Caveat Tempter: Seduced by a faraway Craigslist RX-7


The bubble burst as soon as I walked up to the battered Mazda RX-7. The paint, which the owner had described over the phone as “not bad,” in reality had a double-throwdown case of eczema—flaking off the rear bumper—and the roof was severely sun-faded. From 10 feet away, I could tell the interior was likewise a mess, with cracked trim and huge wear marks on the center console. In the listing, the owner had described the inside as “like new.”

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/02/19/seduced-by-a-faraway-craigslist-rx-7


Larry, sorry to hear about your experience but as we all know, we all learn from our mistakes and I too had an experience similar to yours which makes Caveat Emptor all the more meaningful.

Trolling around on eBay over a morning coffee is a typical morning for me. The vehicle I was hunting? Jeeps. CJ7’s, CJ8’s, Grand Wagoneers… some of the 80’s beloved 4x4 machines. I came across a 97k original mile '87 Grand Wagoneer in Washington state, majestically photographed with its glorious Sebring Red paint shining in the Pacific Northwest sun with a mount range in the back drop. I was interested. Long story short, after some phone discussions with the seller I committed to purchasing it for the bargain price of $10,500 and wired the money, he overnighted the title, and I sent a truck to retrieve it.

I was looking for a driver so I sure not expecting a piece of jewelry. But what rolled off that 18 wheeled hauler was anything but jewelry but rather a well photo shopped pig. That shiny paint? Horribly gone wrong single stage with no clear. It ran fine and the interior was actually pleasantly better than photographed and described but I was still severely disappointed and felt cheated. I didn’t even bother contacting the seller. He got me, caveat emptor.

I ended up reselling it on eBay a few weeks later completely divulging the Jeep accurately so not to pass on the previous owners deceptive selling tactics. $12,500 in it after shipping and other costs and to my surprise my no reserve auction showed a $14,000 winning bid after the 8 bidder showdown. He emulated my buying process and the Jeep was back on a 18 wheeler heading back out west to Idaho. The buyer called and thanked me for the honest listing and said it was exactly described as when it rolled of the truck. Like you I let the market decide it’s worth. Caveat Emptor prevails.


@luc6189 - You didn’t do too bad on that Jeep situation! Every now and then it seems to work out like that.


@Kyle I agree! Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.


I know the feeling about buying used . My story is about the same but a little longer . Back in 1995 I was searching for a nice sports car . I just made some extra money on some realestate so I wanted to treat myself . So it was between a 1963 corvette and a 1979 Mercedes 450sl . I picked the sl for $19,000 . Flew in got the car, it looked good,
miles was at 49,000 miles drove back to Michigan . I really thought I did my research In the hope this would be a good investment . Had the car for 5 yrs , just about anything that could go wrong with a car this car had it . I had enough put it up for sale and had a hard time selling it for $ 14,000 . Of coarse now as I look at most 1963 corvettes being in at least the 25 to $30,000 mark , I just think what could of been . Live and learn .


I’ve bought three hearses on eBay, the first a 1970 Miller Meteor (Cadillac) 8 hours from home. The seller was very accurate in describing the condition including a need for new exhaust and that it had snow tires on it (it was summer.) When I picked it up I learned that he had replaced the tires as well as the exhaust without changing the price! I drove it home with only a few flaws, no working radio, A/C and the drivers mirror vibrated like crazy. Other than the radio the problems were quick fixes.

Jumping to the third hearse I bought, a 1994 S & S Victoria Hearse was basically as described and the trip from Kansas to Ohio through ice storms, slush, snow and rain was uneventful.

Then there was the SECOND hearse…I had spoke with the owner and asked all the right questions to a gentleman that was an EMT, a trustworthy job. He told me that the 1970 Cadillac combination hearse/ambulance was in excellent condition that it had been restored by a company in California.

My buddy and I drove ten hours to pick up the car and then we saw it from the road. You could see bondo falling off from a distance! It had bondo under the hood on the cowl as well as inside ON THE HINGES!

As i brought up the fact that he said it was in excellent condition replied, “It IS, for a 1970”. Uh no, excellent means excellent. As to the restoration “Oh it was done by a shop in California that does hearses for haunted houses.” THAT would have told me that it was a bondo job.

At least I only paid the deposit, not the full price, but the guy PAID me with Paypal rather than REFUNDING my payment so I payed fees on $500!

