It can be difficult enough to trust someone selling a car to you in person, let alone someone halfway across the country. Car consignment adds an extra middleman, increasing the difficulty of building trust for both buyer and seller.
How do you know that the listing is honest and true to the facts? How do you know the consignor won’t run off with the money when the car sells? How do you know the car will be delivered as promised? How do you even know you’re dealing with real people?
Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, vetting a car consigner is a proactive step toward building trust. Trust is the most important factor in any car sale situation, and it’s the most important of the 4 Telltale Signs of an Honest Car Listing. Even if you couldn’t find their city on a map, it is possible to learn a lot about a car consigner just by using the digital resources at your disposal. But trust is a broad notion, so let’s get more specific.
Car consignment company should earn your trust in four distinct categories:
Each category ties directly into the rest, together creating a strong sense of trust and security that’s backed by cold hard facts.
Follow the advice in this article and you’ll be able to spot a car consignment scam from a mile away – or even across the country.
Car consignment companies are legal entities like any other business. That means any number of public records should be available online for you to research.
Find out who they are. Most states have a government-run self-service portal, like California’s Bizfile and Florida’s Sunbiz, where you can find business licenses, property records, and alternative names free of charge. Further records may be available depending on the state.
Look into their previous dealings. Websites like Edmunds, AutoTrader, and Cars.com maintain ratings of sellers who use their platform. Sites like Google Maps, Facebook, and the Better Business Bureau can be good sources of information.
Ask the consignor directly. You could ask the consignor to provide documentation showing that they are bonded, insured, and have the proper regulatory approval to deal in car consignment – a reasonable request if ever there was one.
The single most important step when buying a car is checking the VIN and title history. Even if the seller provides a vehicle history report, it’s wise to run your own VIN check to ensure transparency.
Speaking of places like AutoTrader and Cars.com, it’s commonplace for car consignment companies to list their inventory on sites like those to reach a wider buying audience. You may see the same car listed in multiple places, and that’s a good sign since those listings are usually created by the consigner under an exclusivity agreement with the seller. Still, any reputable car consigner will maintain their own online storefront.
A car consignment company’s website is the most important aspect of their online presence. If it feels like it was set up yesterday, it probably was – and it may be gone just as quickly. Check the consigner’s website for depth, asking questions like:
These factors tend to indicate a serious business effort, but also take note of what isn’t there. If their consignment process is not clearly defined, or if no guarantees are made as to the success of their efforts, this could be an indication of an unskilled operation.
An exception can be made for small volume “mom and pop” stores. These tend to be low-tech enterprises, focusing on word of mouth and local listings instead of mainstream selling platforms like the ones discussed above.
Whether you’re buying or selling, you want everyone to know that your car is ready for the long haul.
Most of the trust with a car consignment company is built by talking to them directly. In this sense, they are kept honest by their commitments to both parties – every conversation deserves their full attention. If you and your car don’t seem to mesh well with the consigner’s brand and personality, it may be in your best interest to go somewhere else.
A trustworthy car consignment company holds themselves to high standards of customer service on the phone, over email, and in person. As with any other business, they should patiently answer your questions and follow through with researching anything they can’t answer on the spot.
Make sure the consigner is willing to provide the vehicle’s VIN upfront. We don't type things in bold font very often around here, but this one's important. If any car dealer is unwilling to provide the VIN to you consider that a sign to shop elsewhere.
Customer service is not only measured by your interactions with the business, but also by unbiased reviews from other people. The best car consignment companies will give you a list of references on request, putting you in direct contact with buyers and sellers who have used their services before. As a potential customer, you have every right to request references before financially committing to either side of a car consignment deal.
Everyone starts somewhere, but the best car consignment companies have a proven track record of success. Solid references will go a long way to enforce this notion, and between online reviews, previously sold inventory, and the consigner’s own online presence, you should be able to gauge whether they are an established and successful operation or a fly-by-night scam artist hiding in plain sight.
If you prefer a boots-on-the-ground approach, your best bet is to stop by and see their operation for yourself. If they aren’t local, try calling businesses in the area and asking if people have heard of or seen the consignment company in question.
Want to go deeper? More extreme vetting options are available to those who desire additional security measures. One could fact-check the seller’s website by searching for their previously sold inventory elsewhere online. One could conduct online searches relating the consigner’s name and location to terms like “consignment scam” and “dealership scam.” There are even stories online of prospective buyers and sellers running background checks on staffers whose names they acquire during the consignment process.
The good news is that such extreme measures are rarely warranted.
Unlike typical car dealerships that purchase their inventory outright, car consignment companies have a commitment to both buyer and seller in every transaction. This means that consigners can only stay in business by being honest and transparent with all parties.
Car consignment scams are rare, but they do exist.
Vetting a car consignment company is just as important as meeting a Craigslist seller in a public place. Thankfully, most established consigners are upstanding businesses making their best effort to please both buyer and seller. Nature tends to sort out the rest.
Follow the advice in this article and you’ll be able to spot the best car consignment companies like a seasoned professional.
Exotic Car Trader offers a curated consignment inventory of high-end, exotic, and significant vehicles. 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: Elijah O’Donnell
Words by Justin Dake
We are not attorneys. This article does not contain legal advice.