As demand for electric and plug-in cars continues to remain high, many dealers and some private individuals are offering cars like the 2012 Chevrolet Volt on auction sites like eBay. With “Buy-It-Now” prices well above the starting sticker price of $39,995, these Volts pose an interesting dilemma for anyone not already on a waiting list for an electric car. 

Do you pay a premium to jump the queue, or do you wait your turn?

To help you make up your mind, here are some things you should bear in mind about buying nearly-new electric cars on sites like eBay.

You might not be able to claim federal, state rebates

As anyone who has purchased an electric car will tell you, the first person to buy a qualifying electric car like is eligible to claim a $7,500 federal tax credit to ease the financial burden of buying an electric car. 

Most states offer an additional purchase incentive in the form of an electric car purchase grant or further tax credit, but like the federal tax incentives, they are only applicable to the first legal owner of the car. 

If the car you’re buying has already been registered by a private individual or a business and is being sold as a used car, you won’t be able to claim any incentives, regardless of how old it is or how few miles the car has driven. 

2012 Chevrolet Volt

2012 Chevrolet Volt

Some dealers are raising the price for online auctions

As we’ve explained before, direct sales by automakers are illegal in most states under franchise laws. As a consequence, carmakers can only recommend a pricing strategy to dealers: there’s no direct requirement to stick to it. 

In turn, many dealers are happy to increase the sticker price of a car to suit demand. The higher the demand, the higher the price.

In the case of electric cars, we’ve heard of various dealers who have raised the sticker price by several thousand dollars, effectively negating the effect of any federal or state purchase incentives to the customer. 

While some dealerships have banned such practices, we’re still seeing evidence that some dealers are happy to put their electric cars on eBay at a higher-then-expected sticker price. 

There might be hidden fees

When you buy a car at your local dealer, it’s easy to negotiate the finer details of the deal, such as final price, delivery options and any extras. 

Although you won't be exposing yourself to the usual upsells and highly-priced options that many dealers will try and sell you when you buy direct from the dealer, you won't have as much control over the final deal when you buy online. 

In fact, when you buy online at an auction site, you’re entering into a legal contract to buy the vehicle with the specified options or clauses set out on the auction page. 

Car Dealer

Car Dealer

For new cars, that means you assume responsibility for picking up the car in person from the dealer or arranging transportation to your home. At worst, that means a costly trip across the country to a dealer you've never visited before to prove that you're a real person, sign the paperwork and then figure out how to get your car home. In other words, if you have just won an auction for a car miles away from your home, it could prove extremely costly. 

Worse still, if the dealer you’re buying from is a long way from your home, you may find yourself stuck for maintenance or repair if things go wrong. 

You don’t get to see the car

On top of everything else, you might find that buying your new electric car through an online auction site might mean you won’t get a chance to see the car before you buy it. Despite being nearly new, most of the cars on sale have been on display in a dealership. 

And while they may be technically new, some will have been used as demonstrator cars with anything from tens of miles through to a few thousand. Because of that, we’d recommend you test-drive any electric car you’re considering bidding for on an auction site before you actually click that mouse. 

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