Special Report

Can you really trust online auctions?

by John Mayhead
9 October 2021 9 min read
Photo by Getty Images

“I think the big, impressive event auctions will continue, but rolling around on an aircraft hanger floor on a November’s day looking at a fifty grand classic car is not great. My argument is that unless you’re an absolute pro, it’s a better experience to sit on your sofa, look at 200 images, look at a journalist-written description, and make a buying decision within 14 days, than it is to make that call whilst someone is there with a gavel.”

It seems that a huge amount of people agree with Tom Wood, CEO of Car and Classic, one of the UK’s largest online timed auction sales sites. Early in the pandemic, we wondered if the masses would be willing to part with large sums of money for cars they’ve never seen in real life. In retrospect, that was rather quaint. People happily pay their taxes and search for love online. Using the web to purchase a temperamental old vehicle is, it seems, just another facet of our already highly digitized lifestyle.

Wherever you are in the world, classic and collector car online timed auction websites are big business. In 2020, Bring a Trailer sold $400M of cars, a 66 percent increase from 2019. By the day, the scene is getting more crowded. Bonhams acquired The Market last spring and, months later, sold the Instagram-famous Ferrari F40 ‘F40BLU’ for £1,000,500 ($1.363M) setting a new UK dedicated online auction record. In August, Collecting Cars sold a 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder in the US for $1.405M (£1.03M). Stateside, one can peruse online auctions everywhere from Hemmings and AutoHunter to Cars & Bids and PCARMARKET.

And yet, if we’ve learned anything from the latest revelations about Facebook, it’s that popularity for an online platform doesn’t necessarily translate to trustworthiness. Aside from the fact that car collectors inherently have different perceptions—one person’s “patina” is another person’s “rust”—there are no doubt bad actors looking to exploit the vulnerable in a market awash with cash. All this, in a very young area of the industry, where most of the online sales sites have only been operating for a few years and are still developing their procedures. So how do these companies build trust and maintain trust, both in the vehicles they sell, and in their own brand?

Making the descriptions…descriptive

The most obvious challenge faced by online sales sites is to try to describe the car as effectively as possible, and every representative of the sites I spoke to was keen to spotlight how much effort they go to in this area.

“Before accepting each car, we do a good amount of research,” said Doug DeMuro, co-founder of Cars & Bids. “We ask important questions specific to the model (NSX snap ring, E46 subframe, etc), we look up prior sales and classifieds, and we review any maintenance records the seller shares—all of which helps us make an informed decision about whether to accept it for sale and what reserve price to offer.”

All use a combination of written descriptions, photographs, and video, with most offering the services of a copy writer and professional photographer to ensure the listing is as comprehensive as possible. Autohunter, for instance, says about 35 percent of its sellers opt to use one of their professional photographers, who are “directed to photograph any noticeable cosmetic imperfections,” said Steve Gregg, the site’s manager for auctions and dealers.

Some platforms go even further and insist that their representatives actually see the car. “As standard, we send our photographer out to see the car, but we encourage our concierge service where the car is brought to us. That gives us the chance to drive it a couple of miles and get to know it a little,” said Tristan Judge, CEO of The Market by Bonhams.

The power—and the risk—of the masses

However good the listing is, it can’t tell the whole life story of a car that is often many decades old. That, says Howard Swig of Bring A Trailer, is where the online sales sites offer an advantage over more traditional sales methods: The power of the collective.

“The enthusiastic BaT community is such an essential component to our whole ecosystem,” he said.  “The community is very skilled and sharp-eyed at evaluating what’s on offer, and then bidding accordingly. When something really special or exceptional pops up, it most often leads to a vibrant discussion with sometimes hundreds of comments on a single listing.”

Everyone I spoke to, from huge companies like BaT to newcomers Well Bought, Well Sold, told me that the opportunity for prospective bidders to engage in an open forum with the seller in a manner very reminiscent of social media posts was key to their success. This interaction, they told me, built confidence in the sale, made the bidder feel like they had the opportunity to ask any questions they wanted, and generated a sense of reassurance. It’s the common ground on which the online sales platforms, for all their differences, operate. It’s also, as Hagerty has analyzed, one of the motivating factors behind buyers spending more on online sales than in in-person auctions.

