Thinking About Buying A Van on eBay?

A few years ago, you would have laughed at me if I told you that by 2009, more than 3 million vehicles would have been sold on eBay Motors in the USA and that in the UK, eBay sells a car every 2 minutes.

Of course, not all of these vehicles are sold unseen – many sellers allow viewing and test drives and buyers often look for vehicles local to them for this reason. However, a sizeable number of cars, vans, motorhomes, trucks and motorcycles are sold unseen everyday – just like all the other stuff on eBay.

I freely admit that I have never done this. Up until a year or so ago, the idea filled me with fear. Now, I’m not so sure. Last time I bought a van (as the base vehicle for my current motorhome conversion), 3/4 of the vans on my shortlist were on eBay – and none were local. I was quite prepared to commit to buy a van from a dealer on eBay on the basis that I knew the provenance of the vans I was looking at – mostly directly ex-fleet from well-known companies.

(In the spirit of complete openness, I will admit that the van I bought in the end was the one that was local, from a local dealer. This was mostly to cut down on transport costs and because it had exactly the specification I wanted).

If you’re thinking about buying a van or motorhome (or any vehicle) unseen on eBay, then what I would do would be to make a list of all the things I normally check and ask when I view and test drive a vehicle. For example:

  • Check bodywork, tyres and look underneath for signs of oil/water leaks, knackered exhausts, etc.
  • Check documents – V5C, MOT and service history – verify date of last service
  • Check oil and water levels – has this vehicle been cared for?
  • Test drive – use all gears (including reverse), try steering at low speed from lock to lock, give brakes a firm test and look out for poor effectiveness or juddering
  • Is the inside knackered/battered?
  • Do all the controls work – windscreen wipers, lights, radio, air-con – try EVERYTHING!

Now, I hear you say, that’s all very well – but you need to be with the vehicle to check all of this, don’t you?

Well, not quite. Most of the items on the list above could be reasonably asked of the seller, I think.

For example:

  • Does it have a current MOT and when does it expire?
  • When was the vehicle last serviced? Does it have documentation proving a previous service history?
  • Is there any damage to the bodywork and are the tyres all undamaged and legal?
  • Are the seat covers torn/stained?
  • Do all the dashboard controls work – are any damaged or faulty?

You get the idea… If you then arrive to collect the vehicle you have bought and find that the seller has mis-described it, you may then have grounds for withdrawal or renegotiation on the price.

In some cases, the seller will have provided enough photos to answer some of these questions – but don’t feel shy about asking them again, in writing, if you’re not sure. You are potentially committing to spending thousands of pounds, sight unseen, after all. Remember to send all communications through eBay’s messaging service. That way, there’s a record of what was said that may be used in the event of a dispute.

Of course, some people would say it’s crazy to buy a second-hand vehicle you haven’t inspected. This is possibly true, but more often than not, the deal goes ok. It’s an option that’s worth considering, especially if you have very specific requirements or live in an area where there isn’t much choice locally.

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