What's The Best Way To Spot A Scam Sale?

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As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve decided to pick a few questions and try to help out. This week we are discussing spotting online car scams and buying a car at the end of the lease.


First up, what are some key clues to an online car scam?

“I was wondering if you’ve ever come across something like this before. I saw a listing for a 1985 Toyota Land Cruiser listed for sale for $2,100 on FB Marketplace. I reached out to the owner as per the instructions provided in the FB

It seems absolutely too good to be true. I’ve Googled the VIN and found three prior listings that seem a bit suspect.

My sense is that it is a scam because the prices for comparable vehicles easily reach 5 figures. At $2,100 most guys like me wouldn’t hesitate to spend that much on such a desirable vehicle without doing appropriate due diligence, so taking people’s money and failing to deliver a vehicle (or, the vehicle as advertised) would be pretty easy.

Should I go with my gut and just move on, or is it worth reaching out?”

The old saying about things that seem to be good to be true still stands. If your gut says it’s a scam it’s probably a scam. There are a few key pieces of information that should raise red flags when it comes to online listings. Generally speaking, if the price is drastically lower than similar cars on the market, there is something suspicious. Legit sellers aren’t going to leave money on the table. The fact that the ad looks like it was replicated from elsewhere is another flag.

I would suggest you move on, but if you are absolutely curious to get the scoop I would contact the seller. Ask for a picture of the title and explain that you want to have it inspected by a local mechanic at your expense. See if they would be willing to take it somewhere. If they are trying to scam you, they probably won’t respond.

Next, does it ever make sense to buy the car at the end of the lease?

“When, if ever, does it make sense to buy out your car at the end of a lease? And, if so, any advice on how to negotiate a lower buyout?

My particular situation is a lease that’s ending on an Audi A4 that’s waaaay under mileage (thank you COVID19; like 24,000 miles of the 36,000) that I “paid for.” Turning the vehicle in feels like leaving money on the table.

Buying your car at the end of the lease could be a good way to go depending on a few variables. First, can you buy a similar car with similar miles on the market for less? If not then buying out your lease, which is essentially buying a used car, albeit one you took care of, could be the way to go. As for negotiating a lower buyout, some brands are more flexible on this than others. You would want to contact the leasing company to see what is possible.

Another option if you don’t want to keep your car but suspect you may have some equity is to get some offers on a trade-in from local dealers, or online outfits like Carvana and Vroom. They may offer a price that is greater than your lease buyout, giving you some cash to play with on your next purchase or lease.


Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at tom.mcparland@jalopnik.com!



That $2100 price sounds like the come-ons in my area and is instead, the down payment required.

No used car that is running and can pass inspections (i.e. does need major work and be driven daily right away) is selling for less than $3000 these days, ANECDOTES NOT-WITHSTANDING.