How to find Craigslist cars for sale

Are you looking to change your car soon and don’t know how to navigate your way around, or you are on a budget and don’t want to break the bank? With a wide range of Craigslist cars for sale on the listing platform I’ll tell you that it’s a good place to find a potential great deal, Craigslist can be your goldmine for car buyers if you follow the right process.

Craigslist cars for sale

However, it’s important to note that you must approach the process with caution to avoid being a victim of scams and ensure a successful purchase. Here in this post are essential tips to help you find the right car, what to do and what not to do, navigating through the process of finding Craigslist cars for sale online and doing that with confidence and ease.

1. Narrow your search

There are a lot of vehicles listed on Craigslist — so as you take a look around, determine what type of car you want and how much you can afford.

Next, filter the search results so it’s easier to find what you want. You can play with the filters (such as minimum and maximum price, location and color, among others) and see what’s available in your area. We’ve got deeper explanation on this point for you later on this post

2. Evaluate the car listing

When a vehicle listing catches your eye, check the photos. They should match the description, and the car shouldn’t have any obvious signs of undisclosed damage.

The listing should show the year, make, model and trim of the vehicle, plus a general statement of its condition. With this information, you can determine the car’s value on Kelley Blue Book (KBB). We advise that you don’t pay more than the KBB value; if a car is massively underpriced, it could be a red flag of hidden problems.

3. Contact the seller

Before you set up a meeting, call or text the seller to express your interest and ask for more information about the car. You should ask for a photo of the car’s title and a vehicle history report.

The title will show whether the car has been majorly damaged; in that case, it may have a salvage title. The title will also reveal whether there is a lien on the vehicle. To legally buy or sell a car, there must be a title. If the seller lost it, they can request a new one from the DMV.

Ask the seller for the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) so you can check the car’s history. A VIN is a unique 17-digit code that each car is given during the manufacturing process.

A VIN check shows how many owners a car has had, its maintenance record and any accidents it’s been involved in. Vehicle history reports cost about $25 to $100 from sources like Carfax and AutoCheck. If both the title and the report check out, it’s time to meet the seller.

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4. Inspect the car yourself

We recommend meeting the seller during daylight hours in a public place with security cameras, such as the parking lot of a large store or outside a police station. Take your time and thoroughly examine the car, both inside and out. Walk around the car, look under the hood and check its oil. Inside the car, look for water damage and test every button and feature.

If everything matches your expectations, take the car for a test drive. Listen for unusual sounds, be sure it runs smoothly and get it up to highway speeds. If anything seems out of the ordinary, like funny sounds, smells or vibrations, the car may have problems.

5. Get an independent inspection

Aside from looking over the car yourself, it’s a good idea to get a mechanical safety inspection from an independent mechanic. It may cost around $100 to $250, but that money could help you avoid buying a lemon.

The mechanic will run a full diagnostic check of the car and alert you about any potential problems. If the car receives a clean bill of health, you can feel confident that it’s in good working order. You should also be sure to research your car’s make and model at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and check for open recalls.

6. Negotiate the price

To negotiate the car price, start by offering 15% below the asking price or the KBB value, whichever is lower. If an inspection reveals a problem, ask the seller to deduct the cost of repairs from the car’s price. Lowballing the seller — asking for more than 30% off — could leave you empty-handed.

7. Get the car title

When you agree on a price for the car, carefully examine the vehicle title. First, make sure the name on the title matches the seller’s driver’s license so you know they’re the rightful owner and can sell it to you. Second, confirm that the VIN on the title matches the one on the car so you know you’re buying the right vehicle.

In most states, it’s illegal to buy a car without a title, and it’s very risky to buy a titleless car. However, there are some legitimate instances where a seller might not have a title. In this case, ask the seller to get a replacement title and write a detailed bill of sale.

