I've been on a real tear lately buying used equipment off eBay. It got me thinking that the subject would make a great article for everyone. So here are my guidelines and tips for purchasing used car audio equipment through eBay and other internet auction sites.
What to Buy and What Not to Buy
Some pieces of equipment are safer to buy used than others. The equipment that is most likely to be in good condition is the equipment that doesn't have any moving parts. Amplifiers, crossovers, equalizers and other signal processors are good examples. Speakers are more prone to failure because they are constantly moving. As a general rule, the larger the speaker is the less likely you are to destroy it. Tweeters are very fragile while subwoofers are usually very sturdy.
Another thing you need to know is if the unit is compatible with the rest of your stereo system. Some systems require proprietary connections such as DIN plugs. If you have a brand X head unit then you're going to need a brand X CD changer (unless it is an FM modulated unit with an outboard controller). Even if the head unit and changer are from the same manufacturer they may not work together. Ask the manufacturer before you buy.
You can help protect yourself by reading the safety guidelines listed on the auction site. You can also pay using an escrow service or you can use a service such as PayPal that will also afford a certain level of coverage. Most auctions on eBay are required to accept PayPal. I always fund PayPal payments with a credit card too. Never pay cash.
Read Between the Lines
Some sellers will list their equipment with language that should make you wary. One of my favorites is "I don't know if this works". That may be true but always assume that the equipment doesn't work and bid accordingly. Check the terms of the auction for such terms as "all sales final", "sold as is" or anything else that the seller might say that will tip you off as to the real condition of the unit. Ask the seller questions about the history of the unit (where did they get it), if all of the parts are included (wiring harnesses, grills, etc.), how they will ship and how much shipping will be (you don't want any surprises here).
Language you want to see is "guaranteed to work", "no DOA" and "satisfaction guaranteed". Check the seller's feedback and see if they have a history of happy or unhappy buyers. The more positive feedback they have the more likely the sale will be a good experience. When in doubt about anything, ask. The sooner the better so the seller has time to answer your question before the auction ends. On eBay, even if the seller says "as is" or "no returns" they are still required to deliver the item in as described condition. It doesn't matter if they tell you "must be installed by a professional" or "you didn't pay for insurance" or some other nonsense. eBay and Paypal require that the item be delivered in working condition if they say it is in working condition.
The Car Audio Help DVD catalog includes five different videos covering many areas of car audio installation and custom fabrication. Topics range from basic system installation (head units, amplifiers, speakers, etc.) and mobile security (car alarms and remote start) to subwoofer box design and fiberglass fabrication. If you're interested in custom fabrication and car audio installation be sure to check out what we have to offer.