LendingTree is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order). LendingTree does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.
How to Sell Your Car on Craigslist
Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
When selling your car on Craigslist, it may be tempting to post a couple photos, write “it runs OK” and wait for people to call you. But that’s not the best way to get the most money for your car. Here are some things you can do successfully sell your car.
- Get an idea of the legal stuff
- Know the value of the car you’re selling
- Clean, photograph and describe the vehicle
- Profile the buyer
- Finalize the deal
- Final tips
Get an idea of the legal stuff
After all the work you might put in to sell your car on Craigslist, it would stink to find out at the end, you can’t actually sell it. So before you wade into the water, here’s how you could get your legal ducks in a row.
Title liens. Are you still making payments on the car? If you are still making payments, you don’t own the car fully and you’ll need the lender’s permission to sell it. How to get the lender’s permission depends on what state you’re in. Contact the lender and they will provide some guidance.
If you fully own your car, the title should show no current lienholder. If you do fully own your car but the title still shows that you owe a lender, you will need to contact the lender and get a release of lien document from the lender. This will show that you paid the loan off and that the title is clear.
Title cosigners. Are you the only person on the title or is there a cosigner? In some states, if there is a cosigner, both people need to sign the paperwork in order to sell the car. If there is a cosigner, see if there is the word “or” or “and” between the names. If the word is “or,” that means you do not need both people to sign over the title – either person could legally sell the car without permission from the other person. If the word is “and,” both people need to sign.
If you have a complicated situation where your needed cosigner is in a different country or passed away, ask your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) what to do.
Title status – vehicle damage. Is the title salvage or junk? It is illegal in some states to sell a damaged car and not tell the new owner about the damage. If your vehicle was damaged in a storm or an accident, check with your DMV to see if you need a damage disclosure form.
Know the value of the car you’re selling
Before you sell, do your research. You don’t want to price your vehicle so high that no one is interested. You also don’t want to price your vehicle so low you lose out, especially as people will try and negotiate the price down further. Know what your car is worth before you post it for sale. How do you find out? Industry guides, such as the National Automobile Dealers Association’s NADAguides and Kelley Blue Book have free online tools to help you figure out the fair market price of any car. Lenders and dealers use these guides when deciding loans and setting prices, respectively.
Private sellers can use them to make sure they’re setting fair and reasonable prices — you don’t want to lose money by undervaluing or, yes, even overvaluing. Buyers may think you’re the scammer if your price is way too high and walk away.
Clean, photograph and describe the vehicle
Doing these things could help you to sell your car faster and for more money.
Spic and span status. No one wants to get in your car and see your fast food trash from yesterday’s lunch. Clean out, wash, vacuum and wipe down your car. Maybe use an air freshener.
Lots of good photos. Take lots of photos during the day, in good light, with a good background. No one wants to see maybe three half-blurry photos taken at dusk near a trash dumpster. Take photos from the outside of the car — the front, sides, rear, under the hood and in the trunk or cargo area. Take photos of the inside of the car — back and front seats, dashboard and odometer.
Longer description. Don’t simply post “runs good.” Actually describe the car honestly. List the year, make model, trim, mileage and engine size. Talk about any add-ons the car may have, like a sun roof or leather seats. You could say you used it for only a short daily commute or that it has lasted well on longer trips.
Post and repost the vehicle ad. When you’re selling your car on Craigslist, the older posts get pushed down by newer posts. The older your post is, the less people will see it. You may need to repost your ad every few days to keep it near the top.
Profile the buyer
After posting a car for sale on Craigslist or other auto-listing websites, you’re ready for the offers to roll in, perhaps so you can turn that sale into down payment money for your next vehicle. But it may pay off to slow down. Here are a few things to watch out for:
Beware of a remote buyer — ask to see ID.
Buying a car sight unseen is not a common practice. It is a large red flag if a person wants to pay thousands without seeing or test-driving your car. The potential buyer could actually be a scam artist or even a bot program that pretends to be a person in order to scam people.
Ask to see a photo of the potential buyer’s driver’s license if they insist on buying remotely. This is a quick way to stop scammers abroad. It’s also important information to have when reporting suspected scams to authorities. We’ll talk more about that later.
Only get vehicle history reports from well-known sites.
