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Craigslist Cars for Sale – Guide for Buying Used Cars in 2022

Gas prices are outrageous. It’s time to cut down on expenses. Perhaps, it’s time to sell your gas guzzler and buy a used car that doesn’t cost you a kidney every time you go to the gas pump. Here is my long-winded guide on everything a beginner needs to know in order to successfully buy their used car on Craigslist.

Why Buy Cars on Craigslist and Not Through a Car Dealership?

Many people still like the traditional method of going to a car dealership and going through the ritual of being harassed by car dealers in order to get a semi-good price on a used car. Other people still believe that this is the only way to purchase a vehicle. If you are one of these people who believe that the only way to purchase a car is to drive from dealership to dealership, then I’m sorry to tell you that your method for used car shopping is completely outdated.

Benefits of Buying Cars on Craigslist

Did you know that over 50 Million people on average use Craigslist per month? This means a huge chunk of that human traffic is using the website to buy and sell their cars on the Craigslist website.

More Variety Means Better Price

Since there are so many people selling vehicles on Craigslist, this also means that there is a huge selection of vehicles for you to browse.  How many times have you gone to a dealership to search for a vehicle only to leave in disappointment because the vehicle you were searching for wasn’t there?  Think of Craigslist cars as a huge virtual car dealership.  There are so many varieties of cars for sale on the website because of the number of private car sellers posting their ads daily.

Also, you may have used websites such as Autotrader and CarMax to try and purchase a used car.  However, these websites do not do a good job of selling used vehicles and cater to larger dealerships that have money to advertise their vehicles on their website.  This means that at any given time, these websites will have a smaller selection of second-hand cars than Craigslist.  Your best bet for searching through a large variety of cars is by using Craigslist.

Easy to Use Interface

The interface is very simple, and thus very easy to use. All you need to do to search for a vehicle is type in the make, model, min/max price, and the min/max year. Larger car database websites tend to have a ton of advertisements and other bells and whistles that can make searching for a car very inconvenient.

Avoid Nasty Car Salesmen

I’m sure everyone once in his or her life has had a nasty experience with a car dealer.  Car dealers have been trained to negotiate with potential car buyers and know exactly what to do to get the most out of the sale.

My bad car buying experience was with a nasty car salesman in Mt. Vernon, Washington.  I was looking for a used car for around $3000 and the car salesman tried to sell me a piece of junk Kia that was around that price range.  After a test drive, I knew that I didn’t want to buy that car.  The car salesman pestered me so much and wouldn’t let me leave.  He asked me, “How much can you offer to drive this car off the lot?” He said he would sell the car for $900 and I realized that the salesman marked the car up so much because he thought I was a sucker.  I knew that the car wasn’t even worth $900 and the car salesman ended up being so rude and nasty to me that by the end of the day, I never wanted to deal with a car salesman ever again.

However, on Craigslist, you are dealing with people just like you and me who have not been trained to sell cars.  This means that the playing field is level and both parties have the potential to have a happy car buying experience.  From my experience selling my vehicle on Craigslist, I can assure you that the process went very smoothly and that the buyer of my car was satisfied with her first Craigslist transaction.

Potential Car Savings

There can be potential for huge cost savings when using Craigslist due to the fact that there is a large supply of cars and that many of the sellers are private car owners. Private car sellers tend to give better car deals because they are not as savvy when negotiating. Most car sellers also have different reasons for selling their vehicles and many of these reasons can be exploited to get a cheaper price on the vehicle. For example, many people sell their cars because they do not have jobs and need cash to pay for their mortgage or other debts. If you know this information, you can offer to provide the cash on the spot for the car, but at a steep discount. This information alone could save you $1000 on your next car purchase. Now that you know some benefits of buying on Craigslist, here are some weaknesses.

Paperwork

One of the reasons why buying from a dealer can be convenient is because of the paperwork that is involved when making a car sale.  If you are not familiar with your state’s rules for transferring ownership, then you may potentially run into problems later on if you do not fill out the proper paperwork when buying a car.  If you buy from a car dealer, they will fill out and mail all the car transfer forms for you.

No Warranty

If you buy from a private seller, then you can’t buy an extended warranty.  This means you buy the car “as-is” and if the car has a big problem after you transfer the title, then you have no legal recourse to ask for a refund.  Car dealers can provide you with extended warranties on cars, just in case anything happens.

Safety

I have never heard of a car buyer being robbed trying to buy a car at a dealership, but I have heard of people being robbed when trying to buy a car on Craigslist.  This is one of the major downfalls of the site as the posters are all anonymous and there have been cases of people being robbed when trying to purchase a car on Craigslist.

