Part of the chatter that surrounds online auctions is the ability of non-certified viewers (“trolls”) to make authoritative comments.

I was selling a Mercedes 220 Ponton online one time, and bidding was going along nicely. Suddenly a troll opined, “Do you know the heater boxes on those are lined with asbestos? If you drive with the heater on you are sure to get mesothelioma (lung cancer).” That comment certainly slowed down the bidding until a couple of MDs chimed in with a response.

Forums like Ferrari Chat are infamous for self-appointed experts trashing big-dollar cars that are coming up for public auction. Since the commenters have no skin in the game, they are free to share their opinions with no repercussions. It’s always the involved parties, the consignor and the auction house, that bear the consequences of these torpedoes fired into the night.

I was reflecting upon this and recalled similar circumstances at in-person auctions. If you stood around a car long enough (let’s imagine something harmless but difficult to restore like a 190SL), “experts” were bound to appear.

They would look around to make sure no specialists were within earshot, then start to pick a car apart: “I know who restored this, he never gets the shutlines right.”

“Last time I saw this car it was green and had vinyl seats.”

“This was offered to me for $100,000 and I turned it down, maybe the seller will get lucky tonight.”

And so on and so on. All that the online trolling has done is move these sotto voce conversations from the auction tent to the computer screen.

Today, at least buyers have the additional advantage of CARFAX for more modern cars, and the Internet for older ones.

In any event, I maintain that the best buyer is an informed buyer. I have never had anyone complain to me that they paid too much for a great car. Where problems come in is when a car is simply not as represented, and the buyer only finds out when the car comes off the transporter.

Rather than vilify the trolls, let’s just accept them as one more source of unverified information. I have written before that when I bought my 1971 V12 Jag coupe online (a model I knew very little about), I trusted the many, many comments by the trolls to guide my bidding. I felt safe doing that because in the end it wasn’t an expensive car, and I could afford to be $35,000 wrong. Also, by the quality of the comments it seemed like there were some Jag experts who really knew their stuff and had only good things to say.

I wasn’t going to fly from Portland to Atlanta to examine a $35,000 car. And even if I had, I don’t know enough about the model to have an informed opinion.

In this case, for this car, the trolls were my friends. The next time you are hunting, let them be your guide dogs. But to quote former President Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”

So far it has worked for me.

 

13 Comments

  1. An interesting post. As the founder/owner of the 500Eboard (www.500eboard.co), a forum specializing in the Mercedes 500E/E500/400E/E420 models from 1991-1995, we have tracked all 500Es that have come up for auction, worldwide, for the past 18 years.

    We not only have a VIN database (so all factory equipment and data cards can be looked up), but we also have a thread on the forum for every car (by VIN — 10.479 produced with 1,528 brought into the US). Cars are tracked over years through multiple sellers. Known 500E experts on the forum provide expert commentary, and for BringATrailer auctions of 500Es, we have a member who creates a comprehensive “500Eboard Punch List(TM)” that critiques the car, from description and photos, using knowledge borne of decades of owning and intimately working on these cars.

    Members of the forum often place their cars for sale there first, then later on using BaT, MercedesMarket, etc.

    Some sellers HATE the Punch Lists, others LOVE them. Nothing gets by the practiced eyes of the 500Eboard experts, though. Particularly when specific cars have been through 5+ owners over 15+ years, all monitored and tracked and documented on the site. Accidents are recorded; all photos ever published of a particular VIN number are on the forum, even if they disappear from auction listings.

    The 500Eboard has saved hundreds of owners LOTS of money in purchasing cars that were not represented accurately. Information is king. Transparency is king. Expertise is king.

    Certainly there are trolls out there. And as you say, Keith, some do offer a modicum of truth or assistance or perspective. Online auction trolls are a part of life, and that will never change. But in the end, there is no substitute for a marque or model-specific forum, with dedicated model experts, who REALLY know the cars, and track them.

    Nice piece … struck a chord.

    • PETER ENGEL

      Gerry, as an MB enthusiast, I for one applaud the work you have done in creating and administering the 500E Board. Would love to see something similar regarding the US A124s (300E/E320 Cabriolets) and also the early corporate AMG’s (W202) as both of those car models become more important to a growing base. I have some data I have been compiling that I could share, if your team looks to expand into those models. Cheers.

  2. BaT has more than its share of trolls and also a great collection of cars. I was selling a wonderful 981 Porsche at no reserve and bidding was going nicely. Then with about 6 hours to go a troll opined that he wouldn’t buy a Porsche without the DME (over rev report). The car had no over revs but there was no time to get a report and bidding just died. The buyer got a great deal and I learned a lesson.