Oh well, lesson learned and I got to spend a couple days with a best friend…and stopped at the Jim Beam distillery on the way home. :slight_smile:


Been there, done that. Bought a car off Ebay, something to add to the collection, it was a 1992 Firebird Formula with a 5.7 AND factory t tops…a bit rare. Well, after some thought I bid and then jumped back in and paid the seller’s buy now price because I didn’t want to lose it and it was clear from the photos that the only work the car needed was minor paint work on the spoiler and front bumper. Car showed up at my house on the transport and I literally thought it was a different car. Turns out the Pennsylvania inspection sticker visible in the photos posted on Ebay ONLY after extreme enhancement indicated that the seller posted 8 year old pictures of the car. Contacted her on it and I quote, she stated that the photos were current and just after she had it detailed before posting the pictures to Ebay…rrrright. When I explained that she had fraudulently posted eight year old pictures she actually hired an attorney to send me a letter stating that it was an “as-is” sale and that I should stop harassing her client…priceless. Wife put her foot down after that one…she’ll only let me buy what I see in person, smart lady, my wife.


These stories make me feel better, at least I’m not the only one who bought some cars that were below my expectations. I’ve bought quite a few cars sight unseen, which isn’t the best way to buy. I guess I’ve been pretty fortunate though, none were really that terrible in hindsight. I bought a 1970 Corvette in 1989 locally that I did look at and that car needed some work, but I had Corvette fever. The owner wouldn’t let me drive it because he said his insurance wouldn’t cover me if something happened. The real reason was that the front end needed work, the car was all over the road on my drive home, fortunately it was only a few miles away. I didn’t realize the odometer turned over until I contacted the original owner, he said you better put a 1 before that mileage because when he sold it there was over a 100,000 miles on it. He put a hitch on it and used to trailer his snow mobiles with it and would take it hunting with his dog. He said people would look at him like he was crazy, I wonder why, but it was his only car in his defense. I wish I never called him after that conversation. Oh well I had some fun with it but I did take a loss on it after 10 years of ownership. I had about $21K in that car and sold it for about $13K through a used Corvette dealer, but it sold in the wintertime which surprised me and that was in 1999.


All I can say is that if you are a car guy and living in 2018 you probably have made a mistake or two, kicked your self in the butt and said I won’t do it again.

I don’t gamble except when I see sheet metal attached to a car frame with an engine, and often it is a gamble.

Even the most experienced make mistakes, or so I told myself twice last summer.

I have had great experiences buying on ebay sight-un-seen, though I never recommend it! I do ask a lot of questions via emails or text and ask for a lot of phots including titles and bill of sale and other documents.

On one occasion buying from craigslist I secured the vehicle and then went to see it. I found that the owner really loved the vehicle, however they did not tell me everything. At that point I could back out as full payment had not been made, but I bought the vehicle anyway.

On another occasion i found a vehicle on Craigslist from a dealer, I looked the dealer up on-line and even touched base with the business owner on facebook and linkedIn. however in this case I was faced with an owner who was not easy to communicate with and when I asked for more photos I was denied, I was told that taking pictures and posting them was not easy for this person. I bought the vehicle anyway and was very disappointed.

I tell people that my lesson was when sellers fail to communicate in a way your prefer Walk A Way, chances are they are hiding something!



Never again…Sight unseen is like throwing your money down the toilet. My expectations are far higher than most Car nuts. Don’t do it!!!

Mint exterior!!! One car I bought had enough door dings on it to connect the dots. Granted the Senior Owner might not look as close as I do but I can spot a any door ding 20 ft away. Had to repaint the so called Show Car.

Brakes Well!!! I Almost crashed another car through the cyclone fence in the parking lot of the car hauler pickup spot. I had to throw it into neutral turn off the ignition and stomp on the parking brake and turn the steering wheel!

Minor Rust!!! Another car. The rust of the underside of car was like potato chips. The exhaust fell off the 75’ ft car hauler when the driver tried to unload the car. Fred Flintstone Car.

Beware of people who put all kinds of liquid engine sealer to plug and stop front and rear engine seals. Once the engine cools down the leaks come down like a waterfall.


A Craigslist scam I encountered after buying a car was that the buyer altered the VIN by one number. So when I did the check, the car appeared fine, and it was only after I got it home and started seeing some strange stuff did I realize the VIN was incorrect. The police later told me this is not uncommon.


Spend the money on a flight or what ever it takes to see the vehicle in person. Trusting on an internet sale is just not an good idea. I have even had local members from a national car club come and check out a car i was selling for an unbiased opinion for an across the country buyer. Just don’t do it without seeing the vehicle in persons. If someone else gets it there will be another. Good deals are almost always local. caveat emptor.


