For someone who is prepared, buying a vehicle on eBay can be a financially responsible decision. For those who are unprepared, it can be a very scary, very disastrous move. Four years ago, I purchased a 2003 Ford Mustang with 23,000 miles from a dealer in Florida on eBay and the car runs just as smooth today as it did when I bought it.

However, just as my experience was excellent, there are plenty of people that have had miserable times purchasing a car or truck on eBay. In 2008, eBay stated that they sold a vehicle every 51 seconds, which means there was plenty of opportunity for fraud. It’s important to do your homework when making a purchase on eBay, just as you would do if you went to a dealer. The only difference with eBay is, that it’s a bit more homework.

Outlined below are 10 steps to help make your eBay auto buying experience a joyous one. By no means will this guarantee your purchase to be a smart financial decision, but it will certainly minimize the chances that you are taken for a ride. (Pun intended)

1. Analyze the purchase history on eBay One of the cool features that eBay provides to all members is the ability to review previous transactions. This means that as a buyer, I have the ability to view all purchases made by other eBay members for up to 6 months. Once I have picked out the vehicle I want to buy, I can see how much other people have paid for that type of vehicle and based on the specifications in the auction, now decide how much I think the car or truck up for sale is worth. Something is only worth what someone else will pay for it and this is the perfect way to figure that out.

To give you an idea of how this works, check out this list of completed auctions for the Acura MDX. Prices in red mean the car did not sell (the price is the highest bid), while prices in green mean the car did sell. You’ll notice that on the bottom left of the eBay screen is a “Search Options” box with the item labeled “Completed Listings.” Checking that box for any search will generate information on completed auctions over the last six months.

2. Investigate the seller: While a lot of the vehicles on eBay are sold from dealers, there are also a good chunk that are sold by individuals that have never done this before. Making sure that these sellers are reputable can be a challenging task, especially if this is a first-time sale for them on eBay. Checking a seller’s feedback rating is the first step in looking at a reputation, but it’s not the only one. Run an internet search for the seller’s name or business name and make sure you do not pull up any rip-off reports or negative information. When it comes to making sure your seller is reputable, make sure you leave no stone unturned. Of course, you can always choose to buy only from dealers, but sometimes the best deals come from individuals who need to sell their car in a hurry.

Did you know that eBay Motors offers vehicle purchase protection of up to $50,000 against certain losses associated with some types of fraud? You can check out more details at eBay Motors by clicking here.

3. Research the car or truck for sale: Most reputable sellers will provide you with a Carfax vehicle report. But if they do not have one available, get one on your own. A report generally costs $25, and even if you are not fortunate enough to win the auction, you are risking very little to save thousands if you find big problems. This of course should only be purchased if you are serious about winning the eBay auction.

4. Call the seller: Any seller that refuses to discuss the auction over the phone is someone you do not want to do business with. Sometimes, talking with someone can give you a good sense of the type of person they are. In addition, this allows you to ask any questions you have about the vehicle including warranty, shipping costs, and other financial add-ons that can be expected on the auction.

5. Don’t have an itchy trigger finger: Even when you find a car that you really like on eBay and have found the seller to be reputable, don’t go higher than the price you originally set. Sometimes when you place your bid and then see that you are being outbid, you are compelled to get into a bidding war and may end up spending hundreds or even thousands more than you anticipated. Stay disciplined. There will certainly be another opportunity on eBay to make the right purchase.

6. Waiting until the last second to bid is dangerous: An experienced eBayer will tell you to wait as long as you can to make a bid, which makes sure you are not allowing other people to outbid. However, when making such a large and important purchase, you want to give yourself at least a little time to get the bid in. Too often I have lost small ticket items because I was a few seconds late in trying to time the perfect bid. If you are lucky enough to find the vehicle you want at the price you want, don’t risk it.

7. Schedule to pick up the vehicle yourself: Depending on the location of the seller, this may be a difficult step for some. But seeing the car in person before you have paid for it is very important, and you can save money by driving the car home yourself. The cheapest delivery method is generally a minimum of $, the costs of a round trip ticket and gas to drive the car home are usually much cheaper. I say round trip ticket for two reasons. First, you should always have a method home because you may not like what you see when you go to pick up the car. And second, a round-trip ticket can be the same price or sometimes cheaper than a one-way ticket.

8. Negotiate a way to return the car if you don’t like what you see: Some people may be compelled to pay for a car they have doubts about even if they don’t like what they see. Even though you are obligated to pay for an auction you won online, you are not obligated to pay for the vehicle if you find problems you never saw listed in the auction. Don’t be intimidated and be prepared to walk away if you have serious doubts.

9. Make sure to leave with all paperwork in order: All reports, receipts, and documents should be in your possession when you leave the seller to return home. Some of the largest problems in buying a car on eBay is retaining the title from the seller, which is an extremely important document needed to prove ownership. If a seller tells you they will mail it to you later, you have to wonder if they have it at all, which might mean the car is not theirs to sell. Above-average sellers will even offer to have the title re-written which can save you a little time and money. Make sure the last thing you do is pay for the vehicle, preferably with a cashier’s check so you have a documented record of it.

10. Have the car inspected before you return home: I’m no mechanic, and I have no idea what to look for when inspecting a vehicle. So when I purchased my car on eBay, I called a mechanic in the seller’s area who agreed to do a general inspection of the car the same day I picked it up. An inspection is a cost-effective way of letting you know if you have a lemon under the hood. The last thing you need is to be on the highway when your engine gives out, 500 miles away from home.

Armed with these tips, buying your next car or truck on eBay Motors may just save you a bundle