My Car Quest

September 29, 2023

Dubious Language In Car Advertisements and Auction Listings

by Mike Gulett –

Have you noticed how some on-line car advertisements and auction company car descriptions have evolved over recent years and are not quite right or at least are unusual?

They use strange phraseology and sometimes the words and descriptions can be misleading and the words and phrases used do not always help the reader better understand the condition and history of the car. They seem to be written to legally protect the seller (and auction company or dealer) rather than inform a potential buyer.

Road & Track Classified for the missing Iso A3/C race car

Road & Track Classified for an Iso Grifo A3/C race car

Here are some of my least favorite words and phrases (in bold) used in on-line car ads or auctions:

claimed to be highly original and believed to wear its factory paint.

reportedly – used to describe something that was done to the car like new paint or a restoration or a previous owner.

Why don’t they know what happened to the car? And if they don’t know why are they mentioning it? It is almost like sharing a rumor. This can create a perception in the mind of a buyer that may not be correct.

According to the seller – followed by a description or some history of the car.

I assume all the written details in the listing are according to the seller. Why mention it? I assume this is to protect the auction company or consigning dealer and to place the blame for any description problems on the seller.

The exterior is all in place and appears to be in good condition.

The exterior is either in good condition or not. Why say it “appears” to be in good condition?

All of the exterior lighting are said to work normally.

Who said this? Why don’t they actually know if the lights work properly?

We are pleased (or excited or some other adjective) to bring you this car for sale!

Honestly, I don’t care how excited the dealer is to offer this car for sale. I suggest they save the space and use it to provide information useful to a potential buyer.

Ferrari 250 GTO Road & Track Ad

Ferrari 250 GTO Road & Track Ad

Condition: Mint and followed by a description, which includes some defects.

The seller loses all credibility when the listing is written this way. A “mint” car should not have any defects worth mentioning. I suspect this is usually written by an individual seller with little experience selling on-line.

TMU (total miles unknown) – I know this is necessary sometimes but I have seen this on a one owner car and I wonder why the one owner cannot confirm the odometer reading. Maybe the odometer was broken for a while but the seller should state that indicating the time frame of the malfunction. This would help a potential buyer estimate the actual mileage.

One of a kind – this may be true or not but sometimes the unique features are not very significant – like the only color combination of a particular 1969 model sold new in Ohio.

The price is firm.

Is it really firm? This could convince potential buyers to not even make contact with the seller. I say the more interested buyers the better.

Serious buyers only.

This almost seems like an insult to potential buyers like their time is not as valuable as the seller’s time. I know some sellers have had experience with “tire kickers” but that is part of the process of selling a car.

Notice that old Road & Track classified ads use more straight forward language rather than these dubious terms.

I am sure I missed some – let me know if you can think of other words or phrases in car advertisements that annoy you.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Shelby Cobra Daytona Classified Ad In Road & Track

Shelby Cobra Daytona Classified Ad In Road & Track

Dubious Language In Car Advertisements and Auction Listings
Article Name
Dubious Language In Car Advertisements and Auction Listings
Sometimes on-line car listings can be misleading. They are written to legally protect the seller (and auction company or dealer) rather than inform a potential buyer.


  1. Someone had to mention the white elephant in the room…you nailed it and we all know who you might be referring to!! ZOOM ZOOM. In those cases the seller has little control over the ad content, its all written by folks that have a play book they copy from, and have never seen the car or reviewed the documents…

  2. The issue is simple: stating absolutes makes them more exposed to litigation. Often times, they simply do not know the car – either because they are a broker, not the owner or because they have only owned it for a short period of time or because they simply don’t have enough knowledge to make a definitive statement about the car. So, they’re simply repeating what the owner or previous owner said. Also, certain words or phrases mean different things to different people. Concours condition, for example, has a different meaning at your local cars and coffee event that it does at Pebble Beach. Another example, “total engine rebuild“ could be interpreted differently by different people; for some it means a $20,000 replacement of every internal component, while for others it may mean a substantially less comprehensive freshening up of the seals…

    Similarly, the “pedigree” that, until recently, Porsche provided (for a fee) to owners of older Porsches was called a Certificate of Authenticity (“COA”). Well, apparently the lawyers have gotten into this, as well, as the COA has been replaced by a new document called the Porsche Production Specification (PPS) probably because someone decided that with the old document, Porsche was making what could be construed as a legal representation (and thereby unwittingly incurring legal liability) by certifying as to the “authenticity “ of a specific car, when in reality, the COA simply enumerated the specifications it had when it left the factory. So, they changed the name from COA to the more accurate moniker, PPS, to avoid potential liability from someone alleging that they relied on Porsche’s “certification”.

  3. When looking through used car ads the two that get me are:
    Cars with rebuilt or salvage titles seem to most times only have sustained minor damage.
    Cars with high mileage are almost exclusively said to be highway miles.

  4. Wallace Wyss says

    The one I noticed lately is the contrast between two auction companies advertising the same car at different times. When RM was selling the DeTomaso 70P can am car they said the body was found in pieces. When Mecum was selling in in Jan. 2021 in Scottsdale they made no mention it was found as body panels or who found it, as it turns out a notorious name in barn finding. So I find it sad that the history can’t be kept from auction to auction and added to instead it’s rewritten with an eye toward protecting themselves.

  5. John T Poparad II says

    In any auction, the only thing sure is that t5he auction house will be paid!!! This is purest Buyer beware game.

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