• Buying Guides

How To Sell or Buy a Car on Craigslist

By Evan Walton | October 1, 2021

When looking to sell or purchase your next vehicle online, Craigslist is a prominent go-to site for sellers and buyers alike. The ability to generate a posting yourself and cater your ad as you see fit is appealing to many sellers. Other sites may charge a fee, have a strict posting structure, or have an administrative team that picks through your post and blocks or removes your advertisement without your knowledge.

Due to Craiglist's simplicity for both buyers and sellers, however, Craigslist has become somewhat of an overwhelming experience for those not versed in weeding out the bad posts that are generated to scam you from your hard-earned money. Scammers capitalize on those naive to the ways of internet selling which is why it is important to first do your research in what to look for in both a posting and what to consider when generating a post.

The guides presented below will walk you step-by-step on how to first effectively sell your vehicle on Craigslist, and second how to purchase your next vehicle on Craigslist without being scammed and approaching your purchase armed with confidence and knowledge on what to look for.

How To Effectively Sell Your Vehicle on Craigslist:

1. Choosing the Right Sales Platform

All online classified sights have their weaknesses; eBay's countdown clock seems to only rush potential buyers into making a rash decision they end up backing out of in the end anyway, and sites such as cars.com charge you to post your listing and mix in dealer advertisements alongside your private posting.

A Craigslist ad is simple and free to post but this also means it is simple and free to post for the thousands of people a day interested in posting things as well. Your ad then becomes lost in the sea of never-ending advertisements for various items to include private party direct competitors to you. For the vast majority of sellers, however, Craigslist seems to be the perfect middleman option when it comes to selling a used car.

2. Take an Abundance of Pictures

The point should be stressed as a vehicle sale could be made or destroyed based on the amount and detail of the photos you take. When selling a vehicle on Craigslist your biggest consideration should be, "what would a prospective buyer want an ad for a vehicle to look like?" You would want great detailed pictures of every angle of the car so that you know you are not wasting your time contacting the seller.

Do not hide any damage or minor issues you feel may hinder selling, transparency and honestly are key when selling online, and will save you the drama and issues when meeting the buyer in person. Ensure you include pictures of the roof, engine, interior, odometer, and even the undercarriage. If your vehicle has been sitting for a little time before the sale, take it to a car wash, clean up the inside, even shine the wheels if you want to get it sold. Aim to provide around 30 high-quality photos with your posting.

3. Write A Clear and Concise Description of The Vehicle

The more information you can provide a potential buyer in your advertisement the better chance you will have of not receiving many fraud inquiries or a repeat of the same questions from potential buyers. This does not mean there will not be buyers who choose to not read the entire ad, but you can politely refer them back to your ad if you have provided enough detail.

Good things to include in the description would be how long you have owned the vehicle, what, if any, work you have done to the vehicle, engine size, condition of the upholstery, what is good about the vehicle, and what is wrong with it. Again, honestly is the best policy; the more flaws you include, the more trusting your potential buyer will be of both you and their decision to purchase.

4. Set a Price Based on Facts

There is an abundance of tools online at your disposal to find what fair market price to post your vehicle at. This again takes research and time to find what other sellers are pricing their similar vehicles at. Your asking price should be based on factual market value, not an emotional or stringent value you have placed on the vehicle.

Great sites to find your vehicle's worth are Kelley Blue Book (KBB), and edmunds.com both of which allow you to see what fair private party value, dealership value, and car dealers' trade-in value is fair for your vehicle. KBB lists a low and high-end blue book value, your advertisement pricing should be somewhere in the middle of these numbers. If you price your vehicle too high you are less likely to sell, if you price too low you may sell quickly but you could potentially lose out on thousands of dollars.

5. Ready to Sell

When finalizing a sales ad made on Craigslist, there are many methods of payment types in which you may consider a viable option.

Some of these payment types include:

  • Cashier's check
  • Personal Check
  • Money Orders
  • Wire Transfer
  • Cash

When considering which method of payment is best for your situation consider these facts about each method. You should never accept a personal check from a potential buyer as these can easily prove fraudulent more often than not. If the buyer is most comfortable with a check form of payment demand that the payment is either a money order or cashier's check.

Ensuring that the payment is a money order or cashier's check ensures the validity of your payment as the certifying institution that provided the money order or cashier's check has verified the funds and is backing up the amount of money stated on the check. You will also want to document this transaction between yourself and the new owner for tax and licensing purposes. If the buyer prefers to use cash, use your discretion and have the buyer meet you at a bank so you can verify that the cash is real.

A bill of sale will need to be signed by both parties and include the sales price, vehicle identification number (VIN), and a copy of the check used for purchase. If you are signing the title over to the buyer, go with the new owner to the department of motor vehicles (DMV) to ensure all paperwork is completed correctly and that you no longer have financial or legal obligation over the vehicle.

Taking all of these steps helps protect you as a seller against the buyer in case of legal action needing to be taken against the vehicle or the new owner of the vehicle. Before your entire transaction is complete, ensure you have a valid name, address, and cell phone number of the buyer and make a copay of his or her driver's license which they should be willing to provide if they have nothing to hide.

A 10-Step Guide to Buying Your Next Vehicle On Craigslist:

1. Narrow Your Broad Search

Searching through Craiglist's ads can be a daunting task when first attempting to find a used vehicle. Craigslist helps users with this task by allowing users to limit their searches. Limited searches consist of narrowing ads down to dealers, private party sellers, or both. More search options to help narrow down your vehicle search are available through Craigslist such as vehicle make, model, year, mileage, and minimum and maximum selling price. With all of these preliminary tools, Craigslist assists your search by providing you with ads that fit your exact search criteria.

