- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2000

The company that five years ago began as a way for collectors of candy dispensers to buy and sell the object of their affections is now determined to become the best way for buyers and sellers of used cars to connect.
EBay, which progressed from Pez to become the largest on-line general auction site, joined with AutoTrader.com in April to both broaden the market and simplify the search for no-longer-new cars and trucks. The offerings range from collector classics to modern exotics and an occasional beater, as well as those vehicles with hopeful "for sale" signs you see at the edge of any mall.
On the auction site at www.ebay.com or www.ebay-autotrader.com prospective buyers can find 4,000 to 5,000 cars up for bid at any one time.
"On-line car buyers say they want two things: convenience and a safe transaction," according to Simon Rothman, vice president and general manager of EBay Motors. EBay has been fine-tuning its automotive site to deliver on those points.
The convenience, from a seller's point of view, is the enormous pool of potential buyers. The auction is a click away from anyone in the world. A widespread audience is particularly important to sellers of specialty cars.
Sellers don't need to make their cars available to a string of "Lookie Lous" responding to a photo tacked up at the hardware store. That photo posted on the Web will be seen by an unimaginable greater number of potential bidders.
Sellers can post as detailed a description of their vehicles as they want. And photographs from every angle. Sellers can even scan in all those service documents testifying to every oil change and tire rotation in the car's life.
Details are a convenience for buyers, too. In their pajamas they can eye-shop for cars all night long and enter their bid on the spot. No need to spend weekends searching for an elusive address to kick the tires of a "lo mi a/c" wonder eaten with rust.
Which brings up that safe transaction matter.
Fear of being ripped off is a cloud over every used-car deal. EBay has set up several degrees of protection to help dispel doubt.
How about the car's condition? A photograph could artfully conceal the orange-peel paint. The failed windshield wiper isn't obvious either, or the excessively worn brake linings. (Not something used-car buyers routinely check anyway.)
"We asked who people trusted and it came up Saturn," Mr. Rothman said. The upshot: a pilot program with Saturn dealers that is now under way in the Indianapolis, Houston and Nashville, Tenn., areas to provide the seller with a 136-point inspection check, the same one used to certify the company's own used cars.
The inspection (about $100) is described as "in-depth" by Marty Raymond, Saturn's director of retail strategies, systems and e-commerce, but it is not a warranty. Its intent is to grant peace of mind to prospective buyers and to allow the seller to post a ribbon on his site and perhaps draw more bids. (The inspectors, by the way, do measure brake linings. And tire tread.) After the inspection pilot program is running smoothly, it will be expanded nationwide.
Now comes money. The exchange can be anxiety producing. Will the check be good? Will the object bought be as represented? Enter escrow.com. It's right on the EBay Motors site and can arrange to secure and verify payment and hold the money until the car is delivered. The fee is $50 to $100.
Did someone say delivery? Some successful bidders who live near the seller might want to do the old-fashioned thing and drive their purchase home, but door-to-door delivery is available. Dependable Auto Shippers is a click away on the EBay site to make arrangements for national or international deliveries. Get a quote in a second.
Financing? A buyer can be "approved in minutes" according to Mr. Rothman by E-loan (California only so far) all on line, now that virtual signatures have been approved.
Forgotten anything? Oh yes, insurance. Hagerty Classic Insurance is also on line to insure specialty and collector cars (not daily drivers) for its usual low rates and no-deductible marinelike insurance.
The cost of listing on EBay Motors (photos, documents and verbosity included) is $25 whether for a clunker or a classic and another $25 when it sells.
It's the Web way.

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