How to buy a car on eBay: Very carefully

2000 Mercedes-Benz SL 500

This exceptionally clean 2000 Mercedes-Benz SL 500 was bought sight unseen on eBay Motors.

Truth to tell, I can’t really make a good argument for my spending thousands of dollars on an 11-year-old car that I had never even seen, let alone driven.

But, I did it anyway, thanks in great part to — shall we say — the relentless encouragement of a risk taker who took a much bigger gamble years ago when she decided to become my wife.

The whole thing started innocently enough.

Back in 2008 I leased a Honda Pilot crossover vehicle that was to be used as a light truck for a small business venture and a versatile conveyance for visiting children and grandchildren.

The Pilot never caused a moment’s trouble, but by 2011 the reasons for getting it no longer existed and, to be honest, it was never exactly a joy to drive.

Nevertheless, with the lease about to expire, I convinced myself that the smartest thing to do would be to shell out the remaining $16,000 that would make the Pilot mine.

The gambler disagreed. In fact, she already knew what she wanted and it wasn’t some storage locker on four wheels.

Instead, she suggested that we get the car of her dreams, a car she claimed she had desired her whole adult life, a fancy two-seat Mercedes-Benz roadster. It would be ideal in the southeastern coastal area we had recently decided to call home, she attempted to reason.

To me, it did not sound like a great idea.  I felt certain the price would never match up with the money owed on the Pilot. And, even if it did, what kind of shape would this dream car be in?

But, just for the heck of it, I began a search anyway, scouring the local paper to no avail, scrolling through numerous Internet sites to no avail, and then, finally, ending up at eBay Motors.

I decided to focus on a last-generation SL 500, which sold new from the early 1990s to 2002. Prices today generally range from less than $8,000 to upwards of  $20,000, a genuine surprise to me because that’s a far cry from the megabucks an SL 500 cost when new.

As it turned out, there is no shortage of these cars, but it soon became apparent that not a whole lot of them fit my criteria, either by price, by location, by mileage, or by age.

I really didn’t want to take a chance on a car that was nearly 20 years old so that ruled out the earliest models. I didn’t want a car that had been used as primary transportation, so that ruled out anything with more than 100,000 miles on the odometer.

Of course, I did want one that looked as if it had been taken care of, with no nasty scrapes and scratches on the outside and nothing cracked or torn on the inside.

The cars that seemed closest to my requirements were located, not surprisingly, in Florida, Arizona, Nevada and California. That reduced my search to Florida, since the other states were simply too far away.