The old adage goes "buyer beware," but "seller beware" is every bit as accurate. Just ask Opponaut J. Drew Silvers, who sold a Ford Explorer on Craigslist only to end up in court over it. He prevailed, but the story of how it all went down is utterly ridiculous.
Craigslist selling seems to be a common joke online and also comes up somewhat frequently among car enthusiasts when a few of us get together. I understand this rather well as a young man who has bought and sold over a dozen vehicles using that method over the years. Ludicrous trade offers are commonplace and you meet some really interesting characters when showing your car, most of which are a waste of time, but I think I have one of the more extreme stories to tell, which I will start from the beginning.
That is a 1999 Ford Explorer I (stupidly) sold a mint 1995 Firebird Formula 6-speed for in 2007. I bought the Explorer with 68,000 on the odometer and kept it stock other than adding a roof rack, stereo, and some bigger tires. At the time I worked in the golf industry as a manager at a country club and thought an SUV would suit my needs better than a muscle car, but after two years, I decided otherwise. The car I was going to replace the Explorer with was a G35 sedan with a 6-speed which were hard to come by in 2009, so I needed to shake the Ford (which had been on Craigslist for over a month) quickly and dropped the price below the blue book value.
The Explorer was clean for being ten years old and was only showing about 90,000 miles at the time. It had never given me a single problem until about a month before posting it on Craigslist when the "check engine" light popped up due to a misfire. I work on my own cars, but couldn't figure it out after replacing the plug wires and coil pack, so I took it to a shop where the owner told me it was either as complicated as a head gasket, or as simple as a bad spark plug. He called me later and said they found it was the DPFE (emissions device) and that I could come pick up my fixed car. It stayed as my daily driver for a month after that point until someone finally emailed me about it.
A guy who lived about an hour south of me wanted to look at the Explorer, so I had a friend come over to my house that night to be on the safe side. The prospective buyer showed up after the sun had gone down, in the pouring rain and I could tell from what he was saying that he knew nothing about the mechanics of a vehicle, but really tried to act the part. He took it for a spin around the block while his girlfriend, my friend, and I waited in my living room. He came back and offered me less than I was asking, but I needed to sell the car so I could grab up that Infiniti and accepted. During this time, I had my paperwork laid out on my coffee table, which included a receipt from the recent DPFE repair, the title to the vehicle, and two copies of an "as-is" bill of sale for us each to sign and keep. My friend counted the buyer's $3,300 cash, confirmed it was all there, we each signed both copies of the bill of sale, and the title. He went on his way for me to never see him again... Or so I thought...
About a day and a half later, when I was at work, the buyer tried to call me and I didn't pick up because I wasn't in a place to do so. When I checked my email a little later, he had sent me a long, irritated ramble about how he was driving "my" car and it started skipping, choking, shaking, and running extremely rough. I sent him an email back and said it didn't make any sense to me because I had been driving it just fine for about a month before hand. A few hours later he sent another email saying how he had taken it to a shop, had all the fluids changed, new spark plugs, wires, and an overall tune up, but that didn't help. I politely told him that it was not doing that when I sold it to him and that the car was no longer mine because he bought it "as-is" and also signed a witnessed document saying the same thing, releasing my liability. He denied signing a bill of sale...
I called my lawyer and he told me to just stop responding to him because I had done everything right and followed procedure. The emails and constant phone calls continued and he told me to do the "right thing" and take the car back or reimburse him for the money he had spent on it so far, but I never responded to him. The thing is, I wasn't hiding anything from him because I showed him the receipt from the last repair which had fixed the only issue I ever had with the Explorer and I drove it long enough after that point to be assured the problem had been remedied. What he did to it after he left my house that night? I have no idea, so I wasn't about to take back a car that he could have had second thoughts about and tampered with, thinking I would take it back. Still the emails continued and he kept going on about "implied warranty" and all sorts of other jargon without speaking to a lawyer of his own. Eventually he left me alone. Until...
About three months later a letter came in the mail from the magistrate court in my county. He was suing me over the Explorer escapade. My attorney told me to stay calm because he wouldn't win the case.
This is where it gets good.