The enthusiastic BaT community is such an essential component to our whole ecosystem. The community is very skilled and sharp-eyed at evaluating what’s on offer, and then bidding accordingly.

Howard Swig, Head of Auctions, Bring a Trailer

But this community also provides the background to one of the biggest concerns voiced about online timed-auction platforms: that these ‘users’ have been given too much power to influence sales, and in some instances their identities aren’t even clear. Given the frightening reach of troll farms on social media, it’s not hard to imagine that in some cases, bidder and seller usernames are actually dealers masquerading as private individuals, or even ‘house’ bidders that push cars over their reserve then mysteriously disappear.

A few of the sites have identified this as a major issue. “Every bidder on our site has a unique username that you can click on,” notes Judge. “Then you can see their history: what they’ve bid on and what they have won. It is then quite obvious whether someone is genuine or not.”

A few sites, including Bring a Trailer, Cars & Bids, and AutoHunter take this one step further: click on any bidder or seller and their profile is revealed, including the number of listings, bids. BaT and Cars & Bids also have basic ratings system—thumbs up and flags on BaT, reputation scores on Cars & Bids.

But a significant number of sites still have no way of checking a bid or listing history of a particular user, leaving them open to suspicion that this lack of transparency is intentionally there to hide something. I asked Tom Wood why Car and Classic doesn’t have this facility.

“It’s a great question. We’re super-concerned about GDPR [General Data Protection, an EU regulation], and we launched this platform really quickly. At the moment, we show the first seven characters of a username and sometimes people put in their name or email address into that username. So, I have this potential GDPR nightmare of people’s emails and names potentially sitting live on the site [but] we should probably be cleverer about it: we should manually check each username to make sure it doesn’t have someone’s name in it.”

We know what normal bidding patterns look like. If our team spots anything we think is suspicious, then we investigate it immediately to determine if it is of concern, or simply a genuine but unusual bid.

Edward Lovett, Founder and CEO, Collecting Cars

Of course, manually checking usernames becomes harder as the sites continue to experience exponential growth. “We can’t vet commenter identities as much as we’d like, mainly because there are so many—we’re closing in on 150,000 users and often auctions will have 50 or 100 comments, the majority of which are coming from different people,” notes DeMuro, of Cars & Bids, although he adds that they do go to great lengths to keep out shill bidders.

Given the impossibility of closely examining every user, some companies rely on in-house teams to spot anomalies.

“As we have now sold more than 4,000 lots on Collecting Cars, we know what normal bidding patterns look like,” said Edward Lovett, CEO of Collecting Cars. “If our team spots anything we think is suspicious, then we investigate it immediately to determine if it is of concern, or simply a genuine but unusual bid. If we ever suspected someone was bidding on behalf of a friend, then we would of course ban them from bidding again.”

Sale or no sale?

Another criticism that some sites have faced is the lack of a complete set of published results, both sales and no sales. Again, this has been perceived by some as sinister—a way of increasing sell-through rates and glossing over no-sales.

In truth, there’s a good reason why some of the sites don’t publish no-sales—they don’t want to hurt a car if it is re-listed, as Wood told me. “On [the Car and Classic] results page we publish sold cars…. We’re happy to be transparent about it but we re-run most of [no-sales]… so what you don’t want to do is have an unsold car sat there on your results page as it could affect it on the next run.”

Others believe that everything should be published. Autohunter, for instance, lists unsold cars on its sister site, ClassicCars.com, but leaves the original post alone. “If we can connect an underbidder with the seller, AutoHunter will publish the vehicle as sold, otherwise it will remain published as a no-sale, regardless of whether or not the vehicle may sell on ClassicCars.com,” said Gregg.

