With the Internet age buying online has become commonplace – but so has online fraud. This doesn’t mean you can’t buy big ticket items, you just have to know how to be safe. Let’s look at how to buy a used car online with as little risk as possible.

Look For Red Flags

Nobody can guarantee 100% the safety of your online car purchase, but a few red flags can alert you to steer clear. For example, if anyone asks you to make an up-front, pre-purchase, or advance payment then they are probably trying to rip you off.

Also if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam. You can find real deals online, but nobody is giving cars away. Print or save a screenshot of the online car advertisement for future reference and to avoid bait-and-switch price scams.

Get The Car Inspected

If the car is far away, get a qualified used car inspector to inspect the car for you.

If the car is close by and you have a trusted mechanic; ask him to take a look. Even if you’re charged a fee, it’s worth it. Go see the vehicle yourself, camera in hand, and inspect the car carefully. Take lots of pics so when you go back to buy you are sure you are getting the same vehicle.

Make sure you check and record the vehicle inspection number (VIN) which is a unique 17 character identification code for every motor vehicle. You can usually find the VIN in one of several places:

  • Front of the engine block
  • Front of car frame near the washer fluid container
  • Inside driver-side door-jamb or door-post
  • Under the spare tire

Vehicle inspectors will do all this for you (pictures and all)  as well as complete a 155-point inspection report. This helps make your decision easier. You can order a used car inspection from CARCHEX today.

Website Tech Issues

If you are making a payment online, look for a padlock icon in your computer browser address bar. Look carefully. Some fraudsters put this icon on the website, but it does not appear in the address bar. Newer browsers highlight part of the address bar info in green for secure sites.

Secure web addresses begin with “https://” with the “s” indicating that the site is secure. Also scroll down to the bottom of the website page. Are there any verification logos such as GoDaddy or VeriSign? These certifications can also help you feel more secure about purchasing online.

Ebay Tips

Millions of people buy and sell cars on EBay, and there are specific steps you can take to be safe. For example, only buy from a seller with an excellent buyer feedback rating. You can also learn a lot from the experience of users like dredog1966. He recommends reviewing the Ebay $20,000 fraud guarantee carefully before bidding. Other advice he gives is:

  • Look for cars with warranties in place
  • Get a vehicle history report
  • But from a licensed dealer or wholesaler
  • Strongly consider having the car shipped
  • Have any financing in hand before bidding


Buy a car online? Why not? Just make sure you do your homework. If the car is far away, you can set up a pre-purchase vehicle inspection to make sure it is in the condition as advertised. Order a pre-purchase used car inspection from CARCHEX now.

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