A couple of warnings and a bit of advice:

Don't get carried away: It's easy to get caught up in the competition of an auction. Remember that a bid is a legal commitment.

Buyer beware: I began to feel that car dealers on eBay disclosed at least as much information online as they did on the sales lot. That probably has a lot to do with their fear of being slammed by buyers on eBay's all-important "feedback" section. Read and heed each seller's feedback ratings, and e-mail or phone the seller with questions.

Checking it out: Say you're still not sure. There are garages -- which you can click to from eBay or from an online search -- that will send out a mechanic to inspect the car in person, for about $100.

What if something goes really, really wrong? Say you pay for a car and never receive it. EBay's Vehicle Protection Program (eligibility will be noted in the listing) covers you for up to $20,000 for such cases of deliberate fraud.

All the best-laid plans . . . : Most cars on eBay come with a free 30-day service agreement that protects you, minus a $500 deductible, in the event that something in the powertrain fails within a month or 1,000 miles. You do have to activate the agreement, though.

-- Erica Johnston