Anyone selling a car in today's world knows how the game is played. Buyers value honesty and integrity over deals and discounts, and they’re prepared to walk away at the first signs of smoke and mirrors.
Car dealerships and private sellers alike must convince the buyer of those merits starting at their first interaction, be that on their website, over the phone, or in person. Unlike typical dealerships, car consignment companies have an incentive to be faithful to both buyers and sellers – since they don’t own their inventory, consigners have to juggle the wishes of both parties while staying honest and transparent across the board.
If they want to stay in business, that is.
These days, most of that trust is built online. These four indicators will demonstrate how a website can tell you everything you need to know about business practices. Follow the advice in this article and you’ll be prepared to spot a shady car consigner simply by the quality of their listing.
This article focuses on car consignment – selling your car through a middleman – but the ideas apply to any form of car sales. Learn more about car consignment from the buyer’s and seller’s perspectives.
Imagine a coworker showing you a photo of their 1-year-old child and simply saying, “It’s a baby, that’s pretty much the whole story.” Even if you couldn’t care less, you would probably demand to know more. Does she cry? Does she crawl? Does she do calculus? Give me something!
Car enthusiasts tend to be the same way, except we know the rest of the office won’t share our excitement over a newly delivered BMW M3. We like to get to know a car’s personality before we commit to it, and that means hearing from the seller about how long they’ve had it, where they got it from, and any trouble they had along the way. And as a seller who understands this, you want to know your stories will reach the buyer.
The best car consignment companies understand this, and they will tell those stories and historical facts on behalf of the seller. It all helps to strengthen the connection between buyer, seller, and car and to build trust with the consigner – the most important aspect of all.
Red Flag: A telltale sign of an uncommitted car consigner is a complete lack of knowledge about the seller’s experiences with the car.
Here’s another way that cars are like people: nobody’s perfect.
The best car consignment companies will not hide the important details, even if they aren’t sexy to talk about. Do your due diligence as a buyer and ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable with making the purchase. Of course, the consignment shop can only be as honest as the seller is with them; it’s a two-way street with everyone working together.
Damage and maintenance. Trustworthy car consigners present their cars in an unbiased way, highlighting dents and damage in photographs and mentioning any skipped or upcoming maintenance in the listing description.
Titles and title history. A clean title and a clean Carfax are great to have, but a checkered past isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker. There are many reasons that a car could have a salvage title. If documentation is provided upfront, that could clear up a lot of concerns.
On earlier models of the Lotus Elise pictured above, the entire front end is comprised of a single piece of fiberglass and even a low-speed impact – like tapping the back wall of your garage – could destroy the entire panel. That single piece of bodywork costs so much to replace that many owners would rather take a salvage title than pay for it outright. Does that mean the entire car is ruined? Of course not.
This goes to show that a salvage title isn’t necessarily as important as the reason behind it. Details like this are essential when buying or selling a car on consignment.
Red Flag: All but the highest-caliber collector cars have flaws if you zoom in far enough. Be cautious if a consigner gives you nothing but good news.
Of course, all the stories in the world mean nothing without facts to support them.
In addition to title history, the best car consignment companies require sellers to provide physical maintenance records upfront for potential buyers to review. A consigned car should always come with documents that show maintenance and service, including the name of the servicing shop, the dates of service, and the car’s mileage readout when the service was performed.
Maintenance receipts may come directly from the seller or from a local dealership where the car was serviced. Modification receipts are desirable for anything beyond basic bolt-on parts, and restoration documentation is essential for restored classic cars. Vehicles with exceptional provenance, like historic race cars and high-end show winners, should be sold with strong documentation to evince their importance and justify their price.
Any responsible car consignment company should be willing to provide service records before you commit to buying.
Red Flag: If a consigner cannot provide any maintenance records with a car, you are taking a dive into the unknown.
It’s often a big ask to trust someone you meet in person, let alone a car consigner located halfway across the country in a city you couldn’t find on a map. How do you know their listings are telling the truth? That they won’t run off with your money? That the car will actually be delivered as promised?
This topic is so important that we wrote an entire article about building trust with a car consignment company or dealership. In short, the best car consignment companies need to earn your trust in four categories:
You can determine a car consigner’s legal legitimacy by researching public business filings, state licensure, and the depth of their website. Their customer service standards are not only measured by your experience, but by unbiased reviews and active listings found on sites like AutoTempest and AutoTrader. Ask the consigner to provide you with some reliable references – previous buyers and sellers who can speak to the consignor’s track record. And if their website and listings look cobbled together, that’s often a bigger red flag than you might think.
If the consigner is local, simply stop by and see their operation for yourself.
Red Flag: Websites are a big indicator of trustworthiness. A business that seems like it was set up yesterday probably was, and it may be gone just as soon.
Car consignment companies can only stay in business by being honest with both buyers and sellers. This system of checks and balances keeps consigners legitimate.
Car consigners need to please both buyers and sellers. As a result, millions of people consign their cars every year with positive results. Bad apples exist in any group, but shady consignment shops are few and far between.
Regardless of which side of the deal you’re on, be proactive in vetting the consignor at the earliest possible opportunity. By following the advice in this article and the related articles below, you’ll be able to build trust and avoid scams like an expert, saving yourself time and hassle and ensuring that your car ends up in the best possible hands.
Exotic Car Trader offers a curated collection of high-end, exotic, and significant vehicles on consignment. Our media-rich listings provide a transparent window to the cars we sell. As a brick-and-mortar company with strong ties to our local South Florida car culture, we pride ourselves on superior customer service and some of the lowest consignment fees in the country.
If you’re in the market for a high-end vehicle, you may be interested in browsing through our current inventory.
If you’re preparing to sell your car, we hope you will consider our car consignment program that’s tailored specifically to your needs.
Cover image credit: Hassan Ouajbir
Words by Justin Dake
We are not attorneys. This article does not contain legal advice.