How to Buy a Car on Craigslist Without Getting Screwed

Buying a car from a private party on Craigslist can be a very good deal in your car search but it can also be disastrous if you do not know the important steps one needs to make. Below I go through the easy steps to where I explain the process.

I expect that at this point you know which car you are looking for. If not, refer to my used car Halo List which lists the best of the best used cars that are out there.

You start your search by knowing where to find the cars that are being sold by private party sellers. There are a number of publications that deal with sellers but if you are looking for a commuter car and not some exotic Ferrarri your best bets are Autotrader and Craigslist. Both of these have their strengths and weaknesses. In this article I will focus on the ever popular Craigslist.

Craigslist is a site where you can sell cars (and just about anything else) for free. This no-cost site attracts the average seller due to its popularity but it also attracts people who are in the business of swindling unsuspecting consumers. You must know how to be able to identify these unsavory sellers from real sellers. There are two types of swindling happening on Craigslist car listings. They are the PayPal scammers and then there are Curbstoners (which I will define in a moment).

PayPal Scammers

These scammers are detected by looking at the ad itself. They generally do not use the default Craigslist format which allows you a body of text and a few simple pictures. Take notice of the font that Craigslist uses and if the font style is different than the default that is a red flag. The second way to detect these people is notice that the license plate is either mysteriously missing, blurred or blocked. This is because they do not want the authorities tracking them and the license number would make it possible to track them down. I will go into exactly how the scam works in another blog post but let's just say they are extremely good at getting your trust. Slowly but surely there comes a point at which you believe in that trust and let go of important information like your bank account info. Another way is that they generally do not give away their phone numbers that can be tracked. Beware of any ad that does not reveal the phone number.


You might have heard me mention these types of sellers before but it bears repeating. Curbstoners are people who somehow get their hands on a car (usually from insurance auctions) that has been damaged, salvaged or stolen and sell it as though they are the owners. These people are in the business of transfering a car from one person to another without ever appearing in the paperwork. If there is any paperwork to the car, you can bet that it is not their name and you are being fooled into thinking they are the owners. This is a serious problem and you never want to go forward with a deal like that.

In summary Craigslist is a very good place to hunt for great car deals by the owners. But you must be judicious in your search, weeding out the curbstoners, scammers and swindlers. Follow the advice that I give above (and in the video) and you will be way ahead of the pack in terms of finding authentic sellers.

Good luck searching!

Greg- Your Car Angel

Greg Macke is a professional car buyer and consumer advocate. He has worked closely in the industry to improve the buyers experience. Visit him at http://carbuyingsupport.com/

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