5 Steps: How to safely buy a car on Craigslist

Scrolling through used cars on Craigslist can be like walking through a giant junkyard. It’s hard to find the hidden gems and there are many unscrupulous sellers.  But if you know the safety measures to take before buying there are great deals to be found.

Safer Bets: Carvana and Vroom are both safer options that Craigslist to buy a used car.  Rather than buying from a private party, you are buying from an online dealership.

Step 1 - Search used cars

Craigslist is a great place to find a car, but don’t limit yourself.  Use the search function from AutoTempest.com  to find used cars on Craigslist as well as several other sites at the same time.  This search will also allow you to expand your search across several cities.  If you search Craigslist directly, you'll need to perform a separate search for each city.

Step 2 - Avoid used car scams

When reviewing used car listings, be sure to follow Craigslist’s common-sense rules to avoid scammers:

  • DEAL LOCALLY WITH FOLKS YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON - follow this one simple rule and you will avoid 99% of the scam attempts on craigslist.
  • NEVER WIRE FUNDS VIA WESTERN UNION, MONEYGRAM or any other wire service - anyone who asks you to do so is a scammer.
  • CRAIGSLIST IS NOT INVOLVED IN ANY TRANSACTION, and does not handle payments, guarantee transactions, provide escrow services, or offer "buyer protection" or "seller certification"
  • NEVER GIVE OUT FINANCIAL INFORMATION (bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc.)

And a few more of the Car Coach’s tips:

  • When buying  a used car, a vehicle history report is not an option, it’s a necessity.  Sign up for an unlimited plan so that you can do a check on every car that interests you before wasting time making appointments. If you find any serious problems on the report that the seller didn't mention you should move on or negotiate a much lower price.
  • Only look at used car listings with images.  If there’s no image, what are they hiding?
  • Don’t consider listings that mention the price relative to MSRP or dealer invoice.  Both of these terms only apply to NEW vehicles.
  • Don’t buy a car without receiving the title.  If the seller has not paid the car off already, you’ll want to contact the lender directly and arrange a transaction with all three parties present.
  • Verify that the VIN# on the car matches the VIN# disclosed by the seller.  You’ll need the VIN# to run a vehicle history report as well.
  • Verify that the seller’s driver’s license matches the title and registration of the car.
  • Avoid any deals where the seller is reluctant to allow you to get the car inspected.

Step 3 - Ask questions and arrange an appointment

Contact the seller by clicking on the email address in the listing or calling the number (if there is one). Before setting up an appointment to buy a used car, you’ll want to ask a few questions.  You’ll need the answers to make an appropriate offer and asking could put you in a stronger negotiating position.

Questions for the seller

  1. What’s the VIN#? Use this to run a vehicle history report before you do anything else.  How does a vehicle history report work?
  2. How many miles are on the car?
  3. What's the condition of the car?  Take this with a grain of salt and confirm when viewing for yourself.
  4. Do they have any documentation of regular maintenance like oil changes, brakes, new tires, etc.?
  5. Why do they want to sell the car?

Once you’ve done your prep work, then arrange a time to view the car.

Tips for the appointment

  • Don’t be afraid to ask the seller to show you anything about the car.
  • Always view a car during the day when you can see it better.  If you’re buying from a private party, this is a good idea for your personal safety as well.  If you’re a woman, consider bringing a friend with you.  No need to take unnecessary risks.
  • Be sure to test drive the car.  It’s a good idea to try it out on both highway and local roads. Once you move the car from where it’s parked, it’s also smart to check the ground for any discoloration or puddles from fluid leaks.

Step 4 - Follow these steps before making an offer

  1. As mentioned before, its essential to run a vehicle history report.
  2. Get the car inspected by a certified mechanic.
  3. Prove the car’s market value.
  4. Plan to pay with cash or find the best used car financing.

Tips for making an offer

  1. Don’t mention that you’ll be paying cash when setting up an appointment (even if you are).  While getting robbed is a rare occurrence, there’s no reason to advertise.
  2. If the ad mentions OBO (Or Best Offer), this means the seller is willing to negotiate and you should not pay full price.  And if you’re selling a car, never, ever write this.  It basically announces that your sales price is not serious.

Step 5 - Closing the deal

When you finalize the deal and pay for the car, be sure to:

  1. Have the seller sign over the title.
  2. Have the seller fill out a Bill of Sale.
  3. After the deal is done, go to your state's motor vehicle registry and pay any sales tax due.  You’ll also need to get your new registration and in some states, a new license plate.
  4. Don’t forget to add the car to your insurance policy or get a competitive quote for a new insurance policy.
  5. Read more on Edmunds: How to Close a Sale

Do you have any other tips for buying a car on Craigslist?