Buying online: A cautionary tale


I almost fell for it. Yep, I almost wired money to a less-than-honorable seller and stepped into what would have undoubtedly been a big mess. Thankfully, right before the money went out, that last step of due diligence I’ve preached so many times saved me.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/02/12/when-buying-a-car-online


First want to say Colin, I’m a big fan of your books and your insane detail to restorations you undertake. I’m a big Shelby lover as well and enjoyed your Shelby book.

I had a similar experience with a buyer of one of my cars I auctioned through BaT, however, my experience was the complete opposite.

Long story short, I had built up a sold reputation on BaT with a score of over 1,000 and listed my 7th car for sale as a private seller. Title in my name, owned the car a short while as I bought it off a family member who needed the money but I fully disclosed everything in my listing and described the car as it with it’s minor faults and over 60 photos and 2 videos of it driving. Car meets reserve and sells, BaT puts me and the buyer in contact and he informs me he’s going to fly up from North Carolina to Michigan, pay cash, and drive the car home. Great, what a fun road trip that would be!

I present him with the free and clear title in my name and a bill of sale and he insists we go for a quick test drive just to make sure he’s happy with the car and as he puts it in park after a quick ride he looks over at me and says: “I think I’ll pass, car isn’t what it was described to be”… I’m astonished and appalled at the same time. I remind him that he won the auction and that is a binding contract and he owns the car, not first right of refusal. He replies very distastefully: “I disagree” and gets out and progresses to insult my integrity, the car, and BaT. After some choice words back and forth he leaves and I get on the phone with BaT and inform them of the situation in which they offered to refund my insertion fee, relist it for free, and ban the buyer from BaT. I took them up on 1 and 3 and decided to market the car locally in which it sold a few weeks later.

Just goes to show that buyers can be less-than-honorable as well… even after investing money in a purchase as that “buyer” was charged 5% of the purchase price as a buyer’s fee and invested in flights from NC to MI and back.


Hi @luc6189,

Thank you for the kind words. You’ll get no argument from me on your very valid point that it is just as easy to unearth a less-than-honorable buyer as well. Unfortunately what happened to you isn’t uncommon these days. Some people seem to think a winning bid, a contract, or an agreed upon deal is an option to buy, a first right of refusal, or worse, a jumping off point for further negotiations. Especially appalling when a seller does everything right, as you did. The good news is, as you point out and have experienced, that on BaT most deals go off without these issues thanks to the community of good car folks there.

Of course this despicable behavior is not unique to the Internet, it happens at live auctions as well, though it is rarely spoken of. I’ve heard many tales of bidders “backing up” for no valid reason which creates real problems for the auction company and the consignor.

Sorry to hear you found one of the bad ones but that it all worked out in the end when you found a buyer locally in short order.




So in the full story, at what point in the discussion did you say, “I’m Colin *&%ing Comer. You’re going to teach me about the collector car hobby?!?”


I bought a really cheap 1973 Mercedes 280 SE 4.5 back in the early 2000’s in Colorado off Craigslist. I didn’t realize the name signed on the back of the title didn’t match the name printed on the front of it until I got to the DMV a week later! The seller said “well, I sold it for a friend who’s out of the country” and then stopped returning my calls. Awesome. Ended up spending a few hundred bucks to get a bonded title, which was not my favorite thing to do on a $1500 car. Lesson learned…


While I agree with 99.7% of the advice/opinion stated here, I’d like to speak to the 0.3% where I beg to differ. In my experience there is nothing like seeing a car in person to understand the actual condiion. Pictures are never accurate and can over/under represent the real thing. The most honest and well intentioned seller simply may have a different definition of the word mint or perfect or good or “driver quality” than you or me. Having a professional inspect a car for you is a great substitute for in-person inspections if you are well aligned with in terms of his/her subjective ratings on condition. But even if you don’t know them personally it’s better than a seller and buyer whose verbal judgements may be clouded by emotion and other forms of unintentional bias. I’ve even gone as far as tasking a local-to-the-car marque club member look at a car for me. All of these are preferable to buying sight unseen. If the seller won’t agree to a clause allowing me to get a car independently inspected before buying, then I won’t buy.


@bfeng7 actually we can skip that .3% as I agree with you completely! This wasn’t a story about personal inspection vs. buying sight unseen, the latter is clearly a risk that has to be carefully weighed and comes with its own potential issues that one signs up for if they decide to do it. Rather, what this article was about was how we all have to confirm any car has good, transferrable title before paying. In this case, when I attempted to do that, it unearthed a clear misrepresentation of ownership (bad title) and history that could have been a real issue if money changed hands first.

To your point, I too have engaged third-party inspection services, friends, and local car clubs to check out cars I couldn’t in the past. All are great options when just wanting a second opinion.