My witness and I headed to magistrate court without my lawyer (he had no reason to go, it was a shut case) and we waited in the court room for our turn. When we both stepped up to the bench, we were sworn in and then the judge asked the buyer what he was claiming against me because she didn't understand his paperwork (again, he didn't have a lawyer working with him). He looked at me and said "I'm suing him for fraud." The judge's eyes looked up from her paperwork and she said "Are you sure you aren't claiming 'damages'?" "No, I'm claiming FRAUD!" he said. She came back at him with: "Are you sure you want to do that?" to which he then said "Yes!". The judge sighed a little and said: "Fine, have it your way then. Fraud is a criminal charge and this is a small claims court. I am going to push your case to the Superior Court and someone from Atlanta will be contacting you to proceed with the case from there. Leave my courtroom." The expression fell off the buyer's face, his girlfriend and whom I assume was her father had to pick their jaws up off the floor. My friend and I scurried out of the building laughing and as we were leaving, saw the buyer and his two accomplices walking down the sidewalk, flailing their arms and screaming at each other. Surely it was over. There was no way this guy would push this petty case to Superior Court... I was wrong again...
About a month later I received a trial notice in the mail from the Fulton County Clerk of Superior Court in Atlanta. The buyer had followed through and still had no attorney as his listing was filed under "pro-se". I couldn't make the first court date, so I had my attorney send the buyer and the court itself a notice to have the trial moved out a week or two. Both of these documents were sent with a "return receipt" so the person who took delivery of the letters signed a post card attached to it, which the mail carrier then ripped off and mailed back to me, proving who had accepted it. I received another letter with a new trial date, which the buyer then moved out another few weeks himself (I think he was trying to play games) and then finally had my real and final trial date about a year after selling him the stupid Explorer. I sent my witness a subpoena to get him out of his college classes at Clemson for a few days and we set out to court.
The buyer still didn't have a lawyer of his own and my lawyer had decided to opt out of showing because he didn't feel the need to charge me for showing up at a petty case, so I filed as pro-se before stepping into the courtroom, no big deal.
The trial started and went exactly as I had thought and the buyer blamed me for selling him what he called a "fraudulent vehicle", he called his girlfriend to the witness stand who really had nothing to say to the point of the judge asking what the purpose of her being on the stand actually was and I could see his fuse getting increasingly shorter. The buyer had taken the Explorer to a Ford dealership and had them itemize everything which was not in new condition on the car and the "repair" total to bring it back to showroom condition was a hair over $10,000, which is the amount he was trying to push on me on top of the criminal charge. When it was my turn I did put the buyer on the witness stand and asked him about the "as-is" bill of sale he had signed, which he denied and said he wouldn't ever put his name on such a thing. Then I grabbed my copy of the bill of sale as well as the return receipt that he had signed when I changed the court date a few months before. I handed both of those documents to the judge so he could compare and he became even more angry and said "I'm no handwriting expert, but...please step down from the stand and take your seat."
The judge asked the buyer for a closing statement and he still denied signing the bill of sale, did everything short of cursing my name and then sat back down. But when the judge asked me for a final statement, I stood up about halfway and said "No, your honor, I'm just going to let this play out." and then sat back down. The judge told the buyer that he had no case, was well aware that the "as-is" bill of sale was legitimate, and it wouldn't matter anyway because the state of Georgia falls under the "buyer beware" rule. We were then angrily asked to leave the court room as the judge's face turned a nice red hue...
Don't believe me? Here is a screen shot of the details. If you really want to look it up, the whole thing is public record and posted online, which is where this came from, but I still did some smudging over the details because I'm not a jerk:
The moral of the story, kids, is that Craigslist is full of a bunch of bat-shit-crazy people who will spend thousands of dollars to make a fool out of themselves, so cover your back and take all necessary steps when you sell a car to anyone. Even the honest people get pulled through the mud sometimes.
Oh, and the Infiniti? I didn't get it anyway. I ended up buying this little gem instead:
Because sometimes I make weird decisions and buy cars on a whim, that's why...
If you think I'm an ass and should have just taken the car back, you may change your mind if you give my life blog a read.