Online Car Buyers Beware – What You See Isn’t Always What You Get

Woman Looking Under Hood 150x150 Online Car Buyers Beware   What You See Isnt Always What You GetOctober 22, 2013 – BBB Serving Greater Cleveland is warning online car shoppers that what you see isn’t always what you get.  According to JD Power, 79% of new-vehicle buyers use the Internet to research their new vehicle purchase during the shopping process.  While online shopping is convenient, it can also be frustrating if you believe the auto dealer misrepresented the condition of the vehicle.

Such is the case reported by dozens of consumers who have filed complaints with BBB about Cars Direct Online (CDO).  CDO is located in Cleveland, but sells vehicles nationwide at Its website claims, “You will also find …an accurate, forthright representation of that particular vehicle in our descriptions, including any defects or flaws.”

In the past 36 months, BBB has received nearly 90 complaints, many citing issues with damage and rust that was not depicted in photos of the vehicle posted online.

“This vehicle was completely misrepresented, the pictures were photo-shopped to the point that the actual vehicle didn’t even look like the vehicle in the pictures.The pictures were manipulated to hide major rust problems in multiple places, major chips and dents in the paint all the way around,” said a Pennsylvania man.

A Minnesota woman told BBB, “It was advertised as a perfectly clean vehicle and accident free and unfortunately that isn’t the case. The car had 500 more miles on it than advertised, no navigation as it was advertised, it had clearly been in accident and poorly repaired, there was a gouge in the rear bumper, gouge in the tire, crack in the grill, and a substantial dent in the trunk door.”

“I went to go look at a car there and they must edit there (sic) photos for online so buyers don’t see rust or damages to their cars… this is the third vehicle I went and saw and they all turned out to have rust and damage but photos look perfect,” said a Cleveland man.

Consumers also report repair issues surfacing soon after purchase or failure to return a $500 deposit as promised.

A Michigan buyer complained, “They did not disclose the problems with the car when they sold it over the internet. The service center I took it to said it was dangerous to drive. The bottom is all rusted out including the engine cradle, gas and break (sic) lines back frame under the bumper, head gasket out and the air conditioner does not work. The tires where mismatched and turned black walls out so it was hard to see. From the first time we drove it, it has stalled and had brake problems.  Had to hand push it out of two intersection. It stalled on the highway twice in rush hour traffic.”

And a Utah man said, “I bought a Buick Enclave from Autos Direct Online. The minute they had my money they stopped responding to me. I got the car a couple of weeks later after it was shipped and there were several issues with the car. One of the windows will not roll up or down. There is damage on the front bumper which there was no pictures of nor a description of the damage in the ad. There is a hole in the muffler and it sounds really bad. The drivers seat belt won’t latch…and a few other items. My 2008 car will not pass safety and emissions. These guys are as dishonest as they come. I drilled them about the car before I bought it and they told me how perfect it was…never again! Don’t buy from them!!

CDO typically responds by stating the consumer purchased the vehicle “As Is” with no warranty.  CDO also has buyers sign an acknowledgement that they had “an adequate and full opportunity to inspect the vehicle and to have a third party or mechanic of [his] choice make the inspection.”

The business has an “F” rating at BBB due to volume of complaints, failure to respond to or resolve some complaints, and failure to eliminate the causes of complaints.

BBB advises online car shoppers to:

  • Buy from a reputable seller. Check its rating at and research the business online.

  • Take a test drive, if possible, and have the car inspected by an independent third party before agreeing to purchase. Don’t rely solely on how the car is described or pictured online or described by the salesperson.

  • If a deposit is required to hold the vehicle until you purchase it, be sure to get refund and cancellation policies in writing.  Keep copies of all emails with the dealer.

  • Ask for the VIN (vehicle identification number) which you can use to buy a vehicle history report.

  • Get details of warranty (if any) in writing. “As Is” vehicle purchases may have no warranty and you will be responsible for any repairs once you take possession of the vehicle.

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About Sue McConnell

Sue is the senior vice president of BBB Serving Greater Cleveland. She began her BBB career in 1980 and has served on various national BBB committees. Sue has conducted peer trainings locally, regionally, and nationally and represents BBB in local print and broadcast media.