The Tale Of An Online Deal Gone Bad

Jim McGuire is someone I’ve known for a while through social media and from comments on SU. For as long as I can remember, he has been talking about his dream car, a 2008 9-3 and it HAD to be Laser Red.

Through his endless searching, he finally found one and we had planned for him to write about his fantastic adventure. He was beyond excited and started posting on Facebook about his upcoming travel to pick up his dream car and putting up photos like the one below from Turbo Nines with text that just said simply “soon baby soon”.


Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out so well on this big adventure. In my eyes Jim did everything right, he contacted Saab friends in dealerships and found out the history of this vehicle with tools such as Carfax.

Even when doing things right, there is nothing like touching said car and seeing it in real life for yourself. For Jim, that meant a flight and an hour long drive to the dealer from the airport.

Some dealers purposely oversell a vehicle and some give you the honest facts. I have a sales person who works with me that received an out of town call the other day and the guy on the other end asked what he would rate it out of 10?

To me this vehicle was at least an 8 out of ten but my salesman told the person on the other end that it was a 6 out of 10. When the customer arrived, he bought the vehicle on the spot and thank the salesman for not over selling the vehicle as he had been to a few other dealers that day that had. The problem with a salesman’s word is that he may truly believe he has a 10 out of 10 vehicle but to you it may be a 6, we all have our own way of gauging this though as I said, Jim really seamed to take every precaution that I myself would have. So here is Jim’s story.

Three years ago I began my search for a 2008 9-3 Aero in Laser Red. My preference was red with parchment interior, transmission was negotiable but it had to fall into the right price for the condition.  I looked locally but never  seemed to locate one so I expanded the search regionally.

I finally came across what I was looking for at a Buick/GMC/Caddy dealer in Indiana. The mileage was more than I wanted it to be but from the pictures it looked like a winner! I contacted a friend who assisted me in having its warranty work (IRIS) report looked at. Between this and the Carfax the Aero got two thumbs up! Next I contacted the dealership who offered it for sale and the salesperson was more than accommodating in sending me many pictures and answered all my questions truthfully, so I thought.

I had asked the salesman to give the car a very thorough look as this was not only a car I desired but a early retirement gift to myself. This coming August I will hit my 20 years mark in the military and while some people go for a Harley-Davidson or BMW, I only wanted a 5 year old Saab.

After some discussions and many questions I placed a deposit on the car and made arrangements to fly out and drive it home. In the mean time I prepped my 2007 Aero for sale in order to make room for the new arrival. While I was getting details ironed out with a potential buyer I was both excited and fearful of selling this car. This was a great and reliable Aero and I would be buying one which would need to prove itself to me.

Once the deal to sell the 2007 was done and the car was gone, I became very excited! This is when the emotions for the car began to override the logic. Little over a week later, the day arrived.

After very little sleep I woke at 0300 and boarded the 0545 flight out of Philadelphia headed towards Indianapolis, Indiana. The dealership had a car and driver waiting for me when I arrived and we made the hour long trip to Kokomo. As soon as we pulled in, I saw it there, all shiny and glistening in the 11 o’clock sunshine.  I was so happy to have finally made it to the car I have been looking for. Sadly, it didn’t take long before this day would turn into a nightmare. My  “Magic Carpet Ride” turned into “Highway to Hell”.

As I walked around the car little things began to surface and bother me. I noticed that the rear passenger side bumper had been impacted at the corner. It had been pushed in and then pushed back out, leaving some creased paint and warped bumper.  We haggled the price down a bit, or as he said ” the very best price” to help offset the damage.

I was still disappointed that the salesperson missed this. The passenger side seat has a very small slice in the cushion as well. Small but I noticed it right away. Funny how the salesman didn’t. The brakes looked questionable as the rear rotors were scored rather deep and the pads were thin. The front rotors were just resurfaced but these pads looked thin as well.

Wrapped up in the high emotion of it all and suffering from lack of sleep I chose to ignore the gremlins as we went for a test drive. The car was smooth, plenty powerful but the road noise was terrible. I chalked this up to rough pavement but something inside said to me it was more than that. The interior had a rather offensive pineapple / coconut aroma. Sure it’s a small detail but it bothered me. The scent was very powerful as if it was there to cover another smell.

When we returned I began to work through the SID and noticed the settings were all at default. To further raise my suspicions, the MPG was at 9.2 or so and the service indicator was —, everything pointed to a battery disconnect or a system reset. Another small detail was the windscreen had a service decal for the oil change. This showed that the 9-3 was just serviced but with 5w30 synthetic not 0W40 as specified. All of these details concerned me but yet I still charged on blindly, letting emotions win the game. I kept telling myself “ just fix it later, Red is so hard to find”.  These “fix it later” items were adding up to a total cost far exceeding the value of the car.

