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10 top tips for buying a used car on eBay

Here's how to shop for a car on eBay Motors

Gareth Herincx

Online auction sites such as eBay are a great way to grab a bargain - not just for obvious items like clothes and shoes, but cars too. Buying second-hand is by far the most popular way to purchase a car. In 2019, a total of 2.3 million new cars were sold in the UK, compared to 7.9 million used vehicles.

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One of the easiest routes to finding a pre-owned car is via eBay Motors. Although it is billed as an auction site, vehicles can be bought and sold in a variety of different ways. These include:

  • Auction: Where a vehicle is sold to the person who makes the highest bid within a timed bidding process
  • Classified Advert: Buyers contact the seller (usually a trader) directly to view the vehicle before paying the advertised price
  • Buy It Now: Cars are advertised at a set price and sold instantly online 
  • Best Offer: Buyers offer the seller a price on Buy It Now items. The seller decides whether to accept, reject, or counter the offer

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As with buying any used car, it's not without risks, so here are 10 tips to help you find a car on eBay and avoid the pitfalls...

10 tips for buying a used car on eBay

1. Find a car - If you haven't already decided which car to search for, we suggest you should before heading onto eBay Motors. If you're unsure, ask family, friends and colleagues for recommendations. Just remember it must be the right car for your lifestyle, and if you're on a tight budget, make sure it has low running costs. 

2. Do your research - Read articles online about the car you have in your sights. Search for a 'used buying guide' so you know what to look out for. Look on eBay and other used car sites, such as Auto Trader, at cars closely matching your target model in order to calculate your maximum bid. You can also get a free valuation at Parkers by simply typing in the registration.

3. Buyer beware - When you're searching on eBay it's worth remembering the golden rule when buying a used car - "if the price is too good to be true, it probably is". It is possible to bag a bargain, but it's also best to be realistic. Ultimately, if a car is ridiculously cheap, then there must be something wrong with it or the seller is not to be trusted.

4. Feedback - As with any eBay purchase, you check out the seller’s credentials through their eBay feedback score. You're looking for a 100% rating, but also click through to view the seller's history so that you can see what items were sold. If there are a few cars, then it might be a trader masquerading as a private seller.

5. Essential checks - Check whether the car is taxed and has a valid MOT for free. You can also view previous MOTs and find out if it failed any and why, plus trace the car's mileage history. MOTs can also indicate whether a car is troublesome, or suffers from rust issues, for instance. If you're still interested, then buy an HPI Check online for less than a tenner - if only for peace of mind. It will tell you if the car has any outstanding finance or has previously been stolen or written off by an insurer.

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6. Vehicle inspection - Carry out a thorough exterior and interior visual inspection of the car (eg look for signs of rust, damage and leaks), test all the electrical items, make sure there are no dashboard warning lights and check the tyres.

You can also book a professional vehicle inspector (try the AA and RAC) who will give you a full report, which can be used for haggling purposes. If the seller won't agree to one, then walk away because they clearly have something to hide.

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7. Test drive - Now's the time to experience how the car drives. Listen out for any unusual noises, test the brakes, steering and all the gears (including reverse), check the exhaust isn't smelly or smoky, and be aware of any vibrations.

Also, examine the V5C registration document (logbook) and ask for the seller's ID to ensure they are the car's keeper and you are at their home address. Finally, check the service history.

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8. Bid to win - If you're sure it's the right car for you, then it's worth making an offer after the test drive. If the seller refuses to haggle and you're still interested, then you'll have to take your chances in the auction.

9. How to pay - The best way to buy any item on eBay is via PayPal. Beware of sellers that use a money transfer service such as MoneyGram or Western Union. Cash in hand for a car is common, as long as you’re comfortable carrying a large amount of money. However, some sellers may require a bank transfer.

If so, only release the funds when you’re in receipt of the car and documents. Before paying, ensure all the paperwork tallies and the seller signs the appropriate box on the V5C document (logbook).

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10. Stay safe - Before a test drive, check that you’re covered to drive another car with your insurance company. Don't go alone to view, test drive or collect a car, and if possible, always go in the daylight. Arrange to view/collect the car at the seller’s home or business address and make sure it matches the one on the V5C registration certificate.

A genuine seller will have no problems with this. Never meet in a service station or roadside lay-by – you’ll have no way of tracing the seller again should there be an issue with the car.

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