It ‘aint over ’til it’s over

Once the bidding has concluded, there’s another major point of trust in the story: the exchange of funds. With any large online transaction there will always be scope for issues to arise, especially when the vast majority of vehicles are not seen until after the auction has finished. Every company I spoke to was adamant that they were careful to identify the real identity of bidders, usually through a credit or debit card check and a ‘hold’ of funds. Car and Classic goes one step further and establishes an escrow system whereby they act as a full intermediary between buyer and seller.

“Escrow was the bit missing around online auctions,” Wood told me, “Although it has made our life a nightmare. We have to KYC (Know Your Customer, or identity check) all of our customers to make sure they are real under money-laundering regulations. That means passports, address checks… every seller and every winning bidder.”

“But it’s worth it. It means that when the hammer has gone down, you are the binding buyer of this vehicle as long as it is in the condition described. You transfer your money to us and we have this beautiful double-opt-in process where the seller says, ‘I’ve given them the keys, I’ve done the paperwork’ and the buyer says ‘Yes, I’ve seen it, the condition is as described,’ then we release the money between the two parties. The seller has the confidence because he knows we’re in funds before the buyer knows who he or she is.”

In a transaction like this, especially with the volumes of vehicles currently being sold online around the world, there will always be some disagreements, but everyone I spoke to was adamant that they were proactive at solving disputes between customers.

“We work hard to resolve disputes,” said Judge of The Market. “If something is not as expected, we negotiate between the buyer and seller as we want everyone to be happy. Our return rate is quite fabulous and our buyers tend to be evangelical about the experience. We want that to continue.”

But that level of customer interaction comes at a cost, as Wood explained.

“This is an incredibly expensive process for us,” he said. “[Car and Classic] have a heavy customer support staff base who are always on the phones, dealing with people. I’d say 95 percent of the time it’s completely seamless, 5 percent of the time there will be questions, and 1 percent of the time there’ll be an issue. We want those resolved so that people return.”

“We are sometimes asked ‘What if the car isn’t as described?’ by first-time bidders,” said Lovett of Collecting Cars. “And of course, there are legal protections already in place regarding this. However, we want to ensure that every car we list is absolutely as described, so we also make sellers jump through hoops to get to the listing stage.”

Others have imported goodwill and trust, either from linking with well-known personalities or by being part of an already well-known, trusted company, as Avi Tandon from Automotive Auctions told me.

“Operating within the Silverstone Auctions Group provides Automotive Auctions with a wealth of resources and verification which other companies don’t have the luxury of having,” he told me. “Our in-house team are also active within the automotive community, attending events and shows nationally which allows us to make incredibly valuable connections with them in the real world as well as online.”

A new, self-policed industry

Talking to the key players in the segment, one does get the sense that online auctions are not quite the Wild West they’re sometimes made out to be. Everyone was happy to explain what they were doing to make their customers’ experience better, all keen to maintain their reputations and drive return sales. They almost all offered Hagerty their sales and no-sales data, too, so that we could report on them as an independent commentator. It’s also worth remembering that many of the concerns about online auctions apply, in some measure, to in-person sales—”used car salesman” was an epithet long before the internet was invented.

Yet it’s hard to get around the fact that online auctions are very different from in-person auctions and currently lack a great deal of specific regulation. As seen elsewhere on the internet, this puts a great deal of onus on the community to self-police and gives the companies themselves huge flexibility in the way they do business. And like some of those internet giants, the online auction platforms are becoming influential enough that others in the industry feel compelled to play by their rules—or lack thereof. At least one critic was reticent to comment publicly because he feared being boxed out.

What is clear is that a huge number of people are content to trust in these companies, with both quantity and high sale records continuing to tumble. Whether the people who use them have the full protection they deserve remains to be seen, but in the meantime, Hagerty will continue to monitor this thriving area of the market.