I bought the car, signed all the documents but was still not as happy as I should have been. It was around 1 o’clock when “Christine” and I pulled out onto the road to begin the 415 mile trek towards Pittsburgh PA. I would spend a few days with my parents before finishing the journey towards Philadelphia.

Two Christine’s

7.6 miles into my trip.. RED ALERT!!!  SID indication!!! “TPMS system failure, contact service.”  My heart sank. I knew it could just be a TPMS sensor but this was the final gremlin to bite me. I spun the car around and drove it right back to the dealership.  Once in the service bay the adviser came out and we discussed the SID notice and the road noise issue.

A failure of MY part during the walk around was to actually look at the tire tread when all I did was a reach and feel. I had asked the dealer beforehand if the tires were good, naturally he said yes and like a fool I trusted it.  The service adviser said that the tires were severely cupped and should be replaced. Needless to say at this point my blood began to boil.  My anger was not only at the salesman, but at myself.

I was mad because I knew my desire to own this Red Aero had got me into a pretty good jam. I asked to have the sales manager involved and explained the whole situation. At first they offered two new tires if id pay for the second two. I rejected that offer and they came back saying they would replace all four. By this time I had a pounding headache from everything and walked outside.  I had made a few phone calls to friends and family looking for advice but in my heart I already knew what to do.

I walked back inside and calmly ran down the list of things that were not disclosed prior to my arrival. I further explained that the deal, the whole car buying experience was ruined and nothing could make it right. I expressed with great disgust that I no longer wanted the car. Surprisingly and without much protest they agreed to a full refund. It took around an hour and a half of calling my bank to cancel the loan and to deal with title issues since I just signed for the car.

Once all of this was done and I had all of my money back I began to look for flights back home to Philly. It was already close to 4 pm and in horror I saw the cost was close to $800 and that was if I could get a flight in time for that night.  The pounding headache just kept thumping and thumping and I was not thinking clearly. My phone buzzed and like a gift from the heavens I received a text which suggested to get a rental car and salvage the trip as best I could. This was a excellent idea!!! One phone call later I was on my way to the local rental place and for less than $400 I would drive off heading east in a 2012 Volkswagen Beetle.  Road food, coffee and some tunes from my MP3 player kept me trucking on into the night. After 19 hours of flying, buying, getting rid of and driving, I finally arrived at my parents house exhausted but confident I made the right choice.

Jim recreating a classic Saab shot with a 2012 Beetle
Jim recreating a classic Saab shot with a 2012 Beetle that may as well been on its roof….

While this was a hard pill to swallow it did teach me a very valuable lesson to not let emotion take the place of logic. Before I signed the papers and handed over the check, something was pulling me away but I chose to ignore all of the warning signs.  I was in deep, I was already there and didn’t really make a solid back up plan to come home.

Pictures, CarFax and what appears to be a good salesman paint a nice picture, but unless you’re there to see it in person, buyer beware. I’m not bashing all salespeople but long distance buyers have a unique risk and many more details need to be looked into before starting the journey towards your “new to me” Saab.

Now as they say, STUFF happens but really Jim had done all he could short of touching the car himself and as a dealer we have all had unexpected things happen. My suggestion to anyone looking to buy out of town is to have someone check it for you or check it yourself if possible but when not possible, you truly are relying on someones word and their thought of what is a clean car. So as Jim says it is a buyer beware. To dealers out there, when someone is from out of town don’t ever oversell thinking they will just take it because they have travelled so far, it doesn’t happen like that. The dealer didn’t know that Jim had family out there but he does and I can bet that they won’t be buying from them which in the end is a reflection on that dealer.

I teased Jim constantly about his misadventure and will probably continue with that as that is what friends do but I really feel your pain and frustration here especially after selling your perfectly good Saab you had at home. Thankfully he still has an 06 combi at home.

38 thoughts on “The Tale Of An Online Deal Gone Bad”

  1. It is a sad tale but there’s nothing wrong with buying on line, sight unseen subject to viewing. I’ve sold lots of cars this way and yet to have an unhappy client, you just have to pick the right dealer, and hope the consultant is a winner not a wiener. Of course, with the subject to viewing clause you are covered and you can make an educated decision at that time.

    • Totally agree and have sold countless vehicles this way ourselves but the problem for the buyer is to find people like ourselves who will give honest answers. In my mind Jim did all he could, problem was he got as you say, a wiener. The point isn’t so much that online buying is bad, just that you still need to be careful. I am positive this would not have happened had Julie had found the car for him or if he lived in Canada and I had found it.

    • Sorry to hear about this. But I agree with some of the posters here that buying online can work out ok. I bought a 91 Monte Carlo Yellow 900 Convt. special edition from a guy in NYC in 2000, and have had it ever since, now nearing 300,000 miles. My son and I flew there and drove it back (1200 miles). Yes, you never know till you get there and see and drive it, but buying from an individual probably is the better deal. I hope he finds another one soon. Check on Saabnet!


