Drivers Education

How Not to Get Scammed Buying a Car on Craigslist

Do you plan to buy a used car off Craigslist? It is fun buying off Craigslist and this article discloses how not to get scammed buying a car on Craigslist. However, you must not trust every seller.

You do not have to distrust every CL seller since you are buying from them. Although it’s okay to be cautious, there are some honest sellers on there. Just that you have to manage the risk and follow your instinct.

There are lots of things to check out before you pay for the used, which we’ll discuss every possible thing you need to know. After reading this guide for buying on CL, you’d feel like a professional Craigslist buyer! Let’s get started.

Is it Safe to Buy a Car Off Craigslist?

Yes, it’s safe to buy a car from Craigslist, and many car owners bought their cars on Craigslist.  You just have to be careful and follow the car buying rules, especially if you’re dealing with an out-of-state seller.

For instance, when buying a used car, you must have it inspected by a mechanic. A pre-purchase inspection might cost one hour labor, but it’s worth it to avoid spending your money on a piece of junky metal thinking it’s a great vehicle.

Theoretically, a CL seller can scam you. But when you handle the deal like a professional, you eliminate the chances of dealing with a scammer.

how not to get scammed buying a car on Craigslist

Know the Vehicle You Want to Buy on CL

Before you set out to buy a car on Craigslist, know the car you want and the price. Suppose you’re buying a used car for $6,000. You want to know the tips to find and buy a quality car without getting ripped not just avoiding a scammer.

You may not spend up to $6,000 at the end of the day if you’re a careful selector. Ye, it’s possible that your car budget is $6,000, but you end up spending $4,000, the remaining cash can go into repairs and registration.

Now, do you need a V6 with a monster turbo? How many miles do you expect the car to cover? Note that people can change odometer reading, so you must be watchful on this one. When buying the car, you’d look at the change oil record, clutch, and brake pads/rotors.

You can budget accessories on the potential car you want to buy. For example, getting xenon lights to replace the traditional bub assembly. You might consider restoring the parts with dull paint, replacing the brake rotors with slotted, cross-drilled, and ventilated brake discs. These replacements are not necessary, though, just to change the car’s appearance a bit.

You should also decide how fast your car should run. Is 140mph okay? Or do you want a car that runs like Ferrari and Lamborghini? Then, consider a vehicle with high horsepower and rpm.

Also, are the car parts affordable? Some cars use expensive, such that replacing the front bumper alone makes you rethink why you bought it. You can consult a nearby dealer, car expert or mechanic to recommend the vehicle you finally decide to buy. The internet is also a great resource to find out about the common problems of the car.

If you do not budget a high amount of money, settle with an older vehicle. Look for an older car that remain valuable over time so that you can sell it easily in the future.

How Not to Get Scammed Buying a Car on Craigslist

Protect yourself when buying car on Craigslist

In this section, we will discuss the things to know when buying a car on CL to avoid becoming a scam victim. Below are the steps regarding how not to get scammed buying a car on Craigslist:

  1. Contact and Question the Seller

It is not recommended to buy a used car from an out-of-state seller or someone that is not a local. When you find the car ad that is attractive and lists the car you decide to buy, contact the seller by phone. You want to have a video or voice call with the seller to ensure you’re dealing with a genuine person.

When you first contact the seller, ask them about the car title. Find out the following:

  • Does the seller have a title in hand?
  • Is there a lien on the title?
  • Is it an open title?
  • Does the car title mention “salvage”, “rebuilt” or “bonded”.

If the seller admits any of the above, you must be careful with the transaction. Some sellers are curbstoners who buy and sell used cars without a dealer’s license. The conditions above are not necessarily bad, but you must understand the title terms before agreeing to buy the car.

Typically, you want to buy a car with a clean title and not a salvaged title. A salvaged title simply means the car may have been involved in a flood or a crash, making it “not so“ roadworthy.

Also, if there is a lien on the title, it means the seller is not the registered owner of the car. Nonetheless, if the lienholder has agreed to sign over the title, then it’s not a problem. You can always agree with the seller to meet at the DMV if there’s a problem.

  1. Do Not Agree to Buy Without Seeing the Car

Do not agree on the price without meeting the seller. You can price, but do not lowball the seller. Make it clear to the seller that you’d discuss more after seeing the car, and that you’d be showing up with cash.

Your agreed location must be a public place. You may even use the nearest police station, near the DMV or the bank.

Ask the seller “why they’re selling the car”. If the reason is not convincing or the story is complicated, the seller may be attempting to rip you off.

When deciding where to meet, remind the seller to bring the maintenance records. If they have none, it’s not a big call for concern.

  1. Inform the Seller to Have the Car Smogged

Ask the seller to smog check the vehicle, especially if it is a 1976 or newer vehicle. Some states mandate a seller to present proof the vehicle passes emissions while others leave the buyer at their fate.

Just make sure to know and follow your state rules. You must just be certain that the car passes emissions before you pay for it.

