How to buy a car off eBay and get the best results

Buy a car off eBay

It can be simple and straightforward to buy a car off eBay and you might bag a bargain. But it’s still worth being cautious

To buy a car off eBay you should approach it with the same caution as if you were buying from a private seller. However, although it’s worth being careful – and there are plenty of pitfalls for the unwary ‑ bargains do exist. You’ll find cars that have been lovingly cared for at knock-down prices. And if you’re after a classic, you’ll occasionally come across a gem of a car that’s been undervalued for a quick sale. Here’s how to come away as a satisfied rather than sorry buyer.

Why is eBay better than a regular auction?

At a regular auction, you can pore over the car, you can see it being started up but you can’t drive it or meet the owner. And you probably have no idea of it’s previous life. When you buy a car off eBay, the chances are the seller will be a private individual. You can contact them, go to their house, scrutinise its paperwork, get a pretty good idea of how it’s been treated and even test drive it. You can also check the seller’s feedback which should give an accurate idea of how honest they generally are.

What are the downsides of eBay?

Buying through eBay is very similar to buying from a private individual. You only have the most basic consumer rights. In addition, there are plenty of crooks out there selling cars that either aren’t theirs to sell or don’t really exist. If the advert features a picture of a car with the registration plate blanked out, be suspicious.

Examine the advert

The majority of eBay sellers will have put multiple photographs of their car up (you can display 12 for free). These present a good opportunity for ensuring you’re not wasting your time buying a car that isn’t what you’re looking for. Have a good look at the photos: are there dents in panels, blemishes on the paintwork or stains on the seats? If you’re looking for a project that you can do up, any or all of those may be fine. If you want something that’s ready to go, they may not be. Then read the description carefully. This is important primarily because as you’re buying from a private individual, the only comeback you have if there are problems with the car is if its description is inaccurate.

Take a test drive

According to Trading Standards, a test drive should be a vital part of purchasing a used car, particularly if you’re doing so privately. This is because if the car grinds to a smoky halt as you’re driving home, it’s your problem, not the seller’s. The test drive is your opportunity to satisfy yourself that the car matches the seller’s description and is fit for purpose. You might, for example, find that its highly rated 1.2-litre engine isn’t poky enough for your tastes.

Read how to test drive a used car here

Consider an inspection

If you’re really keen on the car but aren’t mechanically minded, investigate taking along a mechanic to inspect the car. You should also get a history check done. It’s not unheard of for people to sell cars on eBay with outstanding finance or that have been insurance write-offs.

What if you really, really want it?

You might decide that this is your dream car; that you want it no matter what; and that you aren’t prepared to risk losing it in the auction. If you and the seller can settle on a mutually agreeable price, the seller can stop the auction and it becomes a regular private sale.

How much do you pay?

This is where your research is vital. Look on car sales websites such as Auto Trader to see how much similar examples to the car you’re looking at sell for. And type its registration plate and make into a valuation site such as CAP Automotive. This will give you an idea of what your upper bid should be. If you decide to bid, put this in so that your bids update automatically. This will stop you getting carried away and paying more than you want as the clock ticks down.

How do you pay for it?

Be wary of carrying a large amount of cash. And be double wary if the seller suggests meeting somewhere other than their home. It’s not unheard of for buyers to be mugged for cash. Use a recognised escrow service which allows you to deposit funds and only release them when you’re in receipt of the car. If you trust the seller and are confident that they live where they say they do, you could do a bank transfer. But both parties must be happy about when the money is received and the car and its paperwork handed over.


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