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How To Buy A Used Vehicle on Craigslist

March 18, 2015

When people hear that we purchased two new-to-us vehicles on Craigslist they think we are crazy.

I get it.

People assume that Craigslist vehicles are posted by scammers, craz-o’s, or bad owners who didn’t maintain it well.

This is often true.

But not always.

And that exceptional situation is the one we want to help you find so you can get some serious deals on your future used vehicle purchases.

To aid in this post, I have solicited the input and advice from a well trusted auto-mechanic…Mr. Joseph Nissen.

AKA my dad.

Not only does he have mechanical expertise, the man is a deal hound.

Come to think of it, I’ve learned all my best wheeling and dealing strategies from him so to say I trust him is an understatement.

Below are a few nuggets of wisdom from him about sniffing out the deals on Craigslist:

The Preparation:

  • Scope out the photos for context clues…What does the neighborhood look like? What items are in the background?
  • Your best deals will be with individual sellers, not dealers.
  • Call about vehicles that interest you and ask lots of initial questions to get a feel for the owner. Are they shady or do they seem normal? Interview them about the vehicle…why are they selling it? Do they seem trustworthy? How do they claim to have maintained the vehicle?
  • Find a trusted mechanic who can answer questions for you and provide an inspection of the vehicle prior to any offer/purchase.

The Hunt:

  • Meet people in public places, such as grocery store parking lots if you can. Don’t wander into dangerous areas alone. Use common sense.
  • You are inspecting the seller just as much as you are the car…how do they carry themselves? Do they appear like a meticulous owner who maintains themselves and their vehicles well? Do they have any maintenance receipts and records?
  • Turn the key to on position and make sure the “check engine light illuminates” as well as “air bag”  light if so equipped. This is worthy of checking to make sure they actually light up..if they don’t, the bulb is burnt out OR the person removed the bulb to hide a defect.
  • Take the car for a test drive and check the transmission fluid afterwards. What color is it? If the fluid is brownish and when you wipe the dip stick off and there are signs of blackish remains that may indicate a transmission that hasn’t been serviced properly…not one I would purchase.
  • Check the oil level…also check the oil filler cap to see if there is a white-ish type sludge under the cap…if so the oil may not have been changed with any regularity.
  • Check tires to see if they are all the same type and make…if people care about the car they usually replace all 4 with they same type.
  • Have that trusted mechanic available to inspect the car, perhaps on your test drive.

The Offer:

  • If things are checking out and your trustworthy mechanic has given the thumbs up, it may be time to make an offer. First things first…what’s the car worth? Check out Kelly Blue Book’s website and enter all the necessary data.
  • In order to snag a good deal, offer a few hundred dollars under asking price.
  • That offer….it better be CASH!!!!!!!!
  • But don’t actually have the cash on you, unless in a very public area…that is a good way to get robbed. If they accept your offer, then you can drop by the bank.

Batta-bing, batta-boom. You my friend, have a new-to-you vehicle! 🙂

Like I said, we recently purchased a 2004 Jeep Liberty and 2007 Crystler Town & Country using Craigslist. We got each vehicle for at least $1K under Kelly Blue Book value. On one of them, we even had the owner split the cost of new tires. The other, the owner threw in an awesome car top carrier for FREE! Way to go dad! 🙂

My handy-dandy father served as our trusty mechanic and did the actual inspecting, offering, and purchasing for us and we simply paid him back. I know, you can’t get much more of an ideal situation than that but we wanted to at least offer SOMETHING for y’all out there who want a good deal on a newer vehicle.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask! Happy car hunting!