  • Randy Luedtke says:

    I am disappointed in the article because again nobody wants to address sellers friends bidding on cars or that there is a reserve on a car. Just list that there is a reserve, so if what you think it is worth and what the seller thinks it worth are different, no problem no sale. But as is happening quite a bit in my area is that the auction house is not disclosing that there is a reserve. So even if you are high bidder you didn’t win the auction , because the auctioneer then puts in a reserve bid at the end, and no sale. I think that these auctions shouldn’t be able to auction anything unless it is disclosed. And all bidders should be disclosed as well to see if real or fake.

  • Marc says:

    As an online buyer, using AutoHunter, the lack of transparency on when the Reserve is hit, unlike live auctions, was an issue for me. I ended up bidding against myself because it was not apparent when the Reserve was hit. That’s good for everybody except the buyer.

  • Scott McPherson says:

    A long overdo look into online auctions. The escrow element could indeed be a needed component. While it is understandable why more online auctions haven’t added this element the fact remains; the seller gets every cent for the sale and the buyer very often gets some version of what they thought they were buying. This is true of live auctions also, but not to the same degree. I bought a car early on from BAT and the seller was an hour away so I went to pick the car up in person and they vehicle could not be driven home safely and there was core support damage which was cleverly edited out of the photos. I refused to accept the car and for that I was banned from the kingdom. All the safe guards were to the seller. So I was charged the buyers fee and banned. I did and I still consider this very unfair. Safeguards must be on both ends. PayPal by contrast is centric to the person buying.
    I was surprised that the article never mentioned EBAY, after all EBAY could be considered the grandaddy of online auctions and accomplished a lot towards this being an accepted way to purchased a vehicle.

    • Mike Groves says:

      There needs to be more done to safeguard Buyers from the Sellers who are duplicitous in terms of their description of their car or moto. I realize that the auctions are ‘caveat emptor.’ Having said that, with usually no way possible to inspect the vehicle in person, I should think that the responsibility for correct representation falls upon the broker of the transaction, i.e., the auction entity.
      This would be fair, reasonable & sound business ethics. In this day & age of highly priced classics, the incentive for bad players to scam Buyers has multiplied. Through photoshop, photos that are angled to omit flaws, vehicle descriptions that leave out critical information that would negatively affect valuations, and more, the modern-day Seller can pocket a nice piece of change based upon fraud, and never have to answer for that.

      Today’s online auctions reach a huge, vast audience. For those brands to continue to succeed, and not descend into borderline irrelevancy via Seller scams, will take more work than what we are seeing the online auction houses devote to their products.

      I would start by having a mandatory photo checklist. Frame shots, in particular. Might even install a mandatory descriptive checklist. If the Buyer discovers, upon receipt of the vehicle, that things are not as represented, then there s/b recourse. Opens up a lot more work for everyone, I get that. But, things aren’t sustainable in the current biz models for online auction houses.

      One man’s humble opinion. Based upon my experiences that every single car & moto that I have purchased online had major, hidden flaws that required thousands of dollars to rectify.

  • Evan says:

    A good read for sure…you forgot to mention that RM Sotheby’s has sold multiple cars well over the Million dollar mark, some over 2M. A trusted name like Sotheby’s doesn’t hurt in establishing consumer confidence I suppose. Keep up the good work guys!

  • Mark Hunter says:

    With some cars on BaT going for the price of a waterfront home , I think a Escrow account should be a option for those premium listings

  • Mike Mcinnis says:

    I purchased a 997.1 GT3 RS Porsche after a BAT auction reserve price was not met. I negotiated with the seller after the action and i Wired the money to the dealer just prior to him putting it on transport. I have to say it scared the holy crap out of me doing this without an escrow. I would certainly pay extra for an escrow in the future. I will never put myself through this experience again even though it went perfectly. I have to say I had a few sleepless nights before my car arrived.

  • Ken Nicks says:

    Good friend bought a MGB on BaT, it was totally misrepresented. Advertised as “renovated” a year ago. Don’t know what that means but it certainly does not mean restored. Pictures looked great, lots of aesthetics done but not the important work. Terrible paint job. Wheel wells are fiberglass and roofing tar. Lots of bad covered up, not repaired. Friend felt he had no recourse since it came from many states away.

