How To Buy A Used Car On Craigslist

2007 Chevrolet Impala used car

The free posting phenom that is Craigslist helps millions find and sell millions of…things.  Whatever it is you seek, the website has a reputation for the odds being good, and in some cases, the goods being odd.  On the more wholesome side, cars are hugely popular items.  Here are some things to know when you set out to buy a used car on Craigslist.

Read between the lines.  Like open mic nights, Craigslist ads can ramble on, and they rarely understate the car.  At least it’s a chance to learn a little more about it and potentially why it’s for sale.  There are plenty of legit used cars and sellers on the site, but unfortunately it’s a place where scammers and tainted vehicles abound as well.  Be on your guard.

Ask for the VIN.  When you first make contact with the seller by email, text or phone, try to get the car’s vehicle identification number, its VIN, as early on as you can.  That will give you a chance to run an online vehicle history report before you even make plans to see the car.  If the seller is hesitant, don’t necessarily consider it a deal-breaker, but do make note of it as soon as you see the car in person.

Multiple postings.  There are rules against over posting on Craigslist, but there are ways around it.  Run a specific search to tell whether your car of interest has cloned ads from successive days.  You might just see the price coming down little by little.  As a note of caution, if the same car shows up under different cities’ listings with different contact information, that could be a red flag.

Bring backup.  This isn’t meant to sound like a scare tactic, but some ads simply exist to lure people in for purposes other than car selling.  If you have any doubts at all, make it known to others where and when you’ll meet with the seller, and don’t be afraid to bring a friend along to keep you company.

Meet in a public place.  Again, not trying to stir the pot, but how often would you otherwise meet a stranger alone in a remote and unfamiliar location?  It’s something to consider.  By the same token, don’t have the seller swing by your home or work to show you the car.  Pick another public place, and use it as an excuse to grab coffee while you discuss the car.

Get it inspected.  If the car passes visual muster and test drives well, arrange for a technician of your choosing to perform a pre-purchase inspection.  We advise this for any used car deal, but it’s even more critical here since private parties aren’t held to the same disclosure rules as dealers.

Check the title.  Assuming everything else checks out, check out the physical copy of the title.  Not only should the VIN be identical, it should also be free of any liens and not indicate salvage history or other blemishes (unless that was already discussed).

Check the seller.  Just as the VIN should match, the seller’s name should also.  It’s okay to ask for a peek at the seller’s ID.  If you get a story about him selling the car for someone else, don’t pay dollar one until you meet that someone else.

Careful with cash.  In a perfect world, buying a used car is a no rough stuff type deal, but if someone posts a Craigslist ad just to bring cash-carrying people to them, things can get sideways.  As with any situation, be careful with substantial cash on you, and consider using a cashier’s check if you decide to buy.


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