5 Things To Remember When Buying A Car On Craigslist



1.  You must be quick.  There is a lot of money to be made buying used cars for cheap and reselling them.  This draws many used car dealerships and individuals to the used car by owner section.  Here in Portland, car owners are often contacted within the first 30 seconds of the car going up on Craigslist as long as it’s a somewhat desirable car at a decent price.  So if you are looking for a good deal on a Toyota pickup, don’t expect to find one unless you are refreshing the listings every 10 minutes or so.  Also, you must be ready to go look at the car, with cash, almost immediately.  If you can’t take a look at it until later that day, don’t be surprised if someone shows up before you and buys the car.  People are aggressive, especially when there is a lot of money to be made.

2.   Buy a car with a story.  I’ve purchased two cars and one truck on Craigslist.  Each time I asked a lot of questions that focused on the story of the car.  How long had they owned it?  What problems did they have with it?  What work had been done on it?  Were they happy with it?  A car without a story almost always ends up as trouble.  Car launderers are conveniently ignorant of the car’s faults; avoid such people and cars.

3.  Know what you want to buy.  Research the make/model and year of car you want to purchase and look for patterns of problems.  The internet will tell you if other car owners are experiencing the same problems.  If the transmission usually goes out on that car around 100k miles, then expect it to go out around 100k miles. This would probably be a car to avoid.  Research will better your chances of making a wise decision.

4.  Find a mechanic you trust.  Go and ask them how much they charge to do a vehicle inspection and how much notice you need to give them for an appointment.  Find one that can do inspections on short notice for about $75 or so.  When setting up a time to see a car, ask the owner if they will allow you to take the car to your mechanic for an inspection before buying.  Allow them to come with you if they would like.  If they say no, walk away unless you can afford to greatly increase your risk.  Paying a mechanic to give you a detailed report of the condition of the car and upcoming work is very wise decision.

I’ve had friends skimp on paying for an inspection only to have the transmission bomb out on them within 3 weeks of purchasing the car.  Fifteen hundred dollars went poof.

5.  Be Patient.  Know what you want to buy and how much you would like to spend.  Then discipline yourself to stay within your boundaries.  Don’t give into the temptation to buy a car you don’t want, just because it’s available today.  You will regret it.  Craigslist and the internet aren’t magic, and they will not always provide exactly what we want, when we want it.  The right car or truck is worth the wait. Remember, you have to be patient.


  1. My family and I traveled to Ky for the holidays. I pulled my enclosed trailer with me and did some craigslisting while away. Sold a few items and picked up a few. Too much fun! I also noticed that vehicles are much cheaper here. I think I’ll bring a car hauler next time……….. 🙂

  2. Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for the helpful info. I have a question about buying and immediately trying to resell the car on Craigslist. When people ask about how long you have owned the car and why you are selling it; doesn’t this throw up a red flag to them, or maybe seems suspicious to them, that you have owned it a few days? And if you tell them you have a business buying and selling, aren’t they going to know you paid less than what you are asking, and they will almost automatically low ball the price?

    • Not if you’re confident. Be straight up about it. Tell them you bought it, cleaned it up, repaired a few things (if you did) etc. Basically tell them how you added value to it, and exactly what you did. People want to buy from someone they trust, no matter their profession. Be a person they trust and it won’t matter that you flip cars. I’ve had like 1-2 people out of thousands that have decided not to buy from me after they found out I buy/sell and fix up appliances.

      If you become an expert at your niche, it’s actually better for people to buy from you because you know exactly the condition of the product you are selling. In my case I’m selling appliances that have been cleaned out, especially dryers, and are much much safer to buy from than a random person on Craigslist. Most people never do any maintenance on their washers and dryers.

      Hope that helps!

  3. Some good tips obviously, but how would a mechanic inspection tell if the “transmission will bomb out on you in 3 weeks”?
    Of course strange shifting, rusted fluid, or an engine code would be clues, but you see all of those yourself. I’ve had *transmission* shops tell me my transmission was fine only to have it go out a week later. Having a mechanic inspection is a good idea, but people shouldn’t think it will detect everything.

    • Most people don’t know much about cars, let alone know the subtle signs of serious problems. I agree though that a mechanic won’t be able to catch everything.

  4. Hi Ryan,

    I was wondering how many cars can I (without license permit) buy and sell in Ca? And how much does it cost to apply one? Thank you!

  5. I bought a car on craigslist paid cash cars had money put into it fresh paint new parts,had it two days hose burst fixed myself then overheated added water ran better then over heated again until i ran the heater i have the salvaged title and reciept paper work. Seller has a carlot looks honest,has had the car a week now with not much feed back for me. Should i be worried i hate to hassle the guy but i couldve changed a heater core on my spare time by now. It sucks that once they have your cash suddenly there is no hurry ,ready to just get my money back give him the title.

    • If you can get a refund I would do it and go find something else. If that’s not possible, squeeky wheel gets the grease. Be polite, but firm and persistent.

  6. Your number 4 is very disrespectful to the seller, and would be a clear sign of a scam if all buyers did this. If the buyer hasn’t paid you for the car, and hasn’t handed over their license for a test drive, NEVER EVER HAND OVER THE KEYS TO YOUR CAR FOR ANY REASON. Expecting the owner to just allow you (the POTENTIAL buyer) to take their car whereever you so choose is a freakin joke. Who do you think you are? YOU bring YOUR mechanic with you to the meeting location, OR ask to meet at the mechanics dealership. ALWAYS notify the seller BEFORE meeting that you intend to use up extra time by either bringing your mechanic with you for inspection, or by wanting to have a mechanic look at it at your expense. DO NOT meet up with a seller, waste their time, then ask if they are willing to let you drive off with their car to this “mechanic shop” …and then “walk” if they rightfully say no. Inspecting / getting an inspection is very important, but do not waste the sellers time and be disrespectful of their right to refuse you to take off with their car. Have open communication and let the seller know of everything you intend to do if it possibly wastes the seller’s time — this goes for EVERYTHING on Craigslist, not just cars but especially cars because each interation already takes so long as is.

    • Respectfully, I completely disagree. Let’s say the car is a $10,000 used car. If the seller won’t allow a mechanic to check out the car, it’s utterly foolish to even talk with the seller. Respect has nothing to do with it, being wise with your $10k is at stake. Secondly, if a potential buyer is willing to pay $75-$100 for a mechanic to check out a car, you know they are very serious and aren’t wasting your time. Go with the person to the mechanic when it’s being checked out. I don’t recommend just handing the keys over. But when a seller is selling a used car for 10k, what is an hour or two into the selling process. If the mechanic finds something significantly wrong, and the buyer backs out, good! Sellers rip off buyers when it comes to cars all the time because of ignorance of major issues with the vehicles.

      If the car seller is extremely concerned with their time and reluctant to have it checked out, then they probably are a dealer and flip cars as is all the time. An upright seller doesn’t have anything to hide and won’t mind the car being taken to a mechanic.

  7. I have been buying and selling cars on Craigslist, part time, for a couple years now and make anywhere from $1,000-$2,000 per deal. Busy season is usually a car or 2 a week. It’s great extra income. Great tips here too.. be quick! Also find a niche, I find cars with issues that I repair, the profit margin after repair greatly increases. Good luck!


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