EBay Escapades: How To Be A Small Time Car Flipping Crook

Nick Naylor
by Nick Naylor
ebay escapades how to be a small time car flipping crook

It only had 65,000 miles. A 2002 Mazda Millenia—my personal favorite of the Japanese near-luxury cars of that era. I am an automotive enthusiast, but much like others here at TTAC, it’s not in the standard sense. I’m the kind of guy who gets a rise out of seeing a purple Suzuki X90 on the road. I would take an Alfa 159 over nearly any other car on the planet today (If I could get one in America), just because I want to park it in my driveway and lick it all over. I value cars with character, unique vehicles with stories behind them, cars that represent value, have faults, and ultimately are fun or interesting.

So now you may understand why the Millenia was my preferred pseudo luxury ride of the turn of the, uh, Millenium. Mazda built a car that had some of the trademarks of Japanese luxo-sedan comfort and quality, and true to form, made sure they paid homage to their own tradition of senseless eccentricity (Miller cycle V6), of course at the expense of reliability. But fear not…this car had character, low miles, a nice interior and was stupid cheap.

The auction was No Reserve, ending soon. Having bought a few cars from eBay, I felt comfortable with the inherent fact that you are taking a bit of a gamble when you commit to buying a car, sight unseen. The other cars I’ve bought turned out to be wonderful values, and served me very well. So you do what you can…run the Carfax (clean), check the sellers rating (98% on hundreds of transactions, which was lower than I’d like but…) send a few emails and ask a few questions. I familiarized myself with this Mazda’s history of transmission and EGR related issues, so I asked about them. The seller—we’ll refer to him as Chuck–answered my questions satisfactorily (transmission is smooth, no warning lights, car runs great, etc.), I placed my bid, won, and was soon on a 500 mile roundtrip journey to Delaware to pick up the car with my little brother assisting as a co-driver.

We arrive at the address I was given, give the car a once-over and go for a test drive. The seller, admittedly, came across as a sketchy character, however, he evidently had showered or at least doused himself in fragrance, his hair was in orderly fashion, he spoke English and he wasn’t murdering anyone at the very moment I showed up to buy the car. This was an eBay used car transaction, so you never know what kind of character you’re going to deal with, and you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, right?

I had a safety net–I figured that even if there was $2k worth of problems, I’d still be ok considering what I paid. The car drove great, had no leaks or other evidence of mechanical issues. I know that people advocate checking with a trusted mechanic—with reason—however, it must be said it is extremely impractical when traveling to get a car in an unfamiliar area. I handed over the cash and my brother drove the Millenia home while I drove my old truck. No problems getting home, the car ran great.

The next day I go out to the driveway and start the car up. I notice the check engine light is on. I back out of the driveway and see a big puddle of red. Ruh-roh.

I top off the leaking transmission fluid and start rummaging around the car. Inside the glove box, I find a Midas oil change receipt showing a name and address—not the same address I picked the car up at. I also find another crumpled up receipt that I open. This second receipt is from Autozone for a bottle of Lucas Transmission stop-slip, dated the day before—early in the morning. He bought the fluid just before I came to pickup the car.

First things first—I call Chuck repeatedly, and he ignores the calls. I get the car checked out and it is determined the transmission has a bad rear seal, and potentially more damage. So I then file a claim with eBay Auction Insurance. I come to find that the eBay account doesn’t belong to Chuck, but rather his friend, who allowed him to post on his account. eBay Auction Insurance first tries to mediate and establish communication between the seller and I, however, being that the eBay account holder isn’t the guy who actually sold me the car, they don’t get too far. Chuck does manage to make me one offer– if I drive 500 miles roundtrip (with a bad transmission?), when I get back to his town he’ll have his buddy swap another transmission in the car. Clearly, this guy is an amateur.

To proceed with eBay Auction Insurance, I have to get multiple quotes for the transmission repair, which of course, required another leap of faith to open the thing up, where they determined a rebuild was necessary. To Auction Insurance’s credit, they did cover the majority of the expense for a rebuilt transmission from my local Cottman franchise. In order to get the check from them, I had to sign a release stating that I will not file any further claims with them on this car. According to the Auction Insurance representative, they got nothing from the seller—they just flat-out cut me a check. I’m pleased with this result, so I put new brakes and tires on the car to make it ready for hopeful long-term ownership. However, over the course of the next year, the radiator explodes, the timing belt snaps, the cylinders misfire (frequently), and my wife gets stuck in the ghetto alone one day when it fails to start. At 65,000 miles??