  2. I found my 9-5 Anni on line and bought a one way train ticket. Seven hours later I was driving her away. But I had purchased her from a dealer who loved Saab so was quietly confident.

  3. I’m just happy to hear that he did the right thing and demanded a full refund, minus travel costs-of course. When your in that situation, it’s very easy to let emotions take over. Don’t let that happen; you will regret it in the end.

    • The travel costs have been absorbed by staying here longer with my parents… something I cant put a price on. Thanks Jason for the constant abuse… Its appreciated 🙂 Also a special thanks to Julie who took time to help me through this process with information she provided. I have some really great Saab friends and i appreciate all of you.

      • There you go again whining about being abused lol, hope people take note of you little smilie which shows you’re clearly kidding. When you’re ready to search again I’m sure between the three of us we’ll be able to get it done. Just glad your parents were near by and you could turn it into a good trip still.

  4. I bought 5 of my last Saabs over the phone or online, none were closer than 150 miles from my home. Including my Turbo X which I bought in 2010. All but one were perfectly fine. The one that wasn’t perfect was a 2000 93 (which for some reason had some uncommon issues wrong with it) was traded back to the same dealer 4 months later for a 2001 93SE, which was perfect. Find a Saab loving dealer and you should find your dream car.

  5. I bought my girlfriend a 2003 convertible in cosmic blue, sight unseen, and my goodness what an adventure. Car arrived to us fairly simply, but with a number of decent dents that I hadn’t anticipated, which was the least of the problems. The vehicle had an aftermarket ground cable which had no continuity to the chassis and needed to be replaced. The vehicle had issues starting, and the issues are continuing, so I’ve tested and decided the check valves in the fuel pump have gone out. Lots of added expense, but my girlfriend is doing a lot of the work with my guidance, and truth be told it’s giving her a great appreciation for cars and it’s making her respect and love it. Plus, I can’t help but feel like if we hadn’t gotten it the next owner would have driven it into the ground, so I’m quite proud we’ve taken this bargain priced wounded Saab and are nursing it back to health!

  6. From experience I know to never trust car salespeople; they just wanna sell you the vehicle asap and for the highest price. I’d much rather talk to the (generaly more honest) mechanics that know the vehicle and worked on it.

    When buying a used car I never ever demand a certain color; technical specs, automatic instead of manual, maintenance etc are more important.

    400 USD for a carrental..!!? Is that for 2 weeks or did you rent a Jaguar XK-8…!? 😉

    • Saying you know to never trust a salesman is not a fair statement. Saying you never trust a salesman is better because that is just the way you feel. To say you know means that all of us are the same and are out to screw people which simply is not true. I have worked as a salesman and now a sales manager and I chose the dealer I work for because we will not sell crap and I can stand behind our product and remain honest in what I do. We go above and beyond expectations everyday. We also don’t over inflate prices either and are always lower list price then the dealers around us. We provide a CarProof History report that is like the CarFax yet I find it to be more complete when I have compared the two. Not every dealer or salesman is like you say here.

    • “From experience I know to never trust car salespeople; they just wanna sell you the vehicle asap and for the highest price.”

      That’s a bit harsh – there are those out there that actually care about cars and there customer. The difference in commission between 2k gross and 4k gross is so small that I couldn’t care less, so if I like the customer I’ll just help them out. Some of us really do things for people we like … buyer attitude counts for a lot.

      • Everyone seems to be forgetting that a used car is just that, a used car. Not to mention it’s a car, the object you own that is subjected to the most harsh conditions. Most people’s cars sit outside rain, snow, or sun. Those are very harsh conditions, and even a well maintained car has serviceable parts that fail at certain points. If you buy a car with 50,000 miles and a part breaks after you’ve owned it a month and feel ripped off that’s unrealistic, vehicles are made of thousands of parts and they can and do fail.

  7. Very depressing tale—-but frankly, the right decision was made. Jim came dangerously close to being saddled with a lemon—-a car that was perhaps flood/water damaged or something else. Better to walk away, even after the long journey—then to be stuck. Reading it, I felt like it was me driving the car a few miles and having the warning lights come on. My heart sank just thinking about it. My suggestion—-is that Jim should find the exact Saab he wants at a good price (regardless of color). Work a great deal—-then go to a highly regarded paint shop and have the car stripped down to bare metal—-primered and repainted in the exact red he wants, with the highest quality paint, including a clearcoat finish. Would that hurt resale value? Who cares? Resale value is already in the tank and presumably, Jim will be keeping the car and driving the value out of it anyway. He’d have a car with a showroom new, beautiful, deep red finish on it. By the way, I bought my 1979 Monza on E-Bay a few years ago—-still have it and still love it. The seller was very honest and the car, if anything, was nicer than he described. I bought it without seeing it or driving it—-and had it trucked hundreds of miles to my house. It’s worked out well.