Been There, Done That, Part II:

Admittedly, I’ve bought “at distance” a couple times, well actually 5 times - I live in Idaho and there simple aren’t many people or cars here.so you have to travel for them more often than not. That, and I always seem to need a specific car with specific options, that barely exists… But unlike many of the responses herein, few have talked about getting a PPI (pre-purchase inspection), and I ALWAYS bring the check/money, so I have an out if the car turns out to be a turd. Which happened, once.

On the positive side of buying sight unseen, the other 4 purchases went pretty well, with one of them being the deal of a lifetime that I will probably never, ever experience again in my lifetime - and frankly, I’m still amazed that I got that car! It, like Larry, was a Craigslist ad. I had been hunting for an Audi A6 “widebody” 4.2L from 1999-2004 (or so) after my brother brought one home to Xmas dinner and was selling for a client. I fell in love and wanted one, but couldn’t find a one with low(er) miles. Geezuz, people DRIVE these cars, a lot! I’d given up after a 6 month search, until one random Saturday a few years ago, I checked CL and found a 2001 with 60K for $4795 in Phoenix. Hmmm, that sounds like a steal, I said to myself. It was. Turns out it was wholesaled on a Subaru lot as a trade in The elderly female owner lived in Iowa and snowbirded to AZ in the summer, hence the low miles and great condition. I picked it up the following weekend, after the PPI guy said very soberly after I asked him if it was clean, “…you can eat off the undercarriage”. I picked it up and the salesman said he had got over 117 calls on the car, and while we were there signing papers, another call came in. It was a cream puff, sliver on perfect black leather and drived like a new car. Even had the sunshade package and heated steering wheel. The only issues where a small chip in the windshield (still there), some pixels out on the dash read out, and the rear view mirror was DOA. Big deal, right? I could have sold the car for $10K the next day. It’s my get to the Boise airport in a hurry car, and it looks as good as it did 2 years ago and still only has 75K on the clock. **

I’ve also bought very similarly to the above situation, but didn’t steal them from the owners, a 1986 Porsche 911 “Turbo Look” with 57Koriginal from an elderly retired man in California (check, check, check), a 1999 Dodge Ram 3500, also in California (less stress, by far!), and couple more BMW 5 series with 5 forward speeds in Houston and St. Louis. Gotta have that manual!

**The sour story: I hadn’t paid in advance but brought the $20k check with me, as I always do. Admittedly, I didn’t get a PPI for this car, not sure why I had that lapse in sanity…? I paid for it, though. I flew from St. Louis to Concord, NH to buy a “very clean” 1995 BMW 525i with 44k on the clock from a private dealer, who had a bunch of these. I got there, the sales guy says, “here it is”, and like one of the other replies to Larry’s story, I replied, “no its not!”. The metallic green paint was pitted and disgusting (for a 5 year old Beemer), the driver’s seat had a 2" cut in the seat back leather, the check engine light was on, among other issues. That was more than 20 years ago and $20K was a lot of money for me at the time, still is, actually. I couldn’t part with the cash on that car and the dealer wasn’t willing to negotiate on the other cars he had. I came to buy a car and drive it home. No return flight on the books. I was in shock, located clear across the country, standing in some auto lot in the middle of winter with snow everywhere, BMW-less. It was, by far, the longest drive to the airport with the dealer that I’ve ever experienced. **

It’s fun and exciting to go places and buy cars and drive them home. It makes sense. I often fly for business, and still sometimes think, like Larry, to “buy and drive home”. Heck, I thought about it just last week!

My rules and advice: Get the PPI (3rd party, your pick, not there’s, and from someone who knows the car well), hold on to the cash, or at least, put down and refundable deposit (usually $500) until you get there and examine your new steed. Or, if buying a newer car, buy a CPO (certified pre-owned), this REALLY takes the risk out of it! Doing this will take most of the anxiety out of the transaction and will most likely end with you driving your new car a happily home.


As I told a seller in California who was selling a 72 Riv back in 2001, I wouldn’t buy a new car without seeing it first much less a 30 year old car.


I’m sorry to hear about your experience. I recently went to buy a little 92 Ranger Pickup truck on Craigslist. I want to teach my son to drive a manual trans… The guy didn’t sugar coat it too much, but the pics must have been taken by “Glamour Shots”. i had a hard time reconciling the paint job with the truck I was looking at. The color was the same, but somehow he had managed to angle the camera just right to hide every blemish, including the peeling paint on the hood and roof. Unlike you, I was only out a few hours of my time, but I am very wary of Craigslist sellers - and buyers. I have had a few guys show up a few hundred short thinking I’d just shrug it off.


I won an auction for one car on eBay and bought another car advertised on Craig’s List, and for both I went to see the car before paying anything. I can’t imagine doing otherwise. Airline tickets cost money, but not as much as the mistake the author made.


