buy a car on craigslist

How to Buy a Car on Craigslist and Not Get Scammed

About 40 million used cars are bought and sold every year in the US. There are lots of channels to use, from buying at licensed used auto sellers to writing a check to a cousin or sibling. One of the most consistent choices for the last 20 years has been to buy a car on Craigslist.


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Buying a car on Craigslist might sound like a strange proposition but for people who are looking for a deal, there’s no wrong place to search. With so many millions of cars for sale at any given point, sellers will sometimes use the fastest channel they can to get it over with.

If you’re looking to buy a car on Craigslist, here are 5 of the top things to consider to protect yourself and get a great deal.

1. Narrow It Down

Depending on what kind of buyer you are, you might feel comfortable with a fixer-upper that needs some work. That might even be what you’re looking for.

For non-mechanics, there are listings that offer a warranty, certified pre-ownership, and service when sold by a registered dealer. This can be a little more expensive. If you want to start looking at those options, click for more details on what kind of lease and finance deals you could get.

Get an idea of what the exact vehicle you want is and how much you’re willing to pay for it. Your ideal car might be out of your reach, so you might have to leave a few options open.

2. Get A Sense Of The Seller

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but you can tell a little something about the seller by how they compose their listing. If it’s barely legible, you might have a tough time communicating and asking important questions about the car.

If they have enough information after a couple of emails, you can even google them to double check who they are. If you see a few too many bad photos, you might not be looking at a good deal.

If you don’t feel comfortable, there are lots of options besides Craigslist.

3. Start With A Call

Be sure you make a list of questions to ask about the car. Ask about mileage, service records, tire replacements, any extra components, and how many owners it’s had. You’ll have your own questions too so don’t be afraid to ask.

If your seller is happy to answer your questions, you’re in luck. If they seem kind of sketchy or unwilling to answer, you might end up stuck with a lemon.

4. Meet On Common Ground

If you’re buying a running car, which is, of course, ideal, meet up during the day at a local cafe, diner, or auto parts store. The bonus to the auto parts store is that if there’s some small missing part like a headlamp, you can pick one up and make sure the problem was the bulb.

Just like any kind of deal like this, be sure there’s foot traffic and potential witnesses in case anything shady happens.

5. Get It Inspected

If the car you’re looking at is over 10 years old and just a couple thousand dollars, surface rust shouldn’t be your issue. Take it for a quick drive for a few miles and be sure that the car isn’t too creaky, the accelerator and brakes work well, and it doesn’t click on turns.

If you’re picking out something newer for your family, you might want to arrange to have it inspected by your favorite mechanic. The seller shouldn’t have a problem.

Buy A Car On Craigslist, Get A Deal

Because there are no extra fees that a seller has to account for, you can be guaranteed a low price. And since most craigslist purchases are done for low-priced vehicles, there shouldn’t be any major tax issues to worry about.

If you’re looking for parts for your car, check out our guide for finding car parts online.