  • Phillip Miller says:

    Simple. Determine the amount you want to pay and do not deviate. I like eBay’s snipe bidding process because it allows you to place your maximum price bid in advance but doesn’t place the bid until seconds before bidding ends; thus, it eliminates bidding against yourself.

  • Rob M. says:

    Buyer beware. I purchased a car last year, from a site mentioned in this article. The Seller was skillfully misleading in his description. He did not mention many significant issues with this vehicle that had a major impact on the value. The site was less than helpful with me and stated we just match up buyers and sellers. Any issues are for you to work out. I would never buy on-line again. Like I said, Buyer beware.

  • Don Sevas says:

    Just sold my 1970 Caddy Coupe convertible on Hemmings site….knowledgeable, responsive concierge, excellent editorial staff, user friendly site, cost only $95 to list, agreed upon reserve, bidding very strong, car sold for $6000 over reserve. Extremely pleased.

  • Terry Dobbs says:

    There is also a trust issue for the seller. One site would not let me publish the quality of my classic being nearly rust free with original floor pans and rockers I believe because they did not want the car to be bid up. So it sold for $6k less than it’s true value. Luckily the bidder procrastinated in paying which allowed me to relist it elsewhere and get its full value. I do not trust this auction house now, I think they are scamming people into selling their cars below value and so their friends can buy them at well below their value. That’s not to say that in person auctions are honest either, I have been ripped off at one of those also (as a buyer in that incident). A person just had to be on their feet and it’s a 2way street between buyer and seller.

  • Anthony Z says:

    Greetings Hagerty Readers –
    As a GEN X professional car builder for more than 25 years with an emphasis on 80-2000 ish cars and trucks and doing all of the work literally myself paint , custom upholstery , engine building , suspension and what I like to call the skeleton of the machine being the most important – I have some pretty good insight into what it takes to actually build a 50k to 250k + car myself .
    Like many of us I worked in the service end of things for years paying my dues and hoping for the day when I could build and sell my own machines and that started around 2010 .
    So many of us bring so much to the table in this crazy car and truck game but what is really annoying is the way some will go on and on about stuff that really demonstrates nothing more than the ANGER they have within and God forbid you should have a different viewpoint – I imagine they just need an outlet but I can see the frustration in the buyers/ sellers comments who are wanting to make a deal . It is no wonder we see so many cars and trucks pop up somewhere else whether they sold or not . I totally agree with the transparency comment because the fact is its confusing enough without all of the vitreous diatribe.
    As I have learned we never really KNOW the true value of a machine for very long because it is in a constant state of change / flux and we ALL see things through our unique window of life and even that changes !!
    100% of my deals are in person and I do not want some person sending me a bunch of money up front until they can come and check out the machine in person and that is the way it will stay for me .
    If you are going to be buying or selling and you are relatively new to the scene I invite you to do your homework and not only look at what the craigs / facebook machines are selling for but look at Hagerty , Mecum , Barrett Jackson , Autotrader Classics , BAT and any other sources you may find to give you a better understanding of the what I call the right now value so you can proceed accordingly and for me after 30 days that information is old news.
    If you are choosing to buy something and have someone inspect it for you please understand that even a certified appraiser / inspector cannot pick out every fault . A guy from the community bought a car from one of the big auctions recently and wanted to paint the car and they found that the frame rails were mostly gone in several areas and had been filled with spray foam and heavily undercoated .
    The fact is its a risky business and one that I am constantly learning about myself and of course there are some of us who can afford whatever we want and some of us who are a bit more constrained with our budget – either way who does not want the most bang for the buck !!
    These things being said I am very Blessed to be able to play with these cool cars and trucks and actually make money like many of us and if we can reach out and help one another especially the newbies and not try to force our viewpoint down someones throat it makes for a more pleasant experience if you ask me !!
    I used to love to say ” it is what is is ” and several years ago an older gentleman told me ” and it aint what it aint ” Thanks for setting me straight BOB .
    Car guys and girls ROCK ON

  • Jim Ostrove says:

    Interesting article and very interesting comments. I think that watching these online auctions has become my online car show, and out of my wide autmotive interest constantly build my “dream collection”. The comments confirm my feeling that if I we’re to buy another collectible car I would not do so unless I was able to go to see the car, put it on a lift and do my own full inspection ( or pay an expert to inspect it). I do feel strongly though, that if I sell my car I would definately list it on auctions.

