A client of mine bought an expensive used SUV from a seller in another state via eBay. The transaction ended with the seller delivering a different vehicle than the one in the eBay listing. Good thing eBay has that Vehicle Protection Plan, right? Or was it worthless?

My client was looking for a particular late model SUV and found one listed on eBay in another state, over a thousand miles away. The eBay listing (which he had printed out and saved) showed dozens of photos of the behemoth from every possible angle, inside and out. The vehicle was clean and straight. It was a metallic color, rather light, but you could clearly see it had no body damage.

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Funds were transferred and arrangements were made to have the vehicle shipped. A few days later, a car hauler pulls up in front of the client’s house. He walked out and immediately noticed that the vehicle he just bought was bent up. It had been in an accident or two and had had some pretty shoddy bodywork done to it. The driver asked him to sign a receipt which showed that the vehicle was picked up in that ragged condition.

The client refused, because this is clearly not the vehicle he bargained for. The truck driver said, “Well, it’s not MY problem,” and offloaded the vehicle and left.

The client called the seller who claimed to not know what the problem was. “I shipped you the vehicle in the ad.” If that was true, the pictures were “before” pics - before the vehicle was smashed up and poorly straightened. We later determined that the vehicle in the pictures was NOT the one delivered.

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The client then checked eBay. They have their Vehicle Protection Plan (“VPP”). Turns out you file a claim with them, but it is not administered by eBay. It is run by Auction Insurance Agency, despite eBay’s explicit statement that “VPP is not an insurance policy.”

After much foot-dragging by AIA, my client called me and I start poking around. When I asked AIA if they were going to pay the claim, they said they were still “investigating.” There appeared to be a standoff: The dealer insisted the vehicle was in pristine condition when it was shipped. Even though the carrier who delivered the vehicle had paperwork signed by the dealer showing the SUV was picked up in damaged condition. The seller was saying we ought to sue the shipper.

I asked the adjuster - or whatever you call someone who works at an insurance company overseeing something that is not insurance - what the problem was. He wouldn’t tell me. He simply kept telling me the claim was being investigated but he had no end date in sight. Meanwhile, the vehicle was in my client’s driveway with no license plates because he didn’t plan to keep it.

It became clear that AIA was not going to pay. Rather than mess around any more with them, we filed suit against the seller. Shortly after filing the suit, an attorney for the dealer called me and offered us a full buyback. Which, along with the attorney’s fees and court costs, we accepted.

You might notice that we did not sue AIA, eBay or any of that lot. We chose to sue the seller because the claim was so straight forward. But I think of this story whenever I hear people talk about how comfortable they are with online auctions because of the various plans in place which protect them.

Insurance is only as good as the insurer’s willingness to pay valid claims. And when it “is not an insurance policy,” I believe it is even less so. But that’s just me - based on a case I dealt with where my client almost got hosed on a $40K+ purchase. And my client is not alone. Run a quick search on VPP Denials and you’ll find a good amount of grumbling out there. They apparently pay some claims but it doesn’t appear they’re batting a thousand on valid claims.

Photo credit Flickr/adrian8_8

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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.

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