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Buying a Vehicle on Craigslist – What You Need to Know

Buying a vehicle from a private seller on Craigslist can be a great way to save money. Craigslist is one of the top places to find vehicles sold by private owners, and a private owner’s used car can be much cheaper than a dealer’s used car.

Buying a Vehicle on Craigslist – What You Need to Know

Craigslist can be a great way to buy a vehicle. Follow these tips to ensure you have a good experience.

The trouble with Craigslist is that no one is monitoring anything. The only rule is “buyer beware.” Therefore, if you don’t want to be taken advantage of, you’ve got to follow some Craigslist-specific car buying tips.

Tip #1 – Private Sellers Will Scam You, So Watch Out

Car dealers often take a bad rap for scamming car buyers. While “stealerships” certainly still exist, the vast majority of dealers follow the letter of the law. In fact, you are far more likely to be scammed by a private seller than a dealer, as stated on USA.gov.

Many people object to the notion that dealerships are honest and or trustworthy, but it makes sense if you consider that :

  1. A dealer’s reputation is a BIG part of their business. Becoming known as a shady place to do business damages their reputation and causes them to lose future business.
  2. Most states have a team of regulators who inspect dealerships, respond to consumer complaints, etc.
  3. Most new car dealers are closely monitored by the manufacturer they represent.

Private sellers, on the other hand, have no reputation to protect. They can tell you all sorts of things that may be untrue. What’s more, private car sales are generally unregulated – states don’t require private sellers to disclose facts about a vehicle’s history, sign sworn statements, etc., because these regulations are often viewed by the public as onerous. Finally, outside of law enforcement (which often has more important things to do than worry about scammers on Craigslist), Craigslist is completely unregulated.

If you’re going to buy on Craigslist (or eBay), you’ve got to be careful.

Tip #2 – Meet Sellers In A Safe Place

After you’ve found a vehicle you want to look at up close, setup a meeting time/place that is well-lit and safe. Remember, this person is ultimately a stranger and you need to be aware of your surroundings.

It’s also a good idea to bring a “buddy” with you to the sale location. This person can give you some additional piece of mind, as well as help “get a read” on the seller. Finally, when it’s time for the test drive, you and your buddy and the seller can all go for a spin together.

Tip #3 – Get A Vehicle History Report

When you find a car you think is worth buying, make sure to ask the seller for a Carfax report. Some sellers will pull these reports before they list the car, and some won’t. If you’re serious about buying, you should invest in a report yourself.

NOTE: You can buy a CarFax report for any vehicle on the Carfax website, but there’s also something called an AutoCheck report which is essentially the same and a few dollars less. If you’re buying a report, you might go that route and save a few bucks.

If the report indicates the vehicle has been salvaged, is a manufacturer buy-back (aka lemon), has been in an accident, etc. make sure your negotiated price reflects these facts.

Tip #4 – Get An Inspection

Before you buy, hire a professional vehicle inspector (or trusted local mechanic) to go over the car.

Their inspection report will tell you:

  • The vehicle’s current maintenance needs (Does it need new brakes? New shocks? Etc.)
  • The vehicle’s problem areas (alternator is weak and may fail soon, bushings need replaced)
  • The vehicle’s history (It’s been hit on the right front, it’s been driven in a coastal climate, etc)

These details will help you negotiate a lower price and/or help you confirm what the seller has told you.

Additionally, some lenders will require an inspection of some kind before they will finance a vehicle purchased from a private party.

Tip #5 – Copy The Seller’s Photo Identification

Before you hand over your money, get a copy of the seller’s photo ID.

The reason? Some Craigslist scammers will “curb” a car that they never registered, pretending to be the person named on the title. This could be because they’re simply trying to avoid paying registration fees and taxes, or it could be because the title wasn’t obtained legitimately.

In order to protect yourself from this scam, you need proof that the person you’re buying from is named on the vehicle registration and/or title. Simply ask the seller for their photo ID, make a copy (or take a high-res photo with your phone), and then make sure everything matches.

If the seller refuses to provide ID – or if the name on the ID doesn’t match the vehicle title or registration – don’t buy the car.

What’s more, keep your copy of the seller’s ID in your records. On the off chance that the seller did something illegal, your copy can help the authorities.

Finally, these are just a few tips for anyone buying a car on Craigslist (or eBay). Be sure to take your time before buying and read the private party purchase advice on a few different websites. Good luck!

Written by Tim Esterdahl