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What to Lookout for When Buying a Car on Craigslist

January 23, 2013 - Craigslist is a great place to get rock bottom deals on anything from clothes to a car.  Their deals are almost as good as the deal we have on brand new turbochargerssorry, I couldn’t resist slipping that in there.  The number of people purchasing a car on Craigslist has been increasing every year.  Eventhough, the discounts can be worth it, you need to make sure to watch out for some red flags, do your homework, and be smart.

Red Flags

Vin Number – Ask for the Vin number before going to check out the car, so you can look it up in Carfax. If the seller is not willing to provide this information then you should walk away.  If they do give you the VIN number buy the whole report at CarFax.  The $40 is worth it.  You’d rather spend $40 now than $400 fixing a lemon.

If the VIN number plate is scratched or altered in anyway, that it a big red flag and you should buy your car elsewhere. You don’t want to be driving around a stolen car just because it was a good deal.

Paperwork – If the seller is missing the title or registration I would also be weary. Also, if they do not have insurance I would be a little put-off. Do you really want to buy from someone whom has no problem driving around an uninsured car?

If the customer has all the service records that is a plus, but don’t expect them to have proof of every oil change. If they are missing some proof of service it is OK. Not a deal breaker.

Model – Is the car they claim to be selling actually the same car you are buying? It sounds ridiculous but there are stories of people being duped into thinking they were buying a car with a larger engine, or one or two class sizes up. If they advertise one model of car and when you actually see the car it is different, pack up your checkbook and get out of there.

Too Good To Be True – Why have we all heard this phrase before? Because it is absolutely correct! If someone is selling a car for half the bluebook value don’t even bother looking into it. It is likely a scam or just a fake listing.


Blue Book – This one is obvious. Don’t start negotiating blindly with no idea how much the car is actually worth.

Make and Model Issues - Conduct searches on forums to see if the make and model has a history with certain problems. You don’t want to buy a 2005 Mini Cooper with 55,000 miles on it if everyone on forums is complaining that their Mini’s steering pump and transmission just bit the dust at 60,000 miles.

Seller – Figure out why this guy is selling. See if he has a bunch of other listings on Craigslist. Look at how many times he has reposted the same advertisement in the past month. You want someone who is only selling one car and has posted the advert multiple times, with decreasing prices. This means they are not a dealer, and they are desperate to sell. You are going to negotiate with someone whom must sell and whom is not a professional.

Be Smart

Safety – We have all heard horror stories about Craigslist. First and foremost you should make safety your number one priority. You should bring a friend with you when you meet the seller to checkout the car. If the friend is a mechanic or car savvy that’s even better. They can help you out when you look over the car and take it for a test drive.

When it comes to a meeting place, think like a spy would in a suspense movie. Tell the traitor… I mean seller that you have to meet them in a crowded public place that you agree on. You don’t want to meet him at his house.

Test Drive – Do not buy the car without driving it! This should be obvious. If the seller doesn’t want you to take the car out for a drive than something is fishy. That is another red flag. In this case I wouldn’t take a drive; I would take a walk away from the sale.

When it comes down to it, I would suggest checking out Craigslist the next time you need to get a car. I f you follow the above tips and just trust your judgment you should be fine.

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