My wife and I both work, both drive a lot, and we’ve now got two very young children. There is zero time in our lives to deal with unreliable cars. The Mazda has got to go. So I’m at a dealership looking at a new car, and meanwhile decide to get a trade-in appraisal on the Millenia. I’m presented with a new Carfax. This new Carfax shows that when I bought the car, there wasn’t 65,000 on the odometer as my first Carfax showed. There was actually at least 113,000 miles. A shop that serviced the car during those missing 50k kept old records that weren’t updated to Carfax until after I bought the car. Carfax suggests there has been a mileage rollback on the odometer. The value of the Mazda plummets. I wasn’t going to rely on this car for my family, so I sell it at a significant loss with a full disclosure of the mileage discrepancy.

I contact Carfax and ask about their guarantee. The truth is, there is no guarantee if the DMV doesn’t have a title on hand that shows an odometer discrepancy, which of course, they didn’t. So I call the shop that according to the newer Carfax serviced the car during all of those “lost” miles. They tell me they had just updated to a new computer based system and all their data was uploaded to Carfax—which explains why it wasn’t there when I first ran the report. This smelled bad to me, so I ask for the service records. They tell me they’ll release them to me only if I file for a request via the Maryland Attorney General. I do, and a few weeks later I get the invoices. The phone number of the owner isn’t Chuck’s, number, so I call it, and I get through to the guy who owned the car before Chuck. This owner tells me his story…his daughter wrecked the car, so he put it on eBay and sold it as “salvaged” even though he never reported the wreck to the DMV or his insurance (didn’t want premiums to go up on his daughter). So there was no salvage title. He confirmed that he sold it to Chuck. Bingo.

I go back to square one and the Midas receipt I found the same day I found the stop-slip receipt, and locate Chuck’s real address printed on the receipt (which wasn’t the one I picked the car up at). I do some Googling—odometer fraud is a federal crime, so, I first contact the Department of Transportation, where I am informed that they only care about cases where established businesses are implicit of such fraud. They tell me to go to the local jurisdiction where the transaction took place and file a civil case against the seller.

I don’t quite want to do that yet, so I go to the Consumer Protection Agencies in my state (Virginia), Delaware, and also California, where eBay is based (to request disclosure of previous owner’s sale to Chuck). I report the fraud to each but in the end, no state or federal agency is going to help you in a case against another individual, and neither Carfax nor eBay are of any help at this point, either. It’s just me and Chuck.

Let me add something important here…I’m the kind of guy who has to learn everything in life first hand. This character fault has served me well in some manners, and not so well in others. But I also take ownership and I don’t give up easily…I made this mess, so now I’ve got to clean it up.

I do my research and figure out what jurisdiction in Delaware would cover a civil case. In September of 2010 I file a civil suit with the proper court in Delaware to sue Chuck for losses incurred from his fraud. I take a wild guess and hope that the address on that Midas receipt is his residence and that the sheriff will find this guy when he goes to serve the papers.

Six months later I receive a response that the court has received and reviewed my case and will serve the civil suit to the defendant.

The following month I receive a notice in the mail telling me that I can claim a default judgment. The defendant was serviced the case and refused to respond in any way. I then submit a request to confirm the judgment. Two weeks or so later, I receive a confirmation response. Another few weeks pass, and I receive in the mail a Motion for a New Trial that Chuck has submitted to the court. He claims that he can prove that he is not responsible for any of the car’s problems, and that he sold the car “as-is”. I’m pissed that I’ve got to attend this hearing now—which was filed 20 days beyond the allowed time period but still awarded to the defendant by the court—but I’m happy at least that I now know for certain I’ve got the right guy and the right address.

I take a day off of work and drive 500 miles roundtrip for the hearing. The defendant doesn’t show. The judge tells me that Chuck filed for a new date for the hearing just the day before—saying he couldn’t make it. This was not a timely filing—and neither was the original motion in the first place. I remind the judge of this, and she denies the defendant’s request for a new trial—the default judgment holds ground.

Time to collect…but how? I pay for one of those Intelius reports and it doesn’t do me any good–there are no employment records to be found on this guy. Perusing the Delaware Justice of the Peace Court website, I find that I can file a request with the Delaware DMV to disclose any automotive assets they have on record for the defendant. I do so. Two weeks go by until I get a response. Lo – he owns a 2004 BMW 740, no liens. Even in the direst of shape, this car is worth more than the damages he owes me, so it will serve my purposes handsomely. I do the next logical thing—file a levy for sale on that asset of his. In other words, a sheriff serves the defendant with a lien on his property, with interest accruing. If the defendant still doesn’t pay what is owed by a given time, then the plaintiff can request that the sheriff hold a sale on that property. In some states the sheriff will seize the asset, but not in Delaware—he holds a sale literally at the defendant’s driveway. Two weeks go by. I receive a response in the mail—the sheriff paid the defendant a visit, and instead of accepting the levy, Chuck got in said BMW and drove off. Levy was therefore “Refused”.

