How to Buy a Used Car on Craigslist | Dick Hannah Dealerships

How to Buy a Used Car on Craigslist

You’re looking to buy a used car and made the decision that Craigslist is the best purchase option for you. But you also might be wondering how to buy a used car on Craigslist at the same time. Below we’ll cover the basics of buying a used car on Craigslist, how to spot a scam on Craigslist, tips on how to safely buy a used car on Craigslist, and more. Buckle up as we tackle the used car scene on Craigslist.

Buying Cars from a Dealer vs a Private Seller – How to Buy a Used Car on Craigslist

If you are shopping for a used car you’ve probably been looking on sites like,, and These are great resources to find a used car to buy from both a private party and from dealers. If you are wanting to buy from a private party over a dealer then Craigslist could be the way to go as the listings there are predominantly private parties. But what is the difference between buying from a dealer versus a private party? It all boils down to ease and history.

Reputation – Who to Trust

Reputation is everything in the automotive industry. If a dealer is known for high prices, selling junkers, lying about car history, and low customer service then there won’t be a lot of people willing to buy from them. They’ll have damaged their reputation to a point where they may not be able to recover from it. Private parties don’t have the same concern. They’re not a full-time car salesperson, they don’t have to maintain an outstanding reputation. Dealers are more likely to go out of their way to solve problems for you that may arise after your purchase, while your private seller will most likely do their best to avoid you.

Vehicle History – Who Knows it Best?

When it comes to vehicle history a dealer might come up a little short in that department. The seller likely knows the ins and outs of the car giving them an edge up on dealers who go through thousands of used cars per year. Sites like Carfax and AutoCheck provide some history on a car but the private seller can give you even more information about how the car drives and whatnot. At the end of the day, you are will have to decide how much you trust the seller, but a Carfax report will at least get you started.

Financing – Your Buying Options

There are some significant differences between financing a used car and financing a new car. Interest rates can be higher and some banks or credit unions might not even finance vehicles past a certain age or mileage.

Additionally, there is one major factor that could hamper financing a used car from a private seller; some banks or credit unions won’t finance a vehicle that is bought from a private party. Banks are much more suspicious than you or I. They worry that the seller won’t sufficiently describe the vehicle’s condition. The car could have a serious problem that wasn’t disclosed and then you, buyer, could walk away from the loan, leaving the bank with a worthless car. Also, banks worry about the potential for fraud with private sellers, which means they will only deal with trustworthy dealers.

Price – Private Party is the Way to Go

To get the best possible deal on a used car, go with a private party seller. A dealer has a price point to make a profit on each vehicle they sell and they aren’t usually all that flexible in the price. A private seller doesn’t have the same restrictions. Private sellers are usually trying to sell their old vehicle to buy a new one, and that means they are more open to negotiating just so they can sell the car quicker. It all boils down to how fast they want to get out of their current car and into their new car.

Dealer vs Private – Who Wins?

In the end, it all boils down to trust. There are pluses and minuses to buying from both a dealer and a private party. If you do your homework then you should be good to go.
Next, we get into the process as it pertains to buying a car via Craigslist.

What to do Before You Shop – How to Buy a Used Car on Craigslist


The first thing you need to do when you are looking to buy a car is to figure out your budget. Your budget is everything, it helps provide realistic guides in terms of price and total monthly costs. If you have a $500 monthly budget for not only your car but also gas, insurance, etc. then the dollars you can spend on the car itself is much lower than the $500 you started with.

Learn more about setting a budget in our blog post: How Much Should I Spend on a Used Car?

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Scams are something you may have to deal with when buying a used car on Craigslist. Here are some red flags and tips to help you avoid scams while buying a car:

Common Red Flags
  • If the price of a used car on Craigslist is too good to be true, then it probably is. Prices below market price are often the bait to get you to make contact so the fraudsters can start trying to sell you on a car that may not even exist.
  • To buy it sight unseen is another big red flag that is usually tied into the below market value red flag. That rare or exotic car you found on Craigslist that is thousands below what it usually goes for is suddenly in a different state. They’ll ask you to wire them the money to purchase the car so they can ship it to you. Then, magically, once you wire the money the seller and the listing suddenly disappear.
  • If the seller is wanting to use an escrow service to purchase the car it may seem legit but be warry. They can attempt to trick you to use a fake escrow service, ask you to transfer the money before shipping the car, and then break the contract once the funds have cleared.
Tips to Avoid Scams

It goes without saying that as the buyer you are the target for scam artists. Here are a few tips to keep you and your money safe.

