1997 Mazda Miata. See how there’s no shots from the right side? That’s because there’s rust. Photo by: craigslist.com.

Now that you’ve done the more expensive thing of buying a new car and are looking forward to not selling your soul to a dealership, I’m here to provide you with some tips to buying a car from Craigslist.

Now I think that Craigslist is the Tinder of the automotive world, but it’s still the best place to get a good deal, if you know what you’re doing. So I’ve laid out a few tips to ensure that you won’t get kidnapped or worse, get a crappy car.

  • Get detailed pictures of the car
  • Get a Car Fax or Auto Check report
  • Ask questions about the vehicle and the seller
  • Become an expert on the vehicle
  • See what similar cars are going for
  • Set up a time to meet
  • Get the vehicle inspected
  • Enjoy

That’s pretty much it. It’s a short, sweet list that’ll get you a nice car. If you’re looking for a more involved guide, look below.

All of those cut girls, or guys, on Tinder can’t exist. It’s the exact same on Craigslist, so look at the pictures with skepticism. The vehicle will probably have a beautiful backdrop and appear to be in “like new” condition, but, in reality, the car will most likely be beat to hell. So ask the seller for more pictures from every available angle to get a more realistic look at the car, if only that were allowed on dating apps.

After you get your ‘realistic’ photos, purchase a Car Fax or Auto Check report. Some nice sellers will provide you with one, but on the off chance that they don’t, the report is well worth the money. I personally prefer an Auto Check report because it gives the car a clear and concise score. Both of them do the same thing, so make sure you get one.

If the report comes back with good news, ask the seller some questions. It could be as vague as why they’re selling it or as specific as to the type of oil they use. Asking questions helps you paint a picture of how the car was used. Let’s take seller A for example.

1989 Nissan Skyline R32 GTR, Photo by: craigslist.com

1989 Nissan Skyline R32 GTR, Photo by: craigslist.com

Seller A says: I don’t want the car because it’s too slow, I don’t know what kind of oil it uses, I don’t have any maintenance records, I don’t know how many owners it has, it runs and drives, but there’s some kind of noise coming from somewhere.

I mean obviously, this seller knows nothing about their vehicle and, in all likelihood, didn’t treat the car properly. Now I’m not saying that everyone on Craigslist is like seller A, but be mindful of sellers like this one. Look for people like seller B. They’re the kind of people you want to buy a car from.

Seller B states: I don’t want the car because it’s too small, I use Mobil One 5W-30, I use 89 octane gas from Shell or Sunoco only, I have all of the maintenance records from my time of ownership, the car’s had two other owners and the check engine light is on because of an oxygen sensor.

See the difference?

It’s not a lack of knowing about a vehicle, but a lack of effort to get to know your vehicle. You don’t have to be a mechanic to know what kind of oil your car uses and the fact that the seller knows what’s wrong with the car and is honest about it is even better. Asking questions can show you if the car has been neglected or cared for, which is a huge difference.

So you’ve asked questions and you’ve received your answers. Now I’m not House, but I do believe that a lot of people lie, especially when they need something you have – money. The next step is to do a lot of research. See what tends to go wrong, how much it costs to repair common problems, how much insurance, fuel and maintenance costs.

For instance 02 WRXs have faulty head gaskets, which can cost up to $2,530 to fix in my specific area. How’d I know this? By using Repairpal.com. Also check car forums, ask Google, talk to your mechanic, ask car people you know. Do everything you can to know the ins and outs of the vehicle.


1994 Ferrari 348 Spider, Photo by: craigslist.com

After becoming an expert on what tends to go wrong with the vehicle check KBB, NADA and Edmunds for car values. Most people use KBB, which tends to give the seller a higher price. Edmunds prices older cars much lower than KBB and NADA is a good mix. If it were me, I’d try to purchase the vehicle for the average between KBB and NADA.

Since you’ve already asked good questions and researched the vehicle’s problems, you’ll know how much a new exhaust or clutch is worth and how much to take off of the seller’s price. Just because KBB value is $4500, doesn’t mean the car is worth that much and you shouldn’t pay that much either. Look at what others are going for and use that as leverage, but the seller can also use that against you, so use that tactic at your own risk.

If all of the above checks out it’s time to see the car. Set up a time for you and a friend to go see the car. Try to be courteous to the seller since they do have something that you want and go to them. Make sure that you meet during the daytime and it’s in a place that you feel comfortable.

Since you’ve gone through all of this trouble, you’re obviously interested in the vehicle. So make sure you bring some money when you go see the car, but not for the full asking price. In my mind, if I were to get jumped, I’d rather lose $2,000 than $15,000.


1937 Fiat Topolino Convertible, Photo by: craigslist.com

Lastly, look over the vehicle. If you’re not a mechanic take it to one to get a pre purchase inspection (PPI) completed. Based on what the mechanic, your friend, or your own instincts say, the time to purchase the vehicle has come.

Hopefully by using these tips you were able to procure the vehicle for a good price. If so, enjoy the fruits of your labor. If not, move on. The great thing about Craigslist is that another car will always be on sale.

Craigslist is a ruthless site with users waiting to trick the naïve. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re getting a 10 when you’re really getting a three. Getting Catfished sucks, getting Catfished for a large amount of money sucks even more.


1986 Lamborghini Diablo Kit Car, Photo by: Craigslist