  • Charles Kemp says:

    I have sold many cars and classic motorcycles on eBay. I take many close-up pictures and offer to take more if a prospective buyer request them. I have been on the bad side of buying/selling deals and have no desire cause that pain on a buyer. When I sell a vehicle I require a non-refundable deposit with one caveat- if you come to pick-up the vehicle and don’t like it for any reason, I will refund the deposit and cancel the deal. Once it leaves my driveway it is an “as is” deal. I have yet to have a dissatisfied customer in person or when shipping. I treat my customers as I want to be treated which allows both of us to win. This allows me to maximize my sales and get repeat customers. My proudest accomplishment is that I have been on eBay for 22 years, sold thousands of different items, received no negative feedback and only one neutral one for not being able to take a credit card in the early years. I enjoy what I do and sleep well at night.

  • Meastro says:

    John, thank you for this. I don’t trust the Internet nor technology enough to use it as media. I use it for e mail and news purposes because I have no choice.

  • Drew Alcazar says:

    “All fun and games, until someone gets an eye poked out!”

    Glad someone has finally broached the subject and looking into the many challenges and, dare I say, short-comings of online auctions.

    This editorial hit the “tops of the waves” but failed to dive into EXACTLY what happens when it goes WRONG.

    Several responses, from Randy and Scott, touched on good points: shill bidding and mis-representation.
    A HUGE issue that was NOT addressed is/was TITLE PAPERWORK.

    Trust and believe, you’ve not lived until you’ve survived the battle scars of the nightmare of a screwed up title on and old car.

    ALL live auction companies provide some level of title service, and the current wave of “Title In Transit” disclosures is disturbing. That aside, online auctions offer little to no protection or services to ensure a Buyer receives a clean, clear, transferable Title.
    Personally, having sold thousands of cars – I will NEVER fully fund a collector car purchase without seeing and verifying the Title is in order.

    In my most humble opinion, Title transfer is the single largest liability issue that online auctions (and this article) have failed to address and ensure.

  • Mark says:

    I think the static auction houses are running scared. Why wait all year for the Monterey auction week when you can buy the car right NOW. Barrett-Jackson just bought an online site and I suspect the in-person auctions will die away

  • KEVIN L HARPER says:

    For many years a Pre Purchase Inspection has been preached as a requirement for those purchasing used cars and in particular classic cars. Even with that mantra I have purchased 1 car from an auction site.
    My new saying is that I would sale a car on an auction site, but I would never purchase one. Photos can hide to much and in my experience it is not the very expensive cars or the very cheap ones that will hide issues, it is the ones in the middle the 20 to 200k cars.

  • Rudy Samsel says:


    Thank you for touching on a number of key points regarding online collector car auctions among the well-known players in the segment. However, in the spirit of Fair and Balanced reporting, I’d like to point out what GuysWithRides.com is doing differently than the big players in the field to provide the transparency needed to put both buyer’s and seller’s minds at ease:

    1. An address and 877 Phone Number. Visit our website and you’ll easily find our toll-free 877 number as well as our address information. Unlike most of the sites you mentioned, we provide a phone number that people can actually talk to us to learn more about the site and how we operate and gives both buyers and sellers alike more confidence they have “A throat to choke” should something go south on a potential auction for either party.

