We can't stress strongly enough the importance of running a vehicle history report on any car before you purchase it. The vehicle history report will warn you about potential problems including salvage titles (from a serious accident or flood damage), prior accidents, multiple owners and odometer rollbacks.
Mobile Vehicle Inspections
If you're considering spending $20,000 on a vehicle, it makes sense to spend $100 to inspect it. If you have friends in the area where the car is located, you could send them to take a look at the car. But unless one of your friends is a mechanic, you're better off hiring a mobile inspector such as Alliance Inspection Management or the service advertised on eBay Motors, SGS, to look over your planned purchase.
Usually, these inspectors can generate a report within 24 hours. While they don't test-drive the car, they can often detect frame damage, evidence of serious accidents, dings or paint damage and interior wear and tear that might not show up in photos or the owner's vehicle description. Knowing exactly what shape the car is in will give you the ammunition you need to negotiate intelligently. It can also prevent you from buying a lemon.
Online car buying has become the target of scammers who are often overseas and are advertising cars that don't exist. They pressure interested buyers to send money to bogus escrow agencies, keep the money and then fold up their tents and move on.
Online fraud is not hard to avoid, and the best defense is just to use common sense. For starters, it is essential to make phone contact with the buyer and verify that they're in possession of a car that actually exists. You can then use follow-up questions about the vehicle's condition and discussions about payment and delivery details to further confirm that you're dealing with an actual seller. Remember, legitimate sellers will be open to phone calls, while con artists will try to hide behind e-mails and texts.