Is It Safe to Buy Cars on eBay?

Natalie Josef
September 16, 2010

Last night, my partner and I were looking on for home furnishings. We are moving in together this month and needed to buy a coffee table, a TV stand, a rug, and some bed linens. After a lot of vetoing and discussions over the merits of the color yellow, we submitted the order. We dropped nearly $800 and never even left the house—weird.


Though I appreciate the convenience and the reduction in shopping time that the Internet provides, I also kind of miss going into an actual store. Sure, we saved many hours by shopping online, but what about the experience of touching a piece of furniture and running your hand along the grain of the wood? What about plopping down onto the floor model bed and rolling around on the comforter? When we bought our couch, we sat down on every single one until we found ours—and it was fun!

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Internet. I have ordered everything from clothes and guitars to groceries and prescriptions online. But something is still not quite right about the whole experience.

So, this got me wondering about cars. I know people are buying and selling cars on eBay, but are they happy with their experience? Is it safe to buy a car online?

Today, I am going to answer the pertinent questions when it comes to online car shopping on eBay.

How Do I Buy a Car on eBay?
Buying a car on eBay is just like buying anything else. You can either purchase through an auction or a “Buy it now” price. eBay has an entire section for automobiles called eBay Motors, which is filled with information on how to buy and sell vehicles on eBay.

Is It Safe?
Pretty much. According to the Federal Trade Commission, online auctions continue to top the list of Internet fraud complaints, but eBay spokesperson, Hani Durzy, says that only one one-hundredth of 1 percent of eBay transactions end badly. While that’s certainly a low number, if it happens to you, it’s still going to hurt. And getting swindled on a car will hurt much more than losing $80 on that vintage Dio shirt from the 1984 Holy Diver Tour.

If you go to the security section of eBay Motors, you will find all kinds of information on how to avoid fraud. The page includes examples of fake emails, invoices, and payment instructions. It also offers a lot of good advice—like don’t use Western Union or any type of wire transfer services to pay for the vehicle. You are also advised to scrutinize the seller’s feedback, get things in writing, and have the vehicle inspected by a third party.

There is also the eBay Motors Vehicle Purchase Protection program, which “provides purchase protection up to $50,000 against certain types of fraud. You are automatically enrolled in the program—for free—when you purchase an eligible vehicle online on eBay Motors.” The program provides protection for the most common kinds of fraud and nondisclosure problems that may occur.

How Do They Ship It?

So, how do you get that sweet 1977 Trans Am Bandit from California to South Carolina? It’s not like you can slap a stamp on the hood of the car and dump it in the mail box. There are two options most people take—have it shipped, or buy a plane ticket and drive it back home.

Shipping vehicles has become quite common. Companies like and Dependable Auto Shippers are frequently used by eBay buyers and sellers. On uShip, you can give the details of your shipment and potential providers, including transporters, van lines, freight brokers, and smaller independent delivery services, can bid for the job. Instead of searching for good prices, companies compete for your shipment, which automatically saves you money.

You can cut costs by considering your delivery route—it’s much cheaper to ship between major cities—and by shipping in the winter, when the rates are lower. Instead of having the car delivered to your door, save money by picking it up at a terminal. And be sure to check if flying to your car and then driving it back home is cheaper than shipping. Road trip, anyone?

Bottom Line
Anytime you buy online, you are taking a risk. I like to think that most people are honest, but be very careful before you purchase anything from eBay, especially a vehicle. Check the sellers’ feedback and communicate with them—if they won’t give you the VIN or refuse to allow an inspection, they are hiding something. Remember, if you get the slightest whiff of lemon, keep on shopping.


Natalie Josef

About the Author

Natalie Josef is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

1 User Comment

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By , September 18, 2010
I "bought" a car on eBay once from my iPhone. While I live in the bay area, the car was located about 60 miles away in San Jose so I would need to pick it up. The car looked great in all the photos. Upon winning the auction, the dealer called me and asked me to give them a credit card to put down a deposit. It turns out that "Buying" the car on eBay from a dealer is actually just a marketing tool to get you in the showroom. You aren't actually obligated to purchase it. I went to examine the car a few days later and found that there were several parts of the leather and paint that were damaged, but these parts of the car were not shown in any of the photos. My gut told me that there was more I didn't know about this car, despite the clean title. I walked away and the dealer refunded my deposit.