    2. Complimentary Pre-Purchase Inspections (“PPI”) provided on most cars before an auction starts – On most vehicles with reserve prices greater than $10K, we provide complimentary detailed pre-purchase inspections. With an average cost of $250 per inspection, candidly this is a major hit to our already thin profit margins (our “3%/$300/$3000” buyer’s premium is the lowest in the industry) but we feel it’s a necessary step to ensure potential bidders have more confidence bidding on our website site unseen.

    3. Data-, Not Sell-Through-Rate Driven, Reserve Prices – Guys With Rides does not coerce sellers into abnormally low reserve prices in an effort to make our sell-through rate look better. As long as the seller agrees with our fact-based, data-driven, and market-appropriate reserve price, we will gladly list their ride. Furthermore, unlike other websites that make it difficult to know what and when the reserve price has been met, our “Reserve Meter” provides buyers a non-labeled graphical representation of the closeness of the high bid relative to the high bid.

    4. Zero Tolerance for “Shill” or “Chandelier Bidding – while the “GwR_Moderator” typically starts or our auctions at $100 rather than zero, we do that as a validation to ensure each lot’s processes are working properly. Beyond that, we have the ability to monitor our auctions very closely. While we haven’t had to do it yet, we will pull an auction immediately if we have reason to believe that practice is going on.

    I hope in the near future one of these articles focuses on some of us Little Guys who are trying to improve upon what is becoming a major way to buy and sell collector cars.

    Rudy Samsel

  • Roger D says:

    I have read your articles and find that they are mostly on point. .I have been in auto business for over 40 years both in the retail and wholesale. Buying a classic from auction on line is very risky. The auction company can only do so much to protect a buyer. With out Docs to prove the authenticity of your purchase it is just hear say or someones story line! Bottom line, one needs to put on their “Big Boy Pants” when bidding on a few pictures of their Dream machine! Good Luck

  • Cindy Meitle/CAR PR USA says:

    “Every bidder on our site has a unique username that you can click on,” notes Judge. “Then you can see their history: what they’ve bid on and what they have won.

    Serious Catch 22: transparency breeds confidence, but loss of privacy is a real turnoff for high-level investors, collectors, and dealers. Those so-called “friends” are often bidding for the very purpose of keeping the true buyer confidential.

    I believe one reason Bonhams has always had such strong “phone bidder” activity during their live auction (The Quail Auction during Monterey Car Week comes to mind) is not as much a geographic reason as it is a privacy reason.

    We can all agree there are many with ego who would love for people to know how many cars they’ve bid on, how many times they’ve been on the Barrett-Jackson block, how many cars they’ve won, what they paid, etc. The discerning car guy or gal typically has has a stronger desire to guard these details.

  • Peter Nelson says:

    Had to address the comment, “A trusted name like Sotheby’s doesn’t hurt in establishing consumer confidence”

    Some folks consider the major auction houses a polished version of a used car lot. Lot’s of white gloves & sophistication to dress it up, but the Emperor still doesn’t have any clothes….regardless of what their employees might say.

    I purchased 2 vehicles (to add to my 4 others) at their Elkhart auction. In person attendance was closed a couple of days prior to the date so I couldn’t attend in person, instead I relied on their photos & descriptions.

    The cheaper of the 2 cars was fine, the other was photographed & described to hide major defects. They described the car as having a “Quality Restoration” The car arrived…get this…a Hot-Wire switch to start, since the wiring was defective. It also had a sticker on the window, “No Battery” which wasn’t photographed. As experienced bidder’s know, that’s a convenient way to hide all sorts of defects.

    After offering excuses why they didn’t photograph this or mention that, etc., they offered to reimburse me $1,000. I refused since that only covered the repair on one minor defect.

    They’ll be hearing from me again,after the needed repairs are completed.

  • Joe Urban says:

    Buyer beware. I bid on and won a Ferrari on a site mentioned in this article. They took their commission immediately. It turned out the listing failed to note that the car was on consignment, was being sold without title in a non-title state and the seller listed was a shell company using another companies’ dealer license. I was asked to wire money trusting all of that – I was never able to resolve this with seller and the site refused to refund buyers fees. Expensive lesson – do not assume what you need to know has been disclosed by the online auction site.

