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TR4A red car

I listed this Triumph TR4A sports car with six photos for about US$30. If you’re a buyer, it costs nothing to bid, but expect to pay shipping charges. The Triumph was sold three times, but shipping costs cancelled two of the sales and the third buyer wanted to see the car first.

Ted LaturnusBy now, eBay has become almost as much a part of the public consciousness as Google or Microsoft.

Founded almost 25 years ago, it’s far and away the world’s most popular online auction house and, on any given day, millions of visitors peruse its listings. It’s estimated that at least 200 million consumers use it on a regular basis. Annual revenues are in the billions of dollars.

One of the liveliest areas on the site is eBay Motors, which features everything from new models, to collector cars, to automotive memorabilia, to hard-to-find parts and accessories.

According to the company, around 15 million visitors drop into eBay Motors every month and something is sold out of there every 10 seconds, with well over 250 million transactions having been conducted since its inception.

I’m responsible for some of those transactions. In fact, I’ve bought or sold about 50 times on eBay Motors over the years, most of the time successfully.

If you’re looking for hard-to-find items or just cruising for a car, eBay Motors is hard to beat.

If you’re a seller, you list an item – usually for a week – explain the particulars and provide a written sales pitch. You can start the bidding at whatever price you choose and there’s a “Buy Now” option that bypasses the auction process. The bidding stops when the auction ends. You can also set up a pre-approved bidders account that keeps out the riffraff and restricts the bidding to those who are serious and can be counted on to pay.

If you’re a buyer, you find what you’re looking for, place a bid, monitor the bids and wait. As the bidding process draws to a close, a little readout on the item’s page counts down how many minutes and seconds you have left. This is when you must pay attention and when the bidding gets serious. It takes a few seconds for bids to register and this is definitely you-snooze, you-lose territory. Generally speaking, if you let it get below 30 seconds, you’ve had it.

What does it cost?

That depends on the final sales price, how many pictures you include, what extras you add (highlighted photos, insurance, PayPal, etc.), and how long you run the ad. For example, I listed a Triumph TR4A sports car (it didn’t sell), with six photos, and the final cost was about US$30. If you’re a buyer, it costs nothing to bid (once you’ve signed up with eBay), but expect to pay shipping charges.

And that’s where it gets tricky. More than once, I’ve purchased an item at a good price only to be faced with exorbitant shipping fees that have, on occasion, been higher than the value of the item. This is where some professional sellers make their money: sell low, ship high.

There’s also no guarantee that the final bidder will follow through. The aforementioned Triumph was actually sold three times: once to a guy in Switzerland, then to a buyer in France and, last but not least, to an American punter, in Connecticut, who said he wanted to fly out west and drive the car back to the East Coast. They all reneged – the European buyers bailing after they discovered how much it was going to cost to ship the car by container overseas (in these cases, $4,000 to $5,000) and the American because he said he didn’t want to buy a car sight unseen.

So a leap of faith is required when buying or selling on eBay. You have to assume that the other guy will do the right thing and 90 percent of the time, he does. But not always.

That said, there is a dispute process and eBay has a feedback rating for buyers or sellers. If you cheat someone or somehow corrupt the process, eBay can reclassify your rating and this could lead to future difficulties with the bidding process and/or being suspended from the site.

A few other things to keep to in mind when selling on eBay Motors:

  • PayPal is owned by eBay, which means more money in their pocket.
  • Provide lots of photos. Serious buyers will demand them anyway.
  • Don’t bid unless you mean it. Frivolous bids could affect your feedback rating.
  • Buyers will sometimes try to end the bidding immediately by asking you how much you’ll take. Don’t do it.
  • Try to be realistic about where the vehicle, part or accessory is located. If that Skoda you’ve always wanted is in Uzbekistan or Vladivostok, things could get expensive and complicated.

Happy bidding.

Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

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