8. Make the payment

To pay the seller, you could use cash or a cashier’s check. Digital payment platforms like PayPal or Venmo aren’t a great choice, since they don’t protect or guarantee vehicle transactions. Avoid paying with a wire transfer: The risk for fraud is high and they can be complicated to initiate.

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It’s best to meet the seller at your bank to make the transaction. Not only will the interaction be on camera, but a teller can notarize your sale documents while you’re there.

9. Do the paperwork

Before you drive off into the sunset, get auto insurance. You should be able to do it on your phone through your auto insurance company’s app, website or by calling them. It’s important to do this first, since you’ll likely have to present proof of auto insurance to register the car.

Now for the fun part: You get to visit the DMV. To legally own the car, you’ll have to register it in your name and transfer the car title. This involves going to the DMV or county tax office to show the paperwork, pay the registration fee and cover any applicable taxes. Once the car is registered, you officially own the car.

Tips to avoid Scam

While buying a car on Craigslist can be cheaper than going to a dealership, it does come with the danger of falling victim to a scam. Always trust your gut: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Here are some tips to keep in mind when buying a car on Craigslist.

How to find Craigslist cars available for sale

Searching for a used car or auto parts? Craigslist can be a great source for deals, but finding them is not always easy. While Craigslist offers some basic filters there are more advanced tools hiding under the hood. Let’s take a look at a few easy ways to find what you are looking for…

1. K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid): Craigslist is the wild west of classifieds, they let anyone post items for sale and they don’t require most information be filled in. So when searching for a car most of the fields (Year, Make, Model, Engine, Transmission) are never filled out. So you could go crazy with the search filters and start searching for a 2000 – 2005 Ford F-150 with a 6cyl engine and manual transmission and come up with a limited selection because only 25% of the people actually filled out all the details of the vehicle they are listing. In this case K.I.S.S. and don’t filter right away by transmission or engine. Year is usually ok, but not always.

2. Misspellings: Again, they let anyone post, so you will get some keyboard cowboys with poor spelling and grammar, what can you do? Think about possible misspellings, abbreviations and slang for the product you are looking for. Searching for a truck, make sure you search for “pickup” as well.

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3. Wild Cards: An asterisk can save you time. “fo** truck” matches “ford truck”, “food truck” and “foul truck”. Helpful in catching some misspellings.

4. Categories: When looking for a car or truck you would think it’s best to search in “Cars & Trucks” but believe me, there are cars and trucks in other categories like “Business”, “Farm+Garden”, “Auto Parts” and even “FREE” categories. Consider doing a search in the general “For Sale” category to catch everything.

5. Get Regular: Regular Expressions that is… One of the biggest time savers I have found is the ability to use regular expressions in your search query. No need to know what regular expressions are, but if you really want to know check out this link. Just know it makes searching more powerful. So here are the basics, you can combine terms in an “OR” statement by using a pipe “|”. Example: I am looking for a Ford Truck, not sure if I want a 1/2 ton, 3/4 ton or 1 ton so I could use the following search string to grab all three…


Now that may be ok but remember tip #2 from above, some people use a dash list the model e.g. F-150, so we now can search for…


And to take care of those people who don’t list the model we can use this to cast a wider net…

f150|f250|f350|f-150|f-250|f-350|(Ford Truck)|(Ford Pickup)

Notice the () around the search terms that have a space in them. This is required in regular expressions as the space is interpreted as the end of the statement unless it’s encapsulated in parentheses.

6. Get an APP: Not going to recommend a specific APP as they come and go, but there are some good apps out there which allow you to get alerts when new items come up for sale on Craigslist. They also allow you to search multiple regional Craigslist sites at the same time.

A word of caution to those attempting to use Craigslist for arbitrage or “flipping”, most APPs use the RSS feed from Craigslist which is not always updated in a timely manner. You will always get the latest items by searching the live site. If you are looking for a good deal, it may be gone before the RSS feed updates. This delay in updating the RSS feed can be 10 minutes to an hour in my experience.

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