Please buy my car, but do it rationally, for pete's sake.
April 24, 2009 5:03 PM   Subscribe

I've sold three used cars and one motorcycle. At least three times I've had people call me and offer to pay me X dollars (a reasonable, though lowish, sum) sight unseen! They don't even want to hear it run! What's going on here? Are they just nutjobs?

Aside from the obvious--that it's some kind of a scam--why do people call me up and offer to buy my used vehicle without knowing anything more about it than the scanty information and 3 photos I put on Craigslist? (These aren't obvious "Nigerian" scammers.) What is it with these people? I'm not selling junkers, so they can't be scrap metal dealers either. I don't get it.
posted by scratch to Grab Bag (14 answers total)
I sell bicycles occasionally on CL and I'd say probably 30% of the time people make offers via email before seeing the bike. They will generally say something like, "Will you take X-amount? If so, I'll come buy it right now!"

Generally these types don't follow through because they are caught up the daydream of the buying process where email, and even phone calls, are fairly non-committal to them.

I can't say what the deal is with cars though, though it may sort of be the same thing. Some people see an ad and get caught up in the fantasy of owning whatever it is they are looking at. In that state they don't think to ask questions and all they are concerend with is the transaction.

Not saying that it's not some sort of scam, but some people are just clueless consumers.
posted by wfrgms at 5:12 PM on April 24, 2009

I bet they are taking you at your word. They make the offer, show up, and if the car is in the condition you said it is, they will buy it. But if it's not, it's not like making an offer on the telephone is binding.

OR, they will show up and play the "oh, I wrote the check wrong, there's an extra thousand on there. Tell you what, write me a check for the difference and we'll be even" scam. But that's less likely.

If someone is looking for a car, and they see one advertised that's actually, really for sale and not dealer spam, they usually know that they are going to get a way better deal from you than from a dealer. If blue book on a car is $5000 and $2500 trade-in, then you know that's what it will be priced at by all the dealers. If you put yours out there for $4000 and get an offer for $3500, it's win-win for both parties. You sold it for more, they got it for less.
posted by gjc at 5:13 PM on April 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

A brainstorm of possible reasons might include:

- buyer likes fixing things up (either to flip for profit, or pimp for profile)
- buyer wants to donate vehicle to charity for a tax break
- buyer wants to use vehicle in a class for mechanics
- buyer wants certain parts from the specific vehicle
posted by CancerMan at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2009

wfrgms- forgot about the lookey-loos. Probably the same people that return stuff all the time and complain about restocking fees. I sold a car on ebay, got a ton of bids and questions. ONE person actually came and looked at the car before they bid on it. But they eventually put in a nice bid and bought the car.
posted by gjc at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2009

Nigerian (and Ghanaian and Eastern European) scammers often use unwitting people in the states to buy their goods for them using forged checks. Then the buyer turns around and either ships the item overseas or sells it for cash and wires it back to the scammers country. Usually the buyer is simply clueless that they are part of a scam and ends up being arrested quickly.
posted by bunnytricks at 5:35 PM on April 24, 2009

Best answer: Some ideas:

*They want it for parts, so condition is nearly irrelevant.
*They want a project, so condition is nearly irrelevant.
*They're taking you at your word, and so are willing to make an offer sight unseen.
*They're offering a low enough number that, even if the vehicle isn't in as good of condition as you claim, it's still a good value on their end.

But, I think the most probable explanation is that they're making an offer up front because they know what they can spend, and don't want to waste time coming out to look at it if you won't take their number. I've done this lots of times. There'll be some item on craigslist, and I'll send an email with an offer, because I don't want to drive forty miles only to find that the seller won't come down from his asking price. In that situation, if they indicate that they might accept the offer, I'll make the drive that instant. But, I'll also retract the offer if the item is not as described.

I really don't think it's part of a scam or anything even kinda sinister. I just think people don't want to make the effort if you're unable or unwilling to deal in their ballpark. If you can't spend more than $2k, but the seller won't take a penny under $3k, what's the point of seeing if the engine runs? And, if the seller is willing to take $2k, then there's little reason for them not to do the deal unless the car is completely unlike what you posted--in which case, they'll just retract their bid after seeing it.
posted by Netzapper at 5:49 PM on April 24, 2009

I once sold a car to some people who just showed up and paid me what I was asking without trying to negotiate or even start the car. Some people are just trusting, I guess. It does seem like there are a lot of credulous people out there.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 5:54 PM on April 24, 2009

gjc writes "I bet they are taking you at your word. They make the offer, show up, and if the car is in the condition you said it is, they will buy it. But if it's not, it's not like making an offer on the telephone is binding."