  • Always have the car inspected by a mechanic you trust or at a respected location. Even mention to the service center that you are considering buying the car and you want to make sure everything looks good.
  • Online marketplaces don’t guarantee sales. Craigslist, along with eBay and other online marketplaces, never guarantees sales and they don’t ensure that the seller is legit. Walk away if the person selling the car tries to convince you otherwise.
  • Check for liens. A lien on a car gives the bank or credit union to claim the vehicle if the loan is unpaid. It doesn’t matter if you bought it from someone, they technically own the car so they can come to get it whether it is their driveway or yours.
  • Vehicle history check. A vehicle history report can cost you a little bit of money but it can save you A LOT of money if the car ends up being a lemon. Always do a check, you don’t want to buy a vehicle only to be driving around and have it just randomly quit on you.

Time to Buy – How to Buy a Used Car on Craigslist

Now we get to the how of buying a car on Craigslist.

First Contact

You’ve found the car you are looking to buy. You’ve checked the listing for red flags. Now it’s time to make contact. Call first. We know, texting is the common form of communication nowadays but calling will allow you to put a voice behind the name. It also allows you to ask the big questions right away instead of waiting to hear back via text. Ask for service records to be sent to you, and the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to run a vehicle history report, etc. This is your chance to answer preliminary questions before you take an hour or more to drive across town to see the car.

Meet & Greet

It used to be that the buyer was responsible to meet the seller at the desired location. However, the standard has changed to meet at an agreed-upon place, usually at the mid-point for both of you. The best course of action is to meet in a public place with a good amount of foot traffic, preferably one that may have security cameras on site.
Never have cash on you and if you can, bring a friend. If you are needing to make the transaction right away after the test drive then meet at a bank so you can have the bank cut you a cashier’s check.

The Test Drive

You always want to get behind the wheel after giving the car a once or twice or thrice over. During the test drive make sure that you are comfortable driving it. Also, keep an eye (or ear) out for any mechanical issues you can feel or weird noises while driving.
For more of a breakdown on what to look for during the test drive visit our blog: What To Look for When Test Driving a Used Car

Inspect for the Unexpected

You’ve thoroughly inspected the vehicle inside and out, and gone on a test drive. It’s time to get the car checked out by a mechanic. The preferred method is to take the car to a mechanic you know and trust. But any reputable service center will be a safe bet.. You can visit any Dick Hannah Dealerships’ service location to help you identify any problems the vehicle might have.

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Make Sure Everything is Legit

This goes back to the red flags and avoid scammers topics that we talked about earlier in the post. Always be overly cautious than just rushing into buying the vehicle without properly checking it out.

  • Check to make sure there aren’t any liens on the car.
  • Ask for a vehicle history report or get the VIN and run one yourself. Kelly Blue Book will give you a better idea of what the actual value of the car is for your area.
  • Make sure the title is clean. If the title is lost or suspicious-looking take a second and re-evaluate. You can have them get a new title to put your mind at ease. We have directions on how to attain a new title in our blog post: Lost the Title to My Car, How Do I Get a New One.
Time to Buy

You’ve inspected the car inside and out, taken it on a test drive, and had a mechanic check it; now it’s time to buy. Don’t bring cash with you to the final meet-up. Tell the seller that you want to meet them at a bank to handle the transaction. Banks are overly cautious; they’ll have to bring a clean and legible title that is in their name. Plus you’ll be able to give them cash right at the counter. It is a legit and safe way to buy a car. Just make sure they hand you the keys as you hand them the cash.

One Last Tip

Listen to your gut. If for whatever reason the transaction just seems off to you there is probably a good reason behind it. Don’t force yourself to buy anything just because it is available. There are plenty more cars and deals that will show up on Craigslist. Take your time and find a seller that you feel you can trust.

Finally – How to Buy a Used Car on Craigslist

Craigslist is a great resource to find a used car for sale if you go the private party route. Buying a car via Craigslist can seem daunting at times.  Use the resources available to you (the bank, KBB, your gut, etc.) and you shouldn’t have a problem.

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