A car is one of life’s big purchases, so getting it right is important. Not only do you want to buy a safe and reliable car, but you also want to make sure that you’re covered in case anything goes wrong. More people are turning to online auction sites like eBay to buy and sell cars. Whilst this can be a great way to get a good deal, you need to know that you’re protected before you place the winning bid.

How to buy a car on eBay without getting ripped off
How to buy a car on eBay without getting ripped off.

Vehicle Purchase Protection (VPP)

Always make sure that your transaction is completed on eBay – buy a car with “VPP.” VPP is a program protecting you to for up to $50,000 against, as eBay explains, “certain losses associated with some types of fraud.”  Here’s exactly what is and what isn’t covered.

NOTE: If your seller asks you to go outside of eBay, let the sale go; you won’t be protected by VPP.

What Is Covered

If you pay for your car and/or make a refundable deposit, and never receive anything for your money, then you are covered.

You are also covered for a number of other eventualities, including if the vehicle has been declared stolen by the time of the listing ended, or if you cannot obtain a title for the vehicle and your state – and the seller’s state – require it.

eBay also stipulates that any vehicle holding a title with an undisclosed “salvage, rebuilt/rebuildable, unrebuildable, reconstructed, scrapped/destroyed, junk, lemon, manufacturer buyback, or water damage brand” title is covered, provided of course this was the title’s status at the time the listing ends.

NOTE: Undisclosed damage or salvaged titles are only covered under VPP if the vehicle was listed in the Cars & trucks or RV’s & Campers categories.

VPP also protects the buyer in cases of certain undisclosed damages, but only for vehicles less than 10 years old and if the repairs will cost more than $1,000. This includes damage to:

  • The engine
  • The body and/or frame damage
  • The transmission

Race Cars are not eligible for this cover, and, again, the fault must be present at the time of purchase.

What isn’t covered

As we’ve already seen, VPP does not cover any vehicle that is over ten years old. It also don’t cover non-refundable deposits, money lost because you have decided not to go through with the sale, buyers remorse, or ownership issues where the title was described as anything but “clear.”

We already know that VPP will only cover for faults present at the time of purchase, and they will also, of course, not cover any damage done after the purchase of the vehicle. Perhaps the most crucial clause in the policy is that any damage which could have been reasonably discovered upon inspection, is not covered. This is why you must try before you buy, and take a look at the car in person before sealing any deal. If the car is out of state, there are numerous eBay approved inspectors available to look at the car for a fee.

Do your homework

Don’t be afraid to ask your seller lots of questions. This is your money that you’re spending, and you need to know that everything is in good working order – especially if the car is over ten years old. Expect normally wear and tear on a used car of this age, but look under the hood for more serious faults that the seller hasn’t mentioned. Are there any oil leaks, any strange noises or odd-colored smoke from the exhaust? Check the paintwork for any suspicious looking respray jobs, and check, then check again, that the documents and then VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) match up. Paying for a CarFAX or AutoCheck vehicle history report is a good investment as well.

Take it for a test drive; think back to your driving lessons and concentrate on the act of driving. Plan a little route and consider how smooth the gear changes are and how well the vehicle handles. Remember, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can take a friend or family member with you who does. Don’t buy unless you are 100% confident that you are getting what you’re paying for.

How to pay

Most genuine sellers will accept payment upon delivery, Paypal, or bankers draft. Bear in mind that Paypal can take a large chunk off the seller in fees, so if they are not keen on accepting full payment via Paypal, it is not a sure fire sign of a dodgy transaction. Ask to pay your deposit via Paypal instead, as then you will have that amount covered.

Payment upon delivery gives you the added security that the seller is confident in the condition of their vehicle, whereas, a seller who asks for payment before deliver may sound some alarm bells. Walk away from a sale if you don’t trust the seller.

What to do if you find a fault

If you feel the person who sold you your car has been dishonest, the first step is to contact the seller and ask them about the problem. Perhaps they made an honest mistake and will “make things right” without any threats on your part.

If that doesn’t work, it’s time to contact eBay and get the VPP reimbursement staff involved.

Also, remember that even if your claim isn’t covered by VPP, you can attempt legal action via Small Claims Court. While there is no guarantee that you will get your money back, you’ve got a chance and it’s probably worth pursuing if your loss is more than a couple thousand dollars.

If your loss is more than $10,000, it’s a good idea to contact an attorney. You may also try and file a police report.

Bottom Line: Don’t be afraid to buy a car on eBay – many people have done so successfully over the last decade or so. The key is to know what to look out for, be patient and diligent, and protect your interests at all times.

About the Author: This post was written by Isabelle Guarella. You can find more of her motoring related writing at PassSmart.com.