Buying a Car on eBay. How to buy safely & avoid trouble

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Dear eBayer,

Following 20 years experience in the motor trade, I have been motivated to write this guide in an effort to stamp out the bad guys and their dodgy dealings, who've attempted (unfortunately occasionally rather too successfully) to con innocent eBayers.

When looking to buy a car on eBay, ask lots and lots of questions (don't be shy, it's your hard earned money we're talking about here!). Do your homework, learn to recognise the signs of trouble, misplaced trim, swapped parts and accessories, faults, ommissions, or inaccuracies.

Open the bonnet, look for white residue under the oil filler cap (like "mayonnaise"), oil leaks (not just filling spills), listen for exhaust blows, look for suspcious exhaust emmissions ('blue' smoke from exhaust, etc), check ALL the documents very carefully matching and cross-checking all the serial and VIN (vehicle identity numbers) for correctness, check the V5 "log book" (no V5? - DON'T BUY!), MOT's (check mileages and serial numbers), service history follow the mileage and dates etc. (cam belt and timing chain changes - one of those snaps and you're into big money) and check the chassis/VIN number is the same, and take a magnet with you to check all the panels that should be metal are metal and not plastic padding or 'filler', check the pain work for signs of respray or overspray, get an HPI (hire purchase information) report that covers detaikls of any outstanding finance, write-off, theft, etc.

A growing problem is the registration number of a legitimate car being copied and used by crooks and dishonest motorists for who you suddenly get their motoring offences (and the resulting points/fines) as the registration number they had on their car matched that on your car when the Camera/Traffic Officer/Warden noted it!  Number plates are also getting stolen off cars and stuck on stolen versions that then get driven around appearing legitimate. If your number plate goes missing - notify the Police and the DVLA immediately. be careful when buying personalised, private or cherished numbers that they are actually being sold by the rightful party have not been cancelled by the DVLA for improper use/display and aren't associated with a string of motoring convictions! Also check the retention documents for validity and ownership.

eBay provide and excellent report facility when looking at a vehicle with a view to purchase via eBay, USE IT - it's good. I have and it has saved me a whole lot of trouble on one occasion when the seller was passing off a tarted up regular model as a fake rare edition of that particular Mercedes-Benz - a massive 100% difference in real value against vaue as this particular model amd marque!!! The chap was very abusive when rumbled with all sorts of threats... shut up soon enough when faced with the established facts and proof of his counterfeiting.

Also, ask yourself why the seller has chosen eBay rather than the local paper, etc. Buyer Beware!

Very often there are hidden problems such as wornout gearboxes (£1,000 at least to replace), MOT failure CAT's (£500ish to replace), air-con with leaks that can't be 'sealed' (£500ish to fix) often sold as "air-con just needs regassing", blown Head Gaskets (£1,000 to replace) that have 'accidently' been missed off the descriptions, oustanding finance (if you buy privately YOU are liable for the balance owing if not settled by the seller as part of the contract ), stolen, cut-and-shut (two cars welded togther to make a new one), ringers (one cars legitimate ID ripped off and used on a stolen car), write-offs or badly damaged and repaired 'on the quiet' and without the official damage report register, cars straight off 'the breakers' given and delivered free to them tarted-up and then popped onto eBay to be sold from their home address, etc. etc. needless to say no supporting documentation would show up one way or another.

Dodgy sellers will usually insist on payment before collection, and usually by an irreversible method of payment for obvious reasons. A deposit by Paypal at least gives you the peace of mind of Paypal's support for that element and payment by card gives you some protection depending on the issuer.  If Paypal payment is taken in full that's a very reassuring sign, as is payment on collection. Most genuine eBay car sellers are more than willing to meet you in the Bank and do an electronic there and then to transfer from Bank to Bank, as it's on CCTV and they get a receipt.

Watch out for cars where the badges have been changed to make the car appears a higher spec than it really is including engine size, number of valves, and changes to make the car appear younger than it really is and of course that old favourite clocking. The digital ones are just as easy to clock than the old dial types. A laptop can be used to reset the digital reading and guess what, it's legal - as long as you tell the new owner - like that's going to happen!

When you bear in mind it might cost only around 20% of the actual extra that can be asked for a car that has been 'mock-spec'd', i.e. as little as  £500 to make a car appear to be a model that fetches some £2,500 more, you can see where the temptation lies.   

Faking exclusive marques and models is becoming something of a problem. This can thankfully be verified by ringing the manufacturer or tuning house concerned, as they are often even keener to protect there good name than you are not to be ripped off.

These folk often turn very nasty when rumbled, so be prepared for some strong language and threats. Usually rebuffed successfully with "my next call is to your local Police who will gladly meet me there to witness your actions!". Tell them you are taping the conversation for evidence.   

Take someone with you who's very knowledgeable about cars and has access to useful contacts in the motor trade for verifying facts about a car. 

Trading Standards will be sympathetic but in reality can't be expected to do much. The Police will help as best they can, but are often inundated with such matters. Civil Law (Solicitors and Courts) costs a fortune and the crooks concerned will have disappeared long before you get judgement, let alone enforcement! The best plan is to avoid the problem.

If I had a pound for every sorry tale of 'bargain' cars bought on eBay that subsequently cost £1,000's to get through an MOT, I'd be in the Bahamas having long forgotten you lot back in rainy old Blighty!

All that said, use your gut instinct, you'd be amazed how often that is right! Take a lady with you - 'women's intuition' is staggeringly accurate!   

There are plently of successful deals done for cars via eBay, so play safe, be sensible, if it looks "too good to be true" it probably is. Keep your eyes open and your wits about you, use the excellent resources provided by eBay to check the car out and always take along an expert or arrange for the car to be inspected at a main dealer for the make - usually £100 very well spent. Get any faults in writing and show the seller and get the price adjusted to reflect.

Allow an extra budget for unexpected expenses on your new acquisition.

Do we buy or sell cars on eBay?  No. We have no axe to grind.

Good luck and happy car buying!    

(c) Copyright 2006 eBay ID Car Parts Store.

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