  • arthur staloff says:

    it is not a perfect world, I am a collector, some of the cars i have bought on line were much better then i could have dreamed, one from Auto Hunter that I spoke with the seller and looked amazing was a real dumper, mechanically beyond anyones imagination. A Corvette ZR1 with 7000 miles that also had great pictures and provenance as well as the most outspoken, convincing salesman I have ever dealt with, looked like 70,000 miles when it arrived. And was so needy I couldnt believe i bought it. Like wise 4 other autos i bought were as good or better then i expected. The on line auctions should require a PPI by their people, paid for by the seller before listing. Unfortunately their are to many unscrupulous sales people out their. I also believe Mecum & Barrett Jackson should provide the same service in house on all their listings. Buyers get screwed on big ticket items wont help these auctions.

  • DT says:

    Let the buyer beware! And Trust no one! They’re all in reality just “used car salesmen”

  • Bruce R. Wiegand says:

    A great alternative is the consignment dealer—I’ve bought five that way, seeing the vehicles in person and driving them, after finding them in the websites. Believe they were all priced fairly, and what I consider well below live auctions.

  • Somer says:

    In the 80’s Old Cars Weekly took the policy of not reporting”NO SALE” prices. It began to be a scam. Individuals might take a unit to a few sales and run it up to a price level and no sell it. After a few times, they had established a new “basis”. Next sale it went through, people would think it was “undervalued” from previous results and suddenly it was dropped on them for less.
    Cheapest money you can spend is on a plane ticket. I’ve looked a things that were unintentionally misrepresented by honest people.
    Most auction companies will state in their catalog that they reserve the right to “Advance against the reserve” ; EG. run it up. Know what you want to bid and stop there. Sometimes they come to you and sell it then.

  • Trey Seiter says:

    Good Article. I would like to add that Busted Knuckles Auctions has a link to R8TR, a pre-purchase nationwide inspection company on each listing. Therefore any concerned bidders can put their mind at ease for around $100 by having an inspection done before the auction ends. We also list and sell for free so it is extremely important that we vet our vehicles and motorcycles before listings go live. We provide full company transparency by providing our contact info even our phone number to anybody who wants to reach out. Due to our 3% buyers premium/$250 minimum/$5000 maximum on all auctions, it hopefully makes it more comfortable to the bidder/buyer to engage. All unsold lots are either relisted (Free to the Seller) or listed on a Buy Now/Make an Offer page (Free to the Seller) to give the Sellers and potential buyers second chances. BKA has a starting bid on every car to try to hopefully facilitate serious bidders from the start. We are always willing to connect Bidders with Sellers for any questions about vehicles and motorcycles sold on our site.

    I can’t stand the way these larger players dictate reserve prices to the Seller to increase their sell rates at the sellers expense. They already take weeks to get a car on their site and then basically say See Ya Later and Thanks for the $100 after your car does not sell. BKA will relist for Free. We want to see the vehicle Sell. Thank You Rudy Samuel with your comments on this article concerning us smaller players in the industry.

    Thank you Cindy Meitle for your comments. Yes, discerning bidders/buyers do not want their info plastered on websites. This is bad taste in my opinion. Bidder/Buyer privacy is golden.

    Thanks Hagerty for allowing me to comment.

  • Bruce Stocker says:

    Being both a “used car salesman” and a wholesale buyer at live as well as online auctions for over 46 years, I have more stories than most people can imagine. Mostly good experiences buying and selling, some unbelievable and some nightmares. I think one of the most important is inspecting the purchase before $ is exchanged. A deposit is one thing, but full payment should only be made after a full inspection of vehicle AND paperwork as well as a test drive can be completed. I stopped going to auctions when you could not test drive vehicles prior to bidding. “Arbitration” is a four letter word as far as I am concerned. As a good friend of mine once said, “Trust no flesh but dead duck”!!

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