I recently purchased a '95 Bronco XLT off Criagslist. It was about five miles away from my home and, after agreeing on a price, I took it to my mechanic for a well puppy check before any money changed hands. Only a fool would pay prior to even seeing the car.


Hey don’t sweat it. Trust me when I tell you it can get much worse. I once bought a Porsche (and I used to make a living buying, restoring and selling Porsches) on the internet that didn’t actually exist! They guy pulling the scam was apparently expert at his game and the first I knew that I’ld been done was when my transporter turned up to pick it up and the dealer “Smokey Auto Sales” didn’t exist. Only good news for me is that the FBI finally found him and he’s now in jail. Do I even have to mention that he had no assets and my cash was gone?


Like one of the Car Guys said, IF you play this Car Game long enough you will have a story to tell. Here is mine!

I had just sold my 65 GTO for a Good price in ‘As Is’ condition which was fair to good condition and all original. My wife had always wanted a 2 seater Convertible MB, like a 450 SL, 380, or 560. So off to Ebay I go looking. I live in Dallas but found an interesting 1929 MB Kit Car on a Mustang II Running Gear in WA State. Hmmm, this could be fun. I followed the car in the Auction and had a friend in Tacoma WA go check it out. I should have been suspicious when she said it was “cute”, I should buy it. I won the Auction!!!

I sent my friend the Cashiers Check made payable to the Seller, and told her to get the Car, the Keys, and the Title BEFORE giving the Check. She did. On the 30 mile drive back to her house somehow she lost the passenger side curtain as it had no roll-up windows.

My wife and I flew out to get it and on seeing it, I realized while I did see pictures, there was never a person in them for size reference, Our shoulders almost touched siting in the bucket seats that I think were Upholstered $10 Plastic Chars from WallyWorld, without legs. I found out the Battery was bad, so $60 later and a few other small items we were ready to drive to Dallas from Tacoma. My side WS Wiper had no Rubber, so I moved the passenger side over, and off we went. Oh, did I mention it rains in the Tacoma/Seattle area in the Fall? I stopped and got a roll of Duct Tape and some 10 mil Clear plastic to make a Window for my wife. Now we were on our way. Getting out of the Car when we stopped, and back in, duct-taped up was 10 minutes each time.

200 miles the first day in the rain and stopped at 100 miles to stretch. Spent the night, and got gas the next day. Hmm, the Gas gauge WAS working, but now it is not. OK, we can go 200 miles plus on a Tank, and we have to stop every 100 miles to stretch and get out of the padded Plastic Chairs.

400 miles the next day and we are in CA. Stayed overnight and had the Oil/Filter Changed along with adjusting the wheel bearing nuts.

Heading from Redding CA to Bakersfield my wife asked, “Are we having Fun yet?”. I really felt bad as I had sold her this idea of a fun little MB Convertible that she could drive also. But she could not reach the Pedals, but it was an Automatic.

About that time a big Crew Cab Chevy 3500 passed me towing a 20’ plus enclosed Ramp-door trailer that had Texas Tags. Well being the Shy type, I caught up with him about a mile later and asked my wife if he was alone, and he was. I motioned "nicely’ for him to pull over, and he did at the next Exit. As I got out and he got out wondering what this couple could ever want with him, I asked if he was from Texas and heading home, and he was. I asked if he was going anywhere near Dallas, to which he replied he lived in Dallas. I then asked if he had any room in that trailer, and would like someone to help him drive and pay half his gas (diesel). He laughed and asked if I was tired of driving that little thing to which I confessed.

Bottom line, it tough to hitchhike in one ride from Central CA all the way to Dallas, it is even tougher to bring along your wife, but piling your car into the mix too was a recipe that could only be created in Heaven, and even today my wife said he was an Angel sent to save us. 3 days later we were back in Dallas where he stopped about 20 miles from our house and we unloaded. Super nice guy, and we sure traded a lot of “War Stories” along the way. I did pay for every other Fill-up, and I did pay for the Hotel Rooms for 2 nights; but he drove the whole way, it was worth it. As we drove up in the Driveway the Grandkids had come over to see the new car and named it Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang on the spot.

Why am I writing this on a be careful of a C/L or Ebay Auto Purchase; where I did NOT get cheated by the Seller. I screwed myself by NOT seeing enough of the Car to really know the Size of it before thinking it would be great for a 2200 mile Cross Country Trip. It would have only been 1800 miles if I came across I-80, but my wife refused to go through Donner Pass in the Winter, so all the way down I-5 in CA to I-10 was the way.


Priceless storys, I’ve bot scores of cars site unseen. I’ll chime in tonite after I get off work… Hint, I usually drive them a cross country!