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Given that Craigslist is one of the internet’s largest classified websites, it’s no surprise that it's a popular platform for private-party car sales.
Unfortunately, Craigslist can also be home to scams in the form of fake advertisements, bots posing as interested buyers, and other digital hustles. Be wary of giving your personal information to anybody on the site before meeting them in person.
What is Craigslist?
Craigslist is one of the world’s most popular online marketplaces. The company was founded in 1995 as an online platform for classified advertisements and neighborhood announcements. Today, the company has local Craigslist sites for approximately 700 cities throughout 70 countries. Craigslist also has a mobile app for Apple and Android devices.
You can find just about anything for sale on Craigslist, from concert tickets and houses to vintage furniture and sailboats.
Of course, this makes Craigslist different from most car-buying apps, which feature vehicle listings only. Here’s how Craigslist compares with popular car-buying platforms:
Both Craigslist and other car-buying apps offer thousands of listings for used vehicles. While dealerships are allowed to list new inventory on Craigslist, you’ll mostly see listings for used cars from private sellers on Craigslist.
The majority of listings on car-buying apps include access to a vehicle history report. Meanwhile, sellers on Craigslist can’t attach vehicle history reports to their listings — and many omit the 17-digit vehicle identification number, or VIN, you would need to run a report at your own expense.
Craigslist doesn’t have a dedicated research hub, dealership reviews or vehicle reviews — all features commonly seen on most car-buying apps.
Large inventory of privately owned used cars.
All listings are local.
Some unrelated products such as toy cars, collectible car stickers and car maintenance kits often show up alongside the website’s car listings.
Little information is offered about the vehicle sellers.
Your city may not have its own dedicated Craigslist website.
Listing a car on Craigslist: It costs $5 to list a vehicle on Craigslist, and the listing will remain live for 30 days. At the end of 30 days, you can renew the listing for $5, which will keep it live for another 30 days.
When you create a listing on Craigslist, include as much information about the vehicle as possible. This will help the listing stand out, and it will show potential buyers that you’re a serious seller. In addition to a listing description, which has a 1,000-character limit, you’ll be required to include some specific information like make, model, year, odometer reading and title status. Other information such as body style and VIN is optional.
Once you’ve listed a car on Craigslist, it’s a good idea to share the listing on your social media. That’ll help it spread among potential local buyers. You can also share your listing in shopping groups on Facebook. Just double-check that you’re not violating any group guidelines by sharing an outside listing.
Buying a car on Craigslist: You don’t pay anything to Craigslist if you buy a car from one of its listings. Once you’ve found a vehicle you’re interested in, you can send an email to the seller through Craigslist, or you can call the seller if a phone number is provided.
Tips for avoiding scams and other trouble
Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. Scammers will use low prices to attract more eyeballs to their listings.
Use caution before sharing any personal information with a seller. If a seller is coming off as pushy or won’t stop asking you for personal information, that’s a red flag.
Ask thorough questions. Since Craigslist doesn’t allow users to attach vehicle history reports to their listings, you should ask for access to a vehicle history report before buying a vehicle. Don’t be afraid to ask for physical proof of any information on the listing, too, like odometer readings or the interior condition.
Schedule a time to inspect the car in person. Do this before sending any money to the seller. Find a mutually agreeable location, preferably during the day and in public. Consider meeting somewhere busy, like a grocery store parking lot, as well as bringing someone with you, like a friend or spouse.
Insist on a professional inspection. A used car inspection should run you $80 to $200.
Don’t send any online payment until you’ve met the seller and seen the vehicle. One common scam involves the seller asking you to send either a full or partial payment through Zelle, then disappearing once the payment goes through. There’s no reason to send a payment before you’ve seen the vehicle, met the seller, and agreed upon all the terms and conditions of the sale.
Don’t pay with gift cards. This is an old scam and one that’s similar to the Zelle scam. You're asked to send money via a gift card as a down payment, then once you send the gift card information, there’s no way for you to get the money back. When you're purchasing a car — or any item on Craigslist — paying with gift cards should be avoided.
Watch out for title jumpers. Make sure the seller is the registered owner of the vehicle and that the title is in the seller's name. Some people buy a car but never put the title in their name (usually to avoid sales taxes). Title jumping is illegal, and if you purchase a vehicle under those conditions, you may have difficulty registering, titling or reselling it later.