you intend to post the vehicle for sale locally or on other sites, say so. You may have to end your auction early if it sells locally and before the reserve price has been reached in your auction. It's bad form and against eBay policy to end an auction after the reserve has been met.
- Respond to inquiries quickly and thoroughly. eBay has a great messaging system where potential buyers can ask questions. You can then post the questions and answers to your auction automatically so others can see them too.
- Post an e-mail address in the auction description. We recommend creating one just for this purpose. This way a buyer can contact you offline if your auction is unsuccessful . Many deals have been brokered this way. It's not considered proper to conduct deals outside of the auction while the auction is still active.
- If your sale is successful, be sure to leave prompt and honest feedback on the buyer's account so future buyers know more about from whom they're buying.
- Unless you're absolutely desperate, don't buy a vehicle that you haven't inspected in person. There is no riskier proposition. If you can't go and look for yourself, send someone you trust to check it out for you.
- If you're unsure of something in the ad, just ask. Sellers who are serious about making a deal will be happy to accommodate reasonable requests for information, pictures, etc.
- Do your homework. Seek out opinions, reviews, forums and other forms of information on the make, model, and year of items of interest. Know what you're buying before you buy!
- Make arrangements for pick-up or shipping a vehicle with the seller as soon as possible after the auction ends. Keep shipping costs in mind when bidding as it's very rare for a seller to include shipping in the price.
- Never bid on any auction unless you're prepared to pay. A bid is a promise to pay that amount and should be taken seriously.
- Be sure to check the payment requirements in the auction to understand any needed deposits and payment methods and restrictions. Be prompt with your payments.
- Leave honest and appropriate feedback on the seller's account so that others are informed for future auctions of the seller's behavior and practices.
eBay isn't free, but it's pretty reasonable given its reach and ease of use. The fees vary depending on the particular circumstances and selections made when the auction is created. Check out them out here (there's a chart):
eBay Motors Fees
Here's the ugly truth; people can be less than honest when buying and selling vehicles, especially online. Shocking right? Here are some things to help protect you and to watch out for:
- Never send cash via mail or wire transfer. This is a very common request from internet scam artists. Other than reasonable deposits, final payment for vehicles is typically handled at the time of delivery.
- You can protect your hard earned cash by sending it through a service like PayPal. That way you'll have at least some level of recourse if your item doesn't arrive or if it's not as you expected.
- If a seller won't answer questions, allow for inspection, or refuses to provide additional pictures of specific areas of the vehicle when requested, move on. Good sellers go out of their way to accommodate reasonable requests from buyers.
- Check the feedback scores for both buyers and sellers. This is your first line of defense and a great way to learn about past behavior. Consistent neutral or negative feedback is a real cause for alarm.
- Sometimes buyer don't pay and sellers don't sell. Even if you're auction is successful you may be confronted with a deadbeat bidder or a non-selling seller. eBay allows for you to report this activity so please use it.
- Beware of vehicles listed with other than clear titles. Salvage, lost, rebuilt, or otherwise branded titles can be difficult to transfer to your name. You may end-up with a vehicle that you can't register and drive in your state.
- Cover yourself well. We typically use a portion of the description to clearly state our expectations in a sale. Here is the final description section of a recent auction of ours:
I strongly urge any serious bidders to come and look at and drive the truck in person. I'm happy to allow your mechanic or other local person come over and inspect it for you if you're out of town. I won't be taking the truck to them, sorry.
I won't ship, but I'll work with your shipper to get the truck to you after the full purchase amount is paid and clears my bank. I won't release the truck or the title until paid in full.
Buying and selling vehicles online is relatively safe and simple. We've had a lot of success and a lot of fun.
Get Started Here!
Please feel free to post your own experiences in the comments.
Good luck and happy bidding!