If you are searching for a used vehicle and require financing, often looking through dealer ads will be the best fit for your situation as most car dealerships offer some sort of in-house financing. Purchasing through a dealership can also provide other perks such as warranty coverage, maintenance package options, and also cuts out multiple meetings with private sellers. Private sellers can, however, offer a more competitive price and in some cases, a better overall vehicle than that found at a dealership.

2. Examine The Posting Closely

When examining the Craigslist ad, make sure to spend time looking the ad over closely. Make sure that good photos are used, the information provided answers general questions, and that the ad looks like a legitimate posting. Check that the sale price is consistent throughout the ad, the mileage and condition of both the exterior and interior are added, and that valid contact information is provided.

3. Initiate Contact With the Seller

Always be skeptical and eir on the side of caution when contacting and eventually meeting with the seller. Call the cell phone number provided on the posting if there is one, or email the seller and use this form of communication to ask the big questions you want answers to before meeting in person.

Ask the seller for any major known issues with the vehicle, if they have kept up on service and if so if they have the records to prove services. If you can speak to the seller over the phone, also use your intuition on if the sell sounds sketchy in any way, or if they are more hesitant to sell than their ad lets on.

4. Pull a CarFax History Report

It will always be in your best interest as the buyer to pay for a CarFax history report before purchasing a used vehicle. The CarFax history report will inform you of the current odometer reading if the title to the vehicle is salvaged, junk, or a clean title, and if the past registration is noted as a fleet vehicle. CarFax will also report any accidents the vehicle has been listed in, and any previous owners of the vehicle.

CarFax allows you to purchase a vehicle history report by knowing either the vehicle's VIN or license plate number. Either of these numbers should be available in the Craigslist ad, if they are not, you can contact the seller and request either number for a CarFax history report. Some of the best sellers on Craigslist provide a CarFax history report upon request.

5. Meet With Seller and Inspect Vehicle/ Pay for Inspection

If you have followed all of the above-mentioned steps and have found the vehicle you are interested in, the next step is to meet with the seller for an inspection of the vehicle and a test drive. Try to not let the excitement of a test drive allow you to forget important inspection points to hit and remember to think of safety before arriving at your meeting.

Before meeting the seller, offer to meet in a public place, preferably a parking lot in front of a business that has security cameras that operate during your time of the meeting. Ask the seller to meet in the daytime and bring a friend or family member with you for extra safety. At a bare minimum, someone in your friend group or a family member should know when and where you intended to meet this seller so that someone knows your whereabouts. You should also get proof of insurance, registration, and the seller's driver's license information before your test drive which you can easily snap pictures of on your cell phone and send to friends or family.

It is wise to pay for an automotive technician to inspect the mechanics of the vehicle unless you are already a certified expert in the field. This will cost you some money upfront, but the little money spent upfront could prevent you from purchasing a vehicle with major issues. Try to schedule this inspection on the same day and time as your test drive as to not waste your or the seller's time.

6. Negotiate the price

Before meeting with the seller, as a buyer, you should have already done some research as to what price range is appropriate for the type of vehicle you are purchasing. Check what prices similar cars are selling for at local dealerships, check KBB and Edmunds, check eBay's "buy it now" prices, and check other competing ads on Craigslist all for reference.

Do not attempt to lowball a private seller when meeting with them in person and try not to haggle with them as if they are a dealership. The private seller does not sell cars for a living and they are not going to be entertained by you asking for small discounts here and there. Based on examining the seller's post carefully, and your previous communication with the seller, you should already know what price you will be paying for the vehicle with negotiation room if something is not as it seemed in the ad or through conversation with the seller.

7. Check to Ensure clean Title

If the seller of the vehicle claims that the title is lost or you find the title to be suspicious, pause your transaction and go to your local DMV to straighten out any issues you may be having. Unless the seller is offering a clean title the best advice is to leave the opportunity behind and seek a vehicle that does offer a clean title.

If the vehicle is a unicorn of an opportunity and there is title trouble, the task of securing a title may be daunting but could also be rewarding. If the vehicle is still owned by a bank or financing company, ask the seller to contact the company in your presence so you can ensure that the title can be obtained legally by you.

8. Ensure The Vehicle Passes Emissions Testing (Certain States)

Some states require that a vehicle passes an emissions inspection before it can be properly registered within the state. If you live in a state the requires emissions testing, ensure that the seller has proof of the vehicle's ability to pass the emission standards, if not pay for the test to be done from your pocket before your purchase. If the vehicle does not pass the emissions test, you could be paying more to fix the issue than the vehicle is worth.

9. Transfer of funds (purchasing)

When all of the minor and major details come together and you are ready to trade your hard-earned money for your new car consider your best option for transferring funds as well as the sellers. Money order or cashier's check is the best option for both parties as the seller knows that they will be paid with no exception and the buyer knows that a necessary paper trail of the vehicle purchase can begin.

In the best-case scenario, the seller agrees to meet at the buyer's bank which provides not only a safe parking lot for test drive, inspection, and security camera system but also a notary public who can be a witness and sign the bill of sale and other paperwork involved in the transaction. Building a paper trail and having witnesses is the best way to protect yourself as a buyer so do not be afraid to voice these preferences to the seller.

10. Taking Ownership

When everything is said and done, all paperwork signed and money transferred, ensure you have not forgotten to also acquire all manuals, records, and spares for the vehicle as these tend to be forgotten. Once your sale is final and the vehicle is under your ownership, the original owner has no liability to track you down again if you forgot to request the spare key or maintenance records.