Now that you know about the strengths and weaknesses of the website.  Here is a beginner’s step-by-step tutorial on how to find and buy used cars on Craigslist.

Step-by-Step Guide on Buying Cars on Craigslist

Many people already know how to use Craigslist to purchase used cars.  However, for those who don’t, I will explain the purchasing process.

Method 1 – Use Craigslist Local Searches

Go to Craigslist and find the nearest city where you want to purchase a car.  For this example, I will walk through how to use Craigslist Seattle to purchase a cheap used car.  Since I live in Seattle, I would go to seattle.craigslist.org.  Basically, it’s yourcity.craigslist.org.  Next, go to the “cars+trucks” section, which is located in the “for sale” section of the classifieds.  Next, click on the “by-owners only” link.  This will limit the searches to private car sellers and will exclude cars being sold by dealers. Like I said before, you’ll probably get a bigger discount buying from a private seller, rather than a dealership. 

Now, you probably already have a car in mind, but if you don’t have any idea of what type of vehicle to look for, then you can go to this website.

This website has the best-used car bets for 2022.  These cars have been historically reliable and have the most “bang for the buck” when taking price and features into consideration.   Here are some of the best-used vehicles of 2022 according to MSN.

For this example, I’ll be searching for a 2010 Nissan Murano.  Like I said before, the interface is very simple.  All you need to do is type in “Nissan Murano” into the “search for” field.  Also, you will need to put in your minimum and maximum price range.  Keep in mind that this is an optional input field, but you will have more focused results if you use this feature.  The private party price according to MSN Autos is about $8000 to $9000, so I will use this as my benchmark for my search.  Please note that this is just an example and that you can search for any vehicle as well as different price ranges.

Lastly, make sure to click on “title only” and “has picture”.  Clicking on these options will search for the word “Honda CRV” within the post title.  Searching for the keyword in the title is more effective in my opinion. Also, you will only receive results that have a picture of a Honda CRV.  People who do not have pictures on their posts should be avoided and only accepting ads that have pictures can reduce your car searching time.

After you get the results, you can narrow your search down further by typing in the year of the car, color, and car accessories.  I was not able to find any 2010 Nissan Murano’s under $8000 when I performed this search so I took out the max price and re-did the search. Success! I was able to find one for $9500 that was located in Bellevue, WA.  According to the ad, I found quite a gem.  The car only has low mileage and new tires.

The price is about $500 above the price that MSN suggested, but I wouldn’t worry about that because the seller probably upped the price so that there is some “negotiating room”.

This is only one way to search for a vehicle. One problem with this type of search is that you can only search for cars within that specific city. However, this can lead to you not finding the selection of vehicles that you expect. If you live in a large enough city, then this isn’t a problem. If you live in a small city, then you may want to search for used cars in multiple cities. However, as I said before, you can only search for used cars one city at a time if you use the Craigslist website.

There is a way around this predicament.  There are many websites that allow users to search for cars on Craigslist within multiple cities. 

Here is a list of a few websites that search all of Craigslist that you can use to search for used vehicles.

Auto Tempest

CLAZ

All of Craigslist

All of these sites are suitable for searching for cars on the Craigslist website. Each search engine has its strengths and weaknesses.

Research

Now that I found a potential car, it’s time to do research on the car. One of the first things I would is to go to Kelly Blue Book and see the Blue Book Value of the car.  Kelly Blue Book is the best website to value a car and it’s good if you bring a printout of the KBB estimate when you talk to the seller.  In my case, the “very good” price is around $9,334.  However, I would try to talk the seller down to $8,200.

Another website you can use is Edmunds.com to value your car.  The price should be about the same as the Kelly Blue Book value, but you can also use this site to compare used car prices.

I would also get the VIN of the car and perform a Car Fax search.  Get the VIN number of the car and go to Carfax.com.  Make sure to get a Car Fax report to see if there was any flood, fire, or other major accidents to the car.  If you are serious about the car, then paying $25 for a report is well worth the investment.  The report could save you thousands of dollars in the log run.  According to the ad, the seller has already provided a Car Fax report, so I wouldn’t need to buy the report.  Now, that I have this information, I would call the seller and arrange a meeting.

If you have multiple cars that you want to look at, I suggest using an Excel spreadsheet and keying in all the important information of each listing.  First, key in the price, make, model, mileage, VIN, color, contact number, and any additional comments about the vehicle that will help you make a choice.  Having a list of car choices in front of you ranking from 1 to 10 is a great way to visually see the strength and weaknesses of each car.  Trust me, this will help you make a faster decision.