Someone asking for a vehicle history report (VHR) seems reasonable enough — it’s one of our tips when buying a used car — but the Federal Trade Commission says some potential “buyers” ask for VHRs from specific fake websites in order to steal personal and financial information, such as credit card numbers. If a buyer does want a VHR, there are several legitimate ways to obtain a vehicle history report. You could start with:
- Federal Trade Commission
- National Motor Vehicle Title Information System
- Well-known businesses like Carfax and AutoCheck
Ask to see a driver’s license and proof of insurance before a test drive.
Before a perfect stranger gets behind the steering wheel of your car, this is another time to ask to see their driver’s license and current auto insurance card. This is a good idea for three reasons. No. 1, you’re making sure they can legally drive your car, No. 2, it’s not a bad idea to know who you’re officially doing business with and No. 3, if anything bad does happen during the test drive, or as a result of a test drive, you have a greater ability to hold them accountable.
Finalize the deal
Even after you and a buyer have agreed on a price, keep your guard up for just a bit longer. Most important: Make sure that you not only have the money, but that the money is real, before you sign over your car title to the buyer. There are several types of scams in which buyers use fake forms of payment to not only get away with a free car, but also cash in hand.
Do not give the buyer any money.
A popular online scam is for a car buyer to “accidentally overpay” you with a cashier’s check, wire transfer, or some form of payment and ask you to pay them the difference. Of course, their method of paying you is fake and you just paid them to steal your car.
Even if the over payment sounds legitimate, such as money that is intended to cover shipping or other costs, sellers are often instructed to deposit the check and send the excess either back to the “buyer” or to a supposed shipping agent. In most instances, says the FBI, the money is sent to locations in West Africa. The buyer then cancels the sale and the seller is soon notified by their bank that the check was fraudulent. Fortunately, the buyer in Alabama we mentioned earlier suspected a rat from the get-go and didn’t follow up on the offer of a large check.
Do not give the pickup agent or transport company any money.
This type of scam is a spinoff of the one above. In this instance, the supposed buyer is out of town and has an agent or transport company pick up the car. The buyer pays for the car and transport fee by cashier’s check or wire transfer and asks you to then directly pay the pickup agent or transport company. The scammer’s aim is to take your real money along with the car and leave you high and dry.
But what if it isn’t a scam?
If you come across these types of situations with a potential buyer and still want to continue, wait until the payment is confirmed by the issuing bank or the cash is in your hands. Fake cashier’s checks can show as a deposit in your account then be retracted days later when the bank that is supposed to provide the money says that account doesn’t exist. Make sure you have actual money before you “return” or pay any money.
Cash is king
When accepting payment for your car, the surest method of payment is cash. And if you’re worried about counterfeit bills, you could get a marker with color-changing ink that will let you know if the bill is fake. On Amazon, you could get a pack of these types of markers for under $8. You could perform the transaction at a bank and either have the buyer receive cash from the teller in front of you or have the bank confirm the cash is real before signing over the title.
If a potential buyer for your car needs an auto loan, they could fill out an online form at LendingTree where they may be matched with up to five different loan offers from lenders based on their creditworthiness. They could also read more about private party loans and how to find one.
If the buyer refuses or is somehow unable to pay in cash, here are some things you can do to make sure the payment is legit:
Cashier’s check or personal check. Call the issuing bank. Don’t know the number? A quick internet search should help. A banker should be able to confirm that the account exists (the account number will be on the cashier’s check) under the appropriate name (which should be the buyer’s legal name) with enough money in the account to cover the check. Because you are the one providing the information, the bank should be able to confirm. Due to privacy laws, the bank will not tell you about any other people on the account or the total amount in the account, only simply whether the account exists under that name with sufficient funds to cover the check.
Wire transfer or PayPal. Make sure that the money is actually in your account. Do not believe any email you may get saying you received money. To check your account, you could use your bank’s app or call the bank to make sure it went through. PayPal does not protect any transaction done in person.
Find a safe zone. In-person interactions are a good way to vet buyers, as we’ve already described, but it’s smart to take precautions when meeting people you don’t know. Many city police departments provide “safe zones” with video surveillance for people have arranged sales online. You can search by ZIP code at SafeDeal.zone.
Suspect a scam? If an offer sounds fishy, check with the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker where you can search by type of scam in your area or across the country.