My friend Ron Buerge of Ohio prepared this short article about the hazards and perils of buying cars through online auctions. I think it’s excellent so I’m reprinting it here. Hope this helps. Here’s his article:
We’ve seen cases where people paid thousands of dollars for used cars based on nothing but some online photos and a seller’s fancy talk. Don’t be a victim. To avoid getting a lemon, use common sense and follow some basic rules.
Rule # 1: If it sounds too good to be true, it is (yes, your mother was right).
Rule # 2: Read Rule # 1 again.
Rule # 3. It’s real money. Treat every online purchase as though you are paying for it by putting cash money in an ordinary mail envelope and sending it off, because that’s how much you are trusting them.
Rule # 4. Don’t do it all online. If you want to buy a used vehicle online, travel to the seller and actually see the vehicle. Test drive it, get it inspected. Meet the person who is going to take your hard earned money from you and satisfy yourself that they are honest and you are getting a fair deal.
Rule # 5. Know your seller. Don’t buy from any seller who doesn’t already have a good online reputation with lots of satisfied buyers. Check it out carefully before your turn over your hard-earned money.
Rule # 6. Get an inspection. If you can’t travel to the seller to actually see the vehicle before you buy it, consider contacting a local franchised new car dealer for that brand (if you are thinking of buying a Chevy, call the service department at the Chevy dealer nearest the auction seller’s location) and arrange for them to do an independent vehicle inspection before you buy.
Rule # 7. Make a contingent bid. If you have to bid before you see the vehicle in person, try to make your bid contingent on a satisfactory vehicle inspection. That way you can back out of it (or renegotiate the price) if you learn that it needs a new engine or some other major repair.
Rule # 8. Get an Auction Guarantee. Find out if the online auction gives you its own guarantee before you buy. If they don’t, go elsewhere. If they do, read the terms carefully to make sure it isn’t just fancy words that mean nothing.
Rule # 9. Do your homework. Before you buy any vehicle, check out the vehicle’s recalls and known defects. That’ll tell you something about the vehicle’s reliability, even if the seller hasn’t had any problems yet.
Rule # 10. Don’t take a risky deal. If the dealer won’t give you any guarantee, or doesn’t have a good auction reputation, don’t send them your money. If you really want to give your money away, you can send it to me.
Rule # 11. Don’t sign a blank contract. Make the dealer fill it out and sign it and send it to you. Only after you get it, already signed by the dealer, should you even think about signing it. In most states, a contract is not complete until both sides sign it. If you sign a blank form and send it to the dealer, then when the dealer signs it (in their own home state) the contract is often considered to be legally complete in the state where the last signature is signed to the contract. If it’s your home town, and anything goes wrong, you can probably sue the dealer right in your home town and that’s alot easier than having to drive a thousand miles to file a lawsuit or hire a lawyer in some distant city to do it for you. Of course, you can avoid this problem by always buying only from a seller who is located in your home state, and the closer to you the better.
Rule # 12. Look, see, touch, feel, drive. Don’t pay your money until you see the car and, even then, don’t pay your money until you have it inspected carefully. Why? Because once you turn over your money, it’s gone.
Ebay car sales can mean a good deal, but be careful. Online auction car sales can be a great opportunity for a crook to steal your money by promising you a cream puff car and leaving you with a piece of junk.
And don’t forget that some state Lemon Laws cover used cars and trucks, too. Check with an attorney to find out about your rights.
If you’ve been ripped off by a car dealer, don’t put up with it. You have more legal rights than you probably think you do, so protect yourself.