      • My first car, when I was 16 years old, was a new H-Body (1979 Monza Hatchback, dark blue metallic). I had that car over 9 years, traded it in for a new 1988 Peugeot 505. Just a few weeks after getting rid of the Monza, I started to regret the decision. I should have kept it and just bought the Peugeot and had two cars. But I guess I wasn’t at a point in my life where that was practical. Anyway, in 2009—–I saw on E-Bay, needing work but all there—-another dark blue metallic ’79 Monza 2+2 Hatchback. This one is actually nicer than the one I had. My “new” one has a V8 instead of a V6. It’s also the sportier model, with dual rectangular headlights instead of single round ones. This was the higher end Monza back in ’79! Mechanically, it’s been fantastic. I needed to get it repainted and a few little things—-but other than that, it’s been great.

  8. I bought my ’01 9-5 (2.3 T SE) from France in 2007 (1,500 miles away) online, and I went there to pick it up.
    When I got back to Romania, after a couple of days, the gearbox (auto) was completely shot, and I was desperate. I bought a refurbished one on eBay from England (150 pounds) and 6 years later it hasn’t made any problems whatsoever.
    I’m still in love with my Saab to this day.
    As soon as i got home i changed the oil & filters, the brakes and refilled the A/C. One month later changed the timing belt also.
    I’ve been buying and selling cars from 2004, and I’ve learned that, no matter how honest the seller sounds, I better trust my experience and treat the car like it was absolutely unknown. I always change brakes, oil, oil filters, timing belts, etc on every car I buy.

    • Very true. When I buy a car (which I’ve bought or helped buy 5 in the last 2 years) I tell them to tack on an extra 1000 dollars for all fluids, brakes, and tires. I rather buy a 7,000 dollar car and expect it to be 8,000 than be angry I need new rotors. Also like with your transmission or my girlfriend’s fuel pump, it’s just luck of the draw sometimes…

  9. I’m just glad Jim didn’t get stuck with the car, period. So all in all it was a happy ending, so to speak, and I guess all that was experienced will contribute to a better car-buying experience next time (knock on wood).

    We’ll keep an eye out for a red 2008 9-3 for ya, Jim !!

  10. very fortunately I trust the good people at Reinertsen in Denville, NJ (now Morris County fiat) – my 9.5 is great! However, I bought it knowing it was many years old, and I worry as to what’s next? I just hope Nevs means it when they say Saab will return, but it can’t be a total electric car.

  11. What are the odds that I find this article? I’ve been talking to this VERY dealership about purchasing this VERY car. I’m in Kansas City, but I’ll be in Chicago this weekend. They’ve been very vague with questions I ask them regarding pricing on the car and how to move forward. Now I know why the car is no longer listed on their website or Autotrader, although they still have it on their lot.

    The salesman told me it only needed a TPMS and one new tire. He said the paint is in excellent condition, and the interior is flawless. I noticed on Saturday that one of the pictures the salesman sent me shows a very clear and very large marring on the front bumper.

    Jim, I owe you a beer for saving me an extra day of PTO, hotel expenses, and 4-hours of out-of-our-way traveling to Kokomo.

    Not all is lost, though, as I’ve found a nicer, cleaner, and lower-mileage 9-3 Aero that I’m going to try to buy this week. The pictures on this car are very clear, from every angle imaginable, and I intended to have a family member in the area look at it before I commit.

    My first car at 16 was a 900 S, second was a 9000 Turbo when I was 17, and now a 9-3 at 32. My father had a 900. My sister had a 900. My grandfather had a 96. Saabs run in my blood!


  12. Kevin, Im glad you had the chance to see it all here first! I knew of the front bumper issue and was ok with that.. Its all the other little things that added up to walking away. The Interior, um, not so nice with the small slice in the passenger seat and chipped climate control panel. Tires.. I saw them all for myself, all heavily worn on the insides…

    I prefer Weihenstephan Hefeweiss, or Long Trail Beer , thanks 🙂

  13. I should further say that perhaps i expected too much from a 5 year old car with 68k miles on it. not everyone takes such car of cars as i do. Also, we Saab people tend to be very particular with our cars. Im not cutting the dealer any slack but i do admit to being very picky.

  14. When you decide buy a used car, take your time and never make a final decision in the moment when your head is hot or emotional oriented,
    I recomend to be relax and cold head, when I bought my 9-3 Vector, turbo, black color, two years ago , I found serveral details, rear bumper impact, lack of slip spoiler, etc, etc.
    Unfortunately the deal was done…

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