Don Culver wanted that 1988 Mercedes 420 SEL in the worst way, but placing a bid on an eBay Motors
auction went against his better judgment.
Myra and Charlie Liggan at their Alabama home with the car.
The photos looked nice; the description was everything he wanted. The newbie eBay seller, Charlie Liggan, sounded pleasant enough over the phone, answering questions in a thick Alabama drawl.
Culver, living in a small town in northeast Indiana, had been surfing eBay listings for six months to find the right rust-free Mercedes. But still, he couldn't bring himself to tap the Enter key on his computer and send his bid.
"I'm used to kicking the tires," Culver told me. "It was a real stretch for me to want a southern car bad enough to do what I did. To this day, I don't know what caused me to trust Charlie."
I sell cars on eBay, but I don't know if I'd have the guts to buy one over the Internet.
This particular purchase had happened several months ago, and Liggan had no track record on eBay at the time. Buyer feedback, which provides critical references for most online car sellers, was absent. Usually, Culver would tell buyers to avoid an auction where the seller has no eBay feedback. But he wanted this car, so it was time to get creative. He started calling around Liggan's tiny central Alabama hometown to do a background check on the seller.
"I got a hold of the Pell City sheriff's department, and this very nice lady answered," said Culver, an auto-industry engineer. "She said nobody had ever complained about Charlie, that it's not a very big town, and that if he'd done something wrong, everybody would know about it. That was enough to convince me." Taking a risk
Many buyers have the same kind of doubts about eBay buying, and I experienced the same apprehensions recently when I bought a 1995 Volvo 960 wagon from Liggan using the service. But I've never had such a retail head rush as when I was poised over my eBay bid--four years of credit union deposits riding on a vehicle I'd never seen being sold by a stranger five states away from my Wisconsin home. I had also called Liggan, and he wasn't particularly reassuring.
eBay car-buying tips
Narrow the search:
Choose a make and model, then hit eBay. It's easier to make frequent checks on the auction market by using an exact model in the eBay search field.
See more car-buying tips
"I gotta tell you the truth, Jim. I sell cars on eBay, but I don't know if I'd have the guts to buy one over the Internet," he told me.
But adventure was one of the elements attracting me to car shopping on eBay. What other reason would I have to travel to Alabama during the hottest time of the year? People do this every day, I told myself. All the tools I needed to check out this car could be found with a few keystrokes.