but I do bid at the last minute...plain silly to pay more for something than you have to
Wrinx, you won't be paying more if you bid earlier! That was the point I made at the start. eBay bids for you and only as far as needed to take the current highest price. If you bid £100 for something at the start with an opening price of £1, you will be initially bidding only £1, not £100. And, if someone else bids £20, your bid will go up to £21, not £100. It makes no difference whether you're placing that bid early or late - you will only be beaten by someone offering more. At the end of the day, if someone else is willing to pay £120 for the same item, they will beat you whether they bid early or late...
I've bought and sold more than 1000 items on eBay and only had a handful of problems. Having said that, I think there are far fewer bargains to be had these days, simply because the eBay audience is now so massive. There's always someone willing to bid against you whereas, in the early days, you'd often get something unopposed.
I've also noticed plenty of sellers registering other accounts - or getting help from a friend - so that, if the price is not what they are happy with, it can be artificially boosted. Then, with a lot of car sellers, they'll advertise it as no reserve and start the bidding low but, if it doesn't go as high as they want, they'll just remove the listing and say it's no longer available.