  3. Michael Haring

    It’s always caveat emptor when buying cars online. If you can’t arrange a PPI, the community members (yes, even trolls) can become a valued resource. Except the ill-informed ones that ask for a CARFAX on a 40 year old exotic – lol!

  4. “I wasn’t going to fly from Portland to Atlanta to examine a $35,000 car. And even if I had, I don’t know enough about the model to have an informed opinion.”
    But you could have hired a local auto appraiser in Atlanta to do a pre-purchase inspection and give a Fair Market Valuation for under $500!

  5. Shawn Miller

    the bigger problem really is the overall problem in our society caused by the rise of social media-People are just more mean than they used to be. They often hide behind user names so are somewhat anonamous and will say things on line they would never say to someone in person for fear of getting punched.

  6. I was trolled by an Armchair Expert on my first online sale on a popular auction site. I was selling a 1949 pickup truck with 1,600 miles – it had sat on display in an auto shop it’s entire life; never did an honest day’s work. I parked on a rolling farmhouse lawn to give it that country look for good pictures for the auction. Halfway through the auction, our Remote Con Troll stated that he could see the frame was bent from the way the truck was sitting. Bidding slowed immediately. I uploaded new pictures with fair proof that the frame was arrow straight, but the interest tanked and sold at no reserve for less than the bargain price I had paid. I wish there could be more effective Troll Control monitoring by these sites that feed on user (and abuser) feedback.

  7. PAUL EBELHACK

    Well, Keith, my mental jury is still out on whether you are enabling the trolls or not. I really don’t think they need encouragement but I can grudgingly admit that they serve a purpose, even if it’s to function as a big CAUTION sign.

  8. Thomas Taylor

    Excellent article! I’d like to think I’m one of those “trolls-being-your-friend” on BaT, specifically in regards to Series 1 4.2 Jaguar E-Type roadsters 1965 – 1967, of which I have over 50 years experience. I call out the sellers who can’t or won’t supply documentation for their “restorations,” as hearsay means stories and stories usually prove the seller to be trying to flip a bad vehicle in the “musical cars” game. A seller saying “To my knowledge…” means “I have no idea…” Simply placing a rubberized kitchen magnet on the sills, doors and rear wings will tell a huge tale: if it sticks, there’s solid steel in the monocoque structure. If it doesn’t stick, then in all likelihood the car is a bondo queen, and the rest of the “restoration” comes into question. What’s important on an E-Type is that the monocoque body equals the chassis on other cars, and it is integral to the car’s performance and stability on twisty and bumpy roads. Bondo on certain panels means a shaky driving experience and will show up as paint cracks sooner rather than later. I’d like to think I’m a “helping hand” in these auctions, lauding the obviously great cars and disdaining the poseurs. I’m sure, though, I’ve pissed off a lot of sellers, usually used car dealers trying to flip a sorry cat that’s mutton dressed as lamb, aka, lipstick on a pig. And there are a TON of older, shoddy and undocumented “restorations” out there.

  9. Aren’t we all just trolling Keith right now? LOL

  10. Christopher Gush

    As a classic car dealer for a number of years, I witnessed this behavior more times than I can count. It was amusing and part of the human condition. Accepted , I listened patiently as the ignorance and self affirmation would exhibit itself on behalf of insincere buyers and then would commence respectfully asking specific questions about what the individual knew about the car, its history, provenance, etc. The baloney stopped immediately in the interaction.
    It always worked and realizing the embarrassment of what they were doing would usually soon depart. A great tool to utilize if confronted with this dynamic.

  11. Jim Rosenthal

    I’ve seen plenty of this sort of behavior from trolls, and been on the receiving end of it at least once. Keith, I think you are being far too kind. There are a lot of people out there who are far too ready to venture opinions on subjects about which they know little or nothing. They may claim they are being constructive. I disagree. This came up recently in the auction of a BMW 2002 on BaT, where trolls who hadn’t viewed the car in person claimed it HAD to be a respray. Only it was not, and the fact that it sold well is due to the reputation of the seller, which is impeccable. And it might have brought more but for the irresponsible yakking that it was subjected to. People who didn’t see the car in person should have kept their mouths shut.

  12. Jim Rosenthal

    The seller, by the way, DID post paint meter readings. That was done with the original listings. It didn’t make a bit of difference, the trolls all piled on anyway. It was disgusting, frankly.

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