Buying a Car on Craigslist: A Guide to Avoid Getting Scammed
Are you in the market for a new car, but don’t want to break the bank? With its wide range of listings and potential for great deals, Craigslist can be a goldmine for car buyers.
However, it’s important to approach the process with caution to avoid scams and ensure a successful purchase. We’ll provide you with essential tips to help you navigate the world of buying a car on Craigslist with confidence and ease.
On this page
- Narrow your search
- Evaluate the car listing
- Contact the seller
- Inspect the car yourself
- Get an independent inspection
- Get the car title
- Exchange payment
- Do the paperwork
1. Narrow your search
Next, filter the search results so it’s easier to find what you want. You can play with the filters (such as minimum and maximum price, location and color, among others) and see what’s available in your area.
2. Evaluate the car listing
When a vehicle listing catches your eye, check the photos. They should match the description, and the car shouldn’t have any obvious signs of undisclosed damage.
The listing should show the year, make, model and trim of the vehicle, plus a general statement of its condition. With this information, you can determine the car’s value on Kelley Blue Book (KBB). We advise that you don’t pay more than the KBB value; if a car is massively underpriced, it could be a red flag of hidden problems.
3. Contact the seller
Before you set up a meeting, call or text the seller to express your interest and ask for more information about the car. You should ask for a photo of the car’s title and a vehicle history report.
The title will show whether the car has been majorly damaged; in that case, it may have a salvage title. The title will also reveal whether there is a lien on the vehicle. To legally buy or sell a car, there must be a title. If the seller lost it, they can request a new one from the DMV.
Research the car’s history
Ask the seller for the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) so you can check the car’s history. A VIN is a unique 17-digit code that each car is given during the manufacturing process.
A VIN check shows how many owners a car has had, its maintenance record and any accidents it’s been involved in. Vehicle history reports cost about $25 to $100 from sources like Carfax and AutoCheck. If both the title and the report check out, it’s time to meet the seller.
4. Inspect the car yourself
We recommend meeting the seller during daylight hours in a public place with security cameras, such as the parking lot of a large store or outside a police station. Take your time and thoroughly examine the car, both inside and out. Walk around the car, look under the hood and check its oil. Inside the car, look for water damage and test every button and feature.
If everything matches your expectations, take the car for a test drive. Listen for unusual sounds, be sure it runs smoothly and get it up to highway speeds. If anything seems out of the ordinary, like funny sounds, smells or vibrations, the car may have problems.
5. Get an independent inspection
Aside from looking over the car yourself, it’s a good idea to get a mechanical safety inspection from an independent mechanic. It may cost around $100 to $250, but that money could help you avoid buying a lemon.
The mechanic will run a full diagnostic check of the car and alert you about any potential problems. If the car receives a clean bill of health, you can feel confident that it’s in good working order. You should also be sure to research your car’s make and model at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and check for open recalls.
6. Negotiate the price
To negotiate the car price, start by offering 15% below the asking price or the KBB value, whichever is lower. If an inspection reveals a problem, ask the seller to deduct the cost of repairs from the car’s price. Lowballing the seller — asking for more than 30% off — could leave you empty-handed.
7. Get the car title
When you agree on a price for the car, carefully examine the vehicle title. First, make sure the name on the title matches the seller’s driver’s license so you know they’re the rightful owner and can sell it to you. Second, confirm that the VIN on the title matches the one on the car so you know you’re buying the right vehicle.
In most states, it’s illegal to buy a car without a title, and it’s very risky to buy a titleless car. However, there are some legitimate instances where a seller might not have a title. In this case, ask the seller to get a replacement title and write a detailed bill of sale.
8. Make the payment
To pay the seller, you could use cash or a cashier’s check. Digital payment platforms like PayPal or Venmo aren’t a great choice, since they don’t protect or guarantee vehicle transactions. Avoid paying with a wire transfer: The risk for fraud is high and they can be complicated to initiate.
It’s best to meet the seller at your bank to make the transaction. Not only will the interaction be on camera, but a teller can notarize your sale documents while you’re there.
9. Do the paperwork
Before you drive off into the sunset, get auto insurance. You should be able to do it on your phone through your auto insurance company’s app, website or by calling them. It’s important to do this first, since you’ll likely have to present proof of auto insurance to register the car.
Now for the fun part: You get to visit the DMV. To legally own the car, you’ll have to register it in your name and transfer the car title. This involves going to the DMV or county tax office to show the paperwork, pay the registration fee and cover any applicable taxes. Once the car is registered, you officially own the car.
Tips to avoid a scam
While buying a car on Craigslist can be cheaper than going to a dealership, it does come with the danger of falling victim to a scam. Always trust your gut: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Here are some tips to keep in mind when buying a car on Craigslist.