Guide to buying cars safely on eBay

Carlton Boyce / 05 February 2016

Avoid the scams and get a good deal with our guide to buying cars safely on eBay.



I used to buy a lot of cars on eBay, back when the internet was fresh and new and exciting. I never had a single problem. 

Every car I bought was exactly as it was described and was being sold by private owners looking for an easy way to get rid of their old car.

Things seem to have changed now, and I see more and more trade sellers shifting their stock online, some of whom are selling cars that might not pass muster on a forecourt. This can make buying cars from eBay a bit of a lottery.

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How to search

There is a comprehensive search facility on eBay Motors to list the cars that meet your needs. 

Just select the make and model you’re interested in, then decide how far from your home you’re prepared to travel and voila, everything that meets your needs will be listed.

You can then sub-divide still further, narrowing it down by features, such as petrol or diesel, automatic or manual gearbox, age and price. This helps you whittle down the thousands that are available down to the scant half-a-dozen that really tick your boxes.

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Set up a saved search

If you then click on the green ‘+ Follow this search’, you will be notified whenever anything else is listed with these characteristics.

This is a great feature that you’ll need to check regularly; genuine bargains don’t come up as frequently as they used to, but they do still pop up from time to time and when they do, you need to be prepared to strike fast!

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Talk to the seller

Once you’ve narrowed the selection, it’s time to pick up the phone and call the seller. 

Ask a few questions about the car but what you’re really doing to trying to gauge how honest they seem. This might sound a bit New Age, but we all have a highly tuned sense of trustworthiness, and if they don’t sound like someone you might be friends with then I’d walk away at this stage.

Needless to say, if you can’t get hold of them to discuss buying a car, imagine how hard it’ll be to talk to them when a problem arises.

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Feedback

eBay also offers you another opportunity to check out the seller’s credentials through their eBay feedback score. 

Seeing 100% positive feedback makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, but do take the time to click through and see what the feedback was gained for. It’s not unknown for rogue sellers to gain a few dozen or even a few hundred positive feedbacks scores by buying a lot of low-priced items.

You are looking for a significant number of happy buyers who’ve left positive feedback after buying items from them – and if they’ve sold more than two or three cars in the previous couple of years, they might be a trader masquerading as a private seller.

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Talk to the DVLA

If the seller passes muster, then it’s time to do a DVLA vehicle check. All you need is the car’s registration number and make and in a few clicks of a mouse you’ll be able to check whether it is taxed and MOT’d.

You can then check the actual MOT history online too, something that will show any previous failures and advisory items. This alone has saved me a lot of wasted time and travelling by weeding out cars that are obviously in very poor condition, despite a glowing report from the seller…

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Go and look at the car

I photograph cars for a living. I know how to make a frumpy car look sleek, and a good car look great but I’ve got nothing on some of the guys who sell cars for a living who could take a Demolition Derby winner and make it look mint and showroom-fresh.

So it’s for this reason if no other that you need to go and look at the car yourself. We’ve covered the things you should be checking in a previous article.

Now it’s time for an HPI check

So, the car has come up clean on the DVLA checks, and looks good in the flesh. It doesn’t leak oil, starts without smoking, sits evenly on its suspension and drives nicely. It’s clean, tidy and comes with a huge history file of every service it’s ever had. It is definitely the car for you.

Well, it might be, but let’s be sure, eh? Now is the time to do an HPI check. Google ‘HPI car check’ and you’ll have a wealth of options open to you.

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Now haggle or bid

After passing every check we can think of, you are now just one step away from owning it. 

In the case of a classified advertisement, you could offer the asking price but where’s the fun in that?

Haggling isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone, but if it’s done with a smile then few sellers will take offence. 

Start at a 20% discount and work upwards. Aim for 10% but the internet has removed the incentive to advertise cars at wildly inflated prices, so you might end up paying what the seller was advertising it at, but if you don’t haggle, you’ll never know whether you might have been able to save a few pounds, will you?

Remember, in the case of the car being sold through an auction, placing a bid commits you to buying the car. You can’t change your mind at a later stage and back out.

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Buying through eBay

It is a common misconception that buying through eBay gives you protection against fraudulent sellers. I’m afraid that this just isn’t true; despite eBay offering comprehensive protection in the USA and Canada, you don’t have the same level of protection when you buy a car in the UK as you do when you’re buying other items.

Paying through PayPal

Nor do you get any extra protection by paying through PayPal as vehicles are – again – excluded. This is why it is so important to make sure that you do your own due diligence and HPI checks.

Buying from a trader

You have the same protection if you buy from a car dealer whether you buy through eBay or straight off the forecourt. In this case, eBay is just another virtual showroom, allowing them to advertise their cars to a wider audience. So don’t be fobbed off by any trade seller who tells you otherwise!

Finally…

Finally, if anything on the internet looks too good to be true then it probably is. And bidding after enjoying a couple of cocktails is never a good idea... 

For more tips and useful information, browse our motoring articles.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.