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.