How to Buy and Sell on Craigslist Cars for Sale

by TheCraigslistWhiz

Ultimate Wizzley article on how to buy and sell on Craigslist cars for sale.

The Internet Has Become a Convenient Place to Shop for Cars

Now Introducting Craigslist - Have you heard of it?

There are several options when looking to purchase a car, especially a used car. There are the major dealerships, small used car lots, want ads, signs placed in the back windows of cars passing by or parked on the corners, signs tacked up on grocery store bulletin boards and auto trading magazines just to name a few. Since internet is so popular, that is yet another notable option to try.  There are many benefits for shopping for cars online, not only can you find cars for sale, but you can also perform car research, such as checking the Blue Book value, and checking on whether the car has been salvaged. 

Lastly, it's easier to compare a particular model to other similar models.   With this in mind, I want to introduce to you Craigslist is an online advertising service available throughout all the United States that is free for both the advertiser and the buyer. Craigslist services not only every state but also specific towns within many states. This service is for selling cars, but also for selling everything from services, appliances, clothing, free items, and a myriad of other items.

Craigslist has increasingly become more popular over the past few years for used car purchases as more and more people become aware of how easy it is to purchase a car on the internet. 

When looking for a used car, whether you will be going to a dealership, small used car lot or to a private party, make sure you do some research on the vehicle you are going to check out before you go, unless you are going to a dealership and do not have a specific vehicle in mind. Look up the Blue Book value, both high and low estimates. Contact the seller and ask any questions you may have before going to look at the car. That will give you more information to put into figuring out the true value of the vehicle.

Craigslist cars can be sold from private parties, dealerships, or used car lots. Many dealerships and car lots are constantly submitting every car they have on their lot so it is nice to be able to call up only private party sellers. Usually, these will be priced much lower due to the fact that you will not be dealing with a middleman. However, if you feel more comfortable dealing through a dealer, unless you are really financially strapped, you are much better off going through a well-known car dealer than a small used car lot. The reason for this is that the small lots tend to get the rejected used cars that the big dealerships do not want. This means you will probably be spending less initially but much more down the road due to the fact that these cars are requiring more maintenance than the large dealerships were willing to put in before putting the vehicle on their lot.

Follow These 3 Tips for a Successful Shopping Experience

Tip 1 - Ask for Pictures

When looking for cars that are sold on Craigslist, you can often find incredible deals, nearly new and older vehicles with very few miles on them. Many cars are sold this way after an older family member can no longer drive and you may truly find a vehicle in perfect condition that was only driven on Sundays to go to church. When looking at Craigslist cars for sale by owner, you should request, if they are not already included in the ad, as many photos as possible from every angle, including the engine and the trunk. Most people that have nothing to hide will automatically include numerous photos in their Craigslist listing. Do this before going to see the vehicle because the pictures alone may save you a lot of time and gas.  You cannot tell everything from a photo, but you can usually tell enough to let you know if it is worth the trip.

Tip 2 - Take the Car to a Mechanic

If you go to check out the car in person, which you always should do, make sure to take it for a test drive and also ask if you can take it to a mechanic to have it checked out. That may cost you a little, but it may save you a lot of money in the long run if the mechanic finds something wrong that will be costly to repair.  The owner will probably want to ride along with you to the mechanic, since he or she still owns the car. If the mechanic gives the thumbs up, this will make the buyer feel more confident in the purchase. Be aware, that when buying a vehicle through a private party, there will be no warranty. That is why taking it to a mechanic for their opinion is of utmost importance.

Tip 3 - Negotiate

Usually private owners selling their vehicles on Craigslist expect and will receive more money this way than they would by trading it in at a dealership. They can split the difference of what the car would be sold at a dealership and what they would be offered to trade their vehicle in at a dealership. This way both the buyer and seller can come out money ahead. The dealerships offer considerably less on trade-ins than they will eventually sell it for. They have to make money on it somehow. So if a used car is worth $10,000 Blue Book value, a car dealer will usually offer the seller approximately $5,000. The dealers will then turn around and sell it for $10,000. So the private party could ask $7,500 on Craigslist, and get an additional $2,500 and the buyer would spend $2,500 less than buying the exact same car at a dealership. It’s a win-win situation for both. Most sellers would ask $8,000 in the initial Craigslist ad, in order to leave a little wiggle-room for negotiations. The buyer could then offer $7,500 (what the seller actually is willing to sell it for), and when the seller agrees, the buyer feels like they got an even better deal.