This. I've done it when I'm out of town and there was a fair description. For a car I'm really familiar with I don't need a run down of the problems because I know them already. I assume the car will need tires/battery/exahust and make an offer on that basis. Sometimes you show up and the car isn't as described but at least you haven't driven an hour or two away to make an offer the guy won't accept.
posted by Mitheral at 6:18 PM on April 24, 2009

Best answer: Some people make the offer meaning - I'll make up my mind for sure when I come to pay you, but in the meantime, I don't want you to sell it to anyone else.

So when they show up to "pay" and then want to haggle about price, now that you've already invested time and maybe turned down other offers, you're more anxious to make the sale.

I think it's legal to strangle those people. Better check in your state, though.
posted by ctmf at 6:47 PM on April 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think anyone has yet mentioned that some people hate negotiating, and just aren't willing to do it, period. That thing where they offer a price and you say yes or no is about their limit.

On the other hand, some of 'em are probably trying to see if you're flexible on the price, at which point they can see you in person, with a wad of cash, and try to lowball you further, figuring that cash held by somebody who's standing in front of you is far more valuable than an email from some dude who gets paid on Friday or whatever.

And one more: some people have, say, $2000 to spend (among others, people with insurance or student-loan or tax-refund checks sometimes fit into this category). And so they'll make $2000 offers on $3000 cars until somebody bites.
posted by box at 7:10 PM on April 24, 2009

I've bought many cars from pictures, you just know the market value and make sure the price of the car is low enough that even if there is something wrong you are coming out ahead. AND you have to be willing to turn around and walk if you show up and there is something wrong with it that you weren't told about.

A story. I was looking for a car, and the model I wanted came up on a website at 8am, price was $7000 car was going for $10-12,000 everywhere else. Phone # for contact, no e-mail.

Called the guy at 8:30 am

I said, does it run drive, turn, stop correctly, he says yes. I said does it have any dents, he says one or two small ones, and on like that. Guy sounds honest enough. He lives 664 miles distant from my house. I then on the spot told him I would buy the car, sight unseen, at his asking price. I'd be there the next day by 5pm with a cashiers check in hand. I drove down fully intending to turn around if the car wasn't as he described. A 1200 mile road trip is better than being stuck with a $7,000 lemon.

The whole time I was with him and buying the car, the guy would look at his phone, see a out of state number, and send it to voicemail. I think he knew his price was too low, but was a stand up guy and didn't want to back out on someone from 3-4 states away.

How did it work out? car needed a $400 timing belt, had useless rims off the wrong car, $600 to fix. $1000 + $7,000 != $10-12,000

Basically you have to know cars and people well enough to make a good guess, and be willing to walk away if you are wrong. I'm the guy relatives bring along to make sure used cars aren't broken, and i've stopped more than one lemony sale from going through. I love making dishonest salesmen squirm.
posted by jester69 at 9:55 PM on April 24, 2009

it's not like making an offer on the telephone is binding.

There is nothing magical about a telephone agreement that makes it any less binding than an in-person, verbal or on-paper agreement.

That said, I think ctmf has tha most likely reason above.
posted by rokusan at 11:05 PM on April 24, 2009

Yes, ctmf has it. The super-eager buyers just want you to "save" the item for them and start telling people it's off the market. I just sold a bike on craigslist, it was a junker, but at least two of the ten people that contacted me wanted me to hang on to it for them, instead of going first-come-first-served.
posted by MrZero at 6:24 AM on April 25, 2009

We recently sold a car on TradeMe (NZ version of Ebay). We had put a low price on it ($1250) because it did need a bit of fixing up and it was 15 years old. Within moments of the listing the car my phone started ringing and I got text messages - in all about adozen people contacted me saying they would take the car sight unseen, all within a couple of hundred dollars of our price. We sold the car to the first caller who picked it up within 45 minutes of us listing it online.
posted by chairish at 7:54 PM on April 25, 2009

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