Between competition and legislation, used car dealers are generally operating with better integrity than ever. It’s still open season for private party used car sales, though, and Craigslist is a popular source to either get a deal or get fleeced. Buying a used car on Craigslist means you won’t get emails from a Nigerian prince eagerly looking for a good used minivan to ship overseas, but there are still equally bad scams to look out for. Here are three to heed.
Hidden damage. A used car can be tarted up with just enough quick fixes and half-hearted repair work to be presentable at first glance. Even a short test drive and peek under the hood might not reveal anything untoward. No matter how solid the car seems, have a qualified technician perform a pre-purchase inspection. A little time and money spent can save you from a scam costing thousands in the long run.
Title/registration issues. Maybe the car checks out fine with your technician. You still need to look out for another possible scam surrounding the car’s title. Before you transact, inspect the title and registration to ensure everything matches. That should include not only the vehicle identification number (VIN), but also the plate number, owner and address.
Look too for any notes of salvage or rebuild branding, as well as existence of any liens. The latter could be answered with the existence of a physical title in the first place, since several states do not issue owners a copy of the title until the loan is paid off.
Phantom ads. Not necessarily posts for Rolls-Royces—but if so, they would be offered for less than the original gas guzzler tax. This is the worst kind of scam because it’s for a car that doesn’t exist...at least not locally.
A scammer gleans a used car’s photos and details like the VIN from an existing ad in another city, then reposts in another market as their own. The schtick usually goes that the owner is headed overseas for deployment/school/work. Or their work has furnished a company car. Or the car was inherited, whatever. They need to sell it in a hurry, so the asking price is a fraction of its value. They’ll even help with delivery. How convenient, right?
But in order to facilitate a quick transaction and keep you from losing the car, you have to send them money upfront. In short, don’t. Any “local” ad on Craigslist that doesn’t allow you to see and drive the car first is definitely not one you should buy. Your money will vanish and recovery odds are basically hopeless.
Bottom line, Craigslist can be a great resource to buy decent used cars at reasonable prices from legitimate sellers. But you have to look out for scams. Following these tips plus the detailed information and links on Craigslist itself can help you avoid becoming a victim.