This is a moment of frustration…so a sheriff can show up at your door to inform you that they are going to put a levy on your car, and you can say “No Thanks”, and drive away, and they’ll do…nothing. The court then sent me a letter noting that if I want to continue the case, I must send a letter to the court to ask them to hold a hearing for the defendant to explain why he refused the levy. If he doesn’t show up or doesn’t provide a good excuse, he will be held in contempt of court and a warrant could potentially be put out for his arrest.

So of course I send a letter to the court asking them to hold this hearing. They schedule the hearing in August of 2011. I choose not to attend this hearing, figuring it was not worth taking a day off of work, driving 500 miles, and going to another hearing where the defendant most likely doesn’t show up. Instead, I fax in a statement to the court, informing them that although I won’t be present, I request the hearing to continue and that the defendant should be held in contempt of court if he does not comply with the levy. This was a good move…the judge noted that I was prejudiced in having to travel and saw my fax as a good faith letter that I was still fully involved with the process. If I hadn’t sent this letter, I fear the whole thing may have merely been dismissed, and all my efforts would have been for naught.

I call the court the day after the hearing to find out what happened. To my surprise, the defendant showed up this time, and avoided the contempt charge by saying he would pay the amount owed. I receive a call from the Constable (Sheriff) informing me that he is going to deliver the levy to the defendant. A few days later, I get in the mail a copy of the Levy—it has now been made on the BMW. But that doesn’t mean this is over…now I’ve got to file yet another request with the court to hold a Constable Sale on the item that has been levied. I file the request, submit the fee, and wait again. The Constable sale is scheduled for over a month away. At this point it has been 13 months since I filed the original suit.

The sale date rolls around and I get a call from a sheriff around 10am. He is seemingly at the defendant’s doorstep about to auction off his 7-series, and the defendant presents him with a copy of a check and a certified mail receipt dated for the day prior, showing proof that he has sent me what is owed. The sheriff asks if he can suspend the sale, so I grant it to him—although I have to fax the request to the court. The next day I get my check in the mail.

In the end, this story is only useful as an educational tool for those who want to know how the process works when one gets caught up in the dark underworld of shady car deals and decides to go after somebody without the assistance or expense of an attorney. Although it will involve time and effort on your behalf, the patience of a sage, as well as a little luck (like “smoking bullet” receipts in the glovebox), it is certainly possible, and it makes our world a better place if ultimately it helps us to more confidently and safely achieve our dreams and aspirations of cheap eBay Suzuki X90 ownership!

Tell us your eBay escapade.

Join the conversation
2 of 43 comments
  • Acuraandy Acuraandy on Feb 15, 2012

    So, in other words, bite the bullet and buy brand-new?

  • Art  Vandelay Art Vandelay on Feb 15, 2012

    So CarFax is pretty well useless. They only guarantee against rollback and accident if the rollback and accident damage is already a matter of public record?

  • Art Vandelay Pour one out for the Motors Liquidation Corporation
  • Bill Wade Norm, while true I'll leave you with this. My 2023 RAM is running Android 8 released in 2017.My wife's navigation on her GM truck is a 2021 release, I believe the latest. Android Auto seems to update very week or two. Now, which would you rather have? Anybody with a car a couple of years old NEVER sees any updates. Heck, if your TV is a few years old it's dead on updates. At least cell phones are rapidly updated. If your old phone won't update, buy another $200 phone. If your GM vehicle doesn't update do what, buy another $50,000 GM vehicle?
  • Lou_BC Once again, Mustang is the last pony car standing. Camaro RIP, Challenger RIP.
  • FreedMike Next up should DEFINITELY be the Cadillac Eldorado. On the subject of Caddies, I saw a Lyriq in person for the first time a couple of days ago, and I'm changing my tune on its' styling. In person, it works quite well, and the interior is very nicely executed.
  • Probert Sorry to disappoint: https://robbreport.com/motors/cars/tesla-model-y-worlds-best-selling-vehicle-1234848318/and any list. of articles with a 1 second google search. It's a tough world out there - but you can do it!!!!!!