The BBB used as an example the website of the Cleveland car dealership Cars Direct Online (CDO). It has received 90 complaints in 36 months. The complaints included images manipulated to hide damage and rust, cars listed with features they don't actually contain and information such as mileage displayed incorrectly.
"This vehicle was completely misrepresented, the pictures were photo-shopped to the point that the actual vehicle didn't even look like the vehicle in the pictures. The pictures were manipulated to hide major rust problems in multiple places, major chips and dents in the paint all the way around," one Pennsylvania man told BBB.
A Minnesota woman complained in another instance, "It was advertised as a perfectly clean vehicle and accident free and unfortunately that isn't the case. The car had 500 more miles on it than advertised, no navigation as it was advertised, it had clearly been in [an] accident and poorly repaired, there was a gouge in the rear bumper, gouge in the tire, crack in the grill and a substantial dent in the trunk door."
CDO only sells car to consumers who agree to purchase the car "As Is" without a warranty. Customers also must sign an acknowledgement that they had an opportunity to inspect the car. Such legal wrangling hasn't saved CDO's reputation though -- the BBB gave the company an 'F' rating.
There are several ways to protect yourself from becoming a victim of unscrupulous online sellers. Here are the BBB's pointers for buying a used car via the Internet:
- Buy from a reputable seller. Always check a dealership's rating with the Better Business Bureau and research the business online.
- Always inspect a car yourself before purchasing, and it's a good idea to have a professional take a look as well. Don't rely on online descriptions, pictures or the salesperson.
- If a deposit is required to hold the vehicle until you purchase it, be sure to get refund and cancellation policies in writing. Keep copies of all emails with the dealer.
- Get the VIN and run a used vehicle history report using a service such as CARFAX.
- Get the details of a warranty in writing. Any car sold in "As Is" condition should put consumers on the defensive. You will be responsible for any necessary repairs once you take possession of the vehicle.