Simple Tips to Secure a Safe and Successful Transaction

Never Receive a Money Order or Check

When selling a used car on Craigslist, make sure you receive cash or a bank check from the seller. Most people will need to go to a bank for a loan anyhow and for the title transfer, so getting a bank check is the best. Never, ever take a personal check from anyone when selling a car or anything else for that matter on Craigslist or elsewhere. That cannot be emphasized enough. So, to repeat, never accept a personal check for a Craigslist sale! Unfortunately, for the seller, if given a check, most banks require a waiting period before you will have access to that money. So, if you need the money immediately, when at the bank where the loan is made or the title is taken care of, have them cash the check for you. That will avoid the waiting time. Never fall for the scam that someone wants your vehicle and they are willing to buy it sight unseen for the asking price. They say they will be sending a car hauler and the driver will be giving you a money order when they arrive. Do not accept this! Only deal with people face-to-face when making sales on Craigslist. On the whole, sellers on Craigslist on very safe and honest, but unfortunately it is the few scammers that ruin it for others.

Meet in a Public Location

Craigslist has had some bad press in the past because of scams and other more serious problems. There have been instances of Craigslist potential buyers going over to a home and ending up scoping out the house and belongings and going back later to burglarizing the place. There have even been shootings involved. Because of this, it is not surprising that many people want to meet at a busy parking lot and not at their own home to show off a car and even other items. To be on the safe side, never be alone when someone unknown to you is coming to look at your vehicle.

List Your Car as a Private Seller

Craigslist used cars from dealerships will more than likely be more expensive than Craigslist used cars for sale by owner. They will only sell cars they feel are good enough looks and maintenance-wise for resale. The others that are all dented up or those that need more repairs that are not cost effective are taken to auctions. The cars that they keep for resale are sent to their maintenance department for a thorough check and cleaning before being put out on their used car lot. Sometimes they come with a short warranty and others are sold as is. Their good name and reputation is dependent on the quality of the cars they sell, whether new or used. A happy buyer is the best type of advertisement for a company. An unhappy buyer is the worse type of advertisement and tends to spread faster than the happy buyer support.

The small used car lots usually get the cars the big car dealerships will not accept or vehicles they buy for next to nothing at the car auctions. They usually do not do any maintenance on the vehicle, including cleaning. The cars are sold as-is. They are cheaper than dealerships for a reason. Their cars more than likely need a lot of repair work and they usually have body damage and nearly bald tires. You will probably regret a purchase from these sellers within a month, if not sooner, when you have to take your car in for repairs. Often, the salespeople at these small used car lots know little to nothing about the vehicles they are selling. Unless you are very handy doing car and engine maintenance yourself, the recommendation would be to steer clear of these used car lots.

Make Your Car Stand Out by Listing as Much Information as Possible

When trying to sell a car on Craigslist, even if you are in a town that is specifically listed in your state, you still may want to put the same ad under several other locations. Buyers are willing to drive quite a ways to find a good car at a good price. Be sure to include as much information in your listing that you can. If you purchased the vehicle new, hopefully you saved and filed away the sticker sheet from the window that listed all the equipment on the vehicle, including the sticker price. That will prevent you from repeating the same information over and over again from email inquiries. Make sure the car is totally trash free, cleaned, vacuumed and washed before taking pictures. Include as many pictures as you are allowed, including exterior shots from all sides, interior views at several angles, odometer, seat fabric, engine, trunk and underneath if possible. List how many miles are on the tires, dates of the last tire rotation, oil change and how often you have had oil changes in the past. List any maintenance or body repairs you have had done since you have owned the vehicle. Do not fail to include any problems if there are any. People that do this make a buyer feel that the seller is not covering up other major problems. Often, you will receive an email requesting the serial number of the vehicle. Sometimes this is from law enforcement officers if there has been a stolen vehicle listing of the same model you are selling. This is a good way for them to possibly catch the thief red handed. Usually, most of the time the inquiry is from someone looking up information on the vehicle to check on past damage and incident reports before coming to see it.

Craigslist Cars Scams

Watch out for these Craigslist scams

Some other things to avoid or be suspicious of are sellers saying they will ship the vehicle to you for free after they receive payment from you. You will more than likely never see the vehicle or your money. You want to only do business with people face-to-face. Do not accept deals with sellers asking you to send them money wires, or Western Union payments. Again, you will never see a vehicle or your money again. Do not do business with a seller that is asking an unreasonably low price for a vehicle and telling a story that they are moving out of the country and they cannot take the vehicle with them or they are getting a divorce and need the money. This is a scam!

Selling and buying cars on is a wonderful way to get a great deal on a vehicle. The majority of sellers are totally on the up and up. Do your research on the vehicles you are considering and you will come out with your perfect car.

Updated: 01/20/2012, TheCraigslistWhiz
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Shari W. on 04/03/2016

very happy with was very affordable and i received all the info i was looking for. I know as a result it will help me sell my car. thanks again,will recommend

Jason Kalmer on 03/17/2012

The tips are very helpful, I definitely agree! And may I also suggest one other thing - vin check! I got burned once when buying a used car, so now I run a vin check myself no matter what the owner says. it's just $10 at

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