  1. Take a Friend Along

Don’t go with a random friend. Typically, a mechanic or a car professional is preferable to inspect the car for you. Also, an outside party must know what time and where you’re meeting the seller.

Carry a photo ID, a valid driver’s license is preferable because the seller won’t let you test ride without one. Remind your partner to carry a photo ID for identification too. Of course, your mechanic will bring their tools along because a seller won’t follow you to their shop.

  1. Look Up the VIN

Note: do not rely on VIN information when buying a used car off Craigslist. Nonetheless, your inspection starts with a VIN inspection. You should refer to our guide on the things to check before you buy a used car from a private seller.

If a car has a questionable VIN label or missing VIN, it’s a sign the car was stolen. Note that some cars can be cloned, which we’ve covered how cars are cloned here. Again, do not depend on the carfax report.

  1. Request the Car Title

Recall that you had asked about the car title the first time you contacted the seller on the phone. Now, you have to inspect the car title. Read our guide on the tips to spot a fake car title. You can also see how fake car titles are made, especially by unscrupulous Craigslist sellers.

If the car title is salvaged or bonded and the seller did not mention it earlier, call off the transaction. Also, if there’s a lien on the title and the lienholder (bank, credit union, dealership, etc.) does not show up or invite you to their reputable office, withdraw from the deal.

  1. Test Drive the Car

The most important part when buying a car on Craigslist is to test drive it. Meanwhile, we wrote about how you can test drive a car without insurance and how to test drive without buying a car.

We do not advocate test driving a seller’s car without buying it because genuine buyers may be fully dependent on you to sell their car. Nonetheless, if the vehicle is not worth it and below your expectation, call off the deal.

Also, the seller will request your valid photo ID, typically your driver’s license. Some sellers will demand full payment before giving you the car for a test drive. Some will not demand 50% payment. Just agree something suitable with the seller but do not give complete cash because without test driving the car.

Note: You’d be test driving the car under your insurance, making you liable for damages. So, arrive with your coverage. You can buy temporary coverage for the test drive.

Before you test drive a car, inspect the following:

  • Hoses
  • Tire tread
  • Fluid levels (coolant, water, oil, etc.)
  • Belts
  • The lights (headlights, turn signals, brake lights)

A section below explains how you can test drive as you read further.

  1. Make Cash Payment Only

Do not make the payment using a credit card, PayPal, or check. Use cash only. More than 98% of genuine CL sellers won’t accept any form of payment other than cash, though.

After payment, the car is yours. You may want to have a friendly selfie with the seller, at least to have a picture of them for the future. Do not take photos or videos of the seller without their consent; you’d be making them uncomfortable and, perhaps feel like thieves.

When you possess the car, you may want to change the alarm codes. Some persons recommend changing the door and ignition keys to avoid situations where the seller returns to hijack your car with a cloned key.

How to Test Drive a Car You’re Buying Off Craigslist

The first thing when you put the car in the ignition is to check the warning lights on, including check engine, AABS, etc. Meanwhile, you may read about how long you can drive with check engine light on.

Now, start the car and inspect it from outside with the hood open. Listen to the engine for knocking sound. If you hear knocks or ticks, they are questionable warning sounds. Ask the seller why it’s happening because you do not want to buy a dead car.

Also, open the oil cap and inspect for grime inside. If the inside is too clean, the seller may have taken it apart multiple times. Repeat this process for the brake fluid, radiator/coolant reservoir, and power steering. The condition of the coolant is another sign to determine whether the seller cares for their vehicle.

Now, get the car on the road. You might have the seller inside with you, and the test drive might last about 30 minutes. When in motion, attempt to wiggle the wheels from one side to another while the steering wheel is locked. Note that the car will require suspension work if the wheels move, and it may be expensive.

While test driving, is the car accelerating smoothly in each gear? If it’s an automatic car, there should be no slippage. Make sure the brakes are responsive and the steering is intuitive.

If it’s a manual car, when the clutch engages, release the same spot all the time to have traction even under low rpm and heavy load. Otherwise, the clutch hydraulic system is bad and requires a full clutch replacement.

Final Thoughts

If you have an inspection agency, the inspection burden is not on you. Note that most CL sellers will keep information from you, leaving you to find out the true condition of the vehicle before paying to possess the car.

As mentioned earlier, do not rely on VIN check information from services like AutoCheck, CarFax, etc. Sometimes, their database may not yet be updated to cover changes to the car, including whether it’s salvage, stolen, etc.

To wrap it up, your intuition is the best path to follow to know whether it’s worth paying for the car. If the deal is too good to be true or the seller is acting up or forcing the car on you, you may have to withdraw from the deal.

Latest posts by Bernard Juchli (see all)

Bernard Juchli

Bernard Juchli is an experienced racer, mechanic and team owner who trusts Avon Tyres.Bernard is the lead driver and force behind his Big Dog Garage Race Team. He is the General Manager and Chief Mechanic of Jay Leno’s Garage. Bernard and his crew of seven are responsible for all repairs, restoration and fabrication of Jay’s incredible automobile and motorcycle collection.

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