How to Arrange a Meeting

Call the seller and arrange to meet either at their place or in a public location.  Typically, I would arrange to meet in a public location to take a look at the car because you can never be too safe.  Ask the owner of the car to meet in a location where there are a lot of people and where you can quickly call for help if needed.  A legit car seller will oblige and frankly, I wouldn’t trust a person who says that they are not willing to meet in a public location.  One reason why I suggest meeting in a public location is that there has been a recent bout of muggings where the seller tells the potential buyer to meet in a specific and secluded location and then is subsequently mugged by the seller.  So make sure to meet in a place that has a lot of people and where you can readily ask for help if needed.

Also, it’s good to bring along a friend because it’s harder for a potential robber to rob you if you have power in numbers.

Inspection of the Vehicle

I am not an expert in inspecting vehicles so I will suggest a website to review before you meet with the seller.  Here is a really detailed checklist of things that you should check when buying a used car.

Also, schedule the car to get looked at by a local mechanic.  I’ve done this before and shaved off $1,500 from the asking price.  The mechanic was very thorough with the inspection and said that the car needed a lot of repairs.  I paid $150 for the inspection, but it was worth it because I had more negotiating power after giving the seller a list of all the repairs that needed to be done on the vehicle.

Of course, make sure to test drive the car and bring a copy of your license to show the seller that you can be trusted.

Negotiating

Here are a few things to consider when negotiating car prices.

Does the car seller seem desperate?  You can pry into the reason why the seller wants to sell the car.  Are they leaving the country soon? Did they just lose their job and need some fast cash?  There are many psychological factors that you can leverage in order to reduce the price of the car.  Remember that researching the car and providing evidence of your research is the best negotiating tool.  Bring your Carfax reports, mechanic inspection reports, and printouts of the Kelly Blue Book value of the car.

One rule to remember is to not be offended or scared by the seller’s asking price.  The asking price is nothing more than a benchmark that both parties use to start price negotiations.  You can try to lowball the seller as well as give him or them a “take it or leave it” price.  This will also depend on if you have other cars lined up to look at.

Here is a good article about how to negotiate used car prices from private sellers.

Paperwork for Car Purchase

If everything has gone as planned, you have worked things out amicably with the seller and want to purchase the car.  As the buyer, all you need to do is bring the right information and your car insurance.  Each state has its own guidelines for paperwork.  In Seattle, in order to transfer the title, you will need to report the bill of sale, odometer disclosure, have the signed title, and have an up-to-date emissions certificate. You will need to bring all of these documents to the DMV to transfer the title.  Here is a link to each state’s rules for transferring titles.

Common Mistakes When Using Craigslist Cars

Mistake 1 – You Did Not Search Within Multiple Cities

The most common mistake when searching for cars on Craigslist is people not searching within multiple cities.  If you do not search within multiple cities, you are potentially missing out on huge discounts.  Is it worth a 30 min drive to a different city where a car is $1000 less than the asking price of the exact same car within your city?

Mistake 2 – You Did Not Provide Enough Information in Your Search

Many people do not include all the details of the car that they are looking for.  This means that the search that they perform ends up being way too broad, which can lead a potential buyer to prematurely give up.  Make sure to be specific when you search for your vehicle, as there’s a great chance that the specific car that you want is being sold by a private seller.

Mistake 3 – You Did Not Click on the “With Images” Tab

Remember to only look at ads that have images.  Ads that do not have images are a waste of your time.

Mistake 4 – You Forgot to Click on “By-Owners” Link

If you do not click on this link, then you will get a flood of listings from car dealers.  The reason that I want you to use Craigslist is to purchase cars from private owners.  Remember, there is potentially a greater cost saving when purchasing from a private seller.

F.A.Q.

Here are some frequently asked questions about Craigslist Cars.

Q: Is it safe to purchase cars on Craigslist?

A: Yes, it’s safe to purchase cars on this website.  However, you have to be vigilant when purchasing cars and make sure that all transactions occur in a safe place.  A rule of thumb is, if the price is too good to be true, then it probably is.  Also, make sure to bring a friend and meet in a public location where there are lots of people.

Q:  What is the Best Way to Find a Good Car on Craigslist?

A:  Buying a car on Craigslist is just like buying a car in real life.  You need to do your research, be patient, and explore all your options.  The reason why I’ve been successful when purchasing an auto on Craigslist is that I TOOK MY TIME to look at each vehicle listing.  Make sure to write down what type of car you need.  List out the traits for the “perfect” car and then enter those traits into your search.  You can also use auto resources like MSN and Edmunds to determine the newest car ratings and read expert and consumer car reviews.

Q: How Do I Know if I’m Being Scammed?

A: Please review this post.  One important rule is to never pay first.  Always look and inspect the vehicle before making the purchase.

Q: Can I Sell My Car on Craigslist? Does it Cost Money?

A: It does not cost any money to post your ad on Craigslist.  

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