Buying a car on Craigslist is becoming more popular with car inventory being so low at dealerships across the country.  On Craigslist, you will find plenty of options, but buying a car from an individual can be a daunting experience.  Below we cover everything you need to know to feel comfortable buying a car on Craigslist in 2021.

Starting Your Search

Head to and go under the “for sale” section and click on the “cars+trucks” link. You can choose to search by owner or dealer.  You can also drill down by location, price, make and model as well as the vehicle’s odometer mileage. If you want to get real specific, you can also choose the condition of the vehicle and transmission type. Here are some additional ways you can drill down even further:

  • Search for vehicles with clean titles as well as rebuilt or salvage titles.
  • Find cars with outstanding loans.
  • Look for cars being sold just for their parts.
  • You can search for cars without any car title

What To Look For In An Ad

Once you’ve found some car options, it is now time to study the ad carefully.  The ad should go into great detail about the the vehicle’s condition and history.  Of course you can’t necessarily verify everything but you should be able to spot red flags.  If a car has a low-resolution photo, you can pretty much assume there are other warning signs.

Get In Touch With The Seller

Reach out via email or text message to see if the vehicle is still available.  Ask for whatever additional information you need like more photos.  If you don’t have a phone number, we suggest asking for one.  Buying a car on Craigslist can feel unsafe so you want to be able to talk to the seller.  This will help give you confidence or make you want to move on to the next vehicle.

If you find a car that is owned by an individual or you don’t recognize the dealer, make sure to avoid what they call curbstoning.  This is when a used vehicle is being sold by someone pretending to be the owner.  They do this in order to avoid city or state regulations that are typically imposed on authorized automotive dealers. So make sure you ask if there are any problems with the vehicle’s title.  This can be an outstanding loan (or lien), or a salvage or rebuilt title.  Lastly, be sure to ask for the car’s vehicle identification number, or VIN.

Get A Vehicle History Report

Before you decide to move forward with buying a car on Craigslist, always get a vehicle history report. You will get a better idea as to whether the seller is telling you the truth or not.  Now, there could be slight inconsistencies in the report. If the seller is the second or third owner, they may not always know all the information on the report.  So you will have to decide for yourself if the seller seems credible.

Meet the Seller and Inspect the Vehicle

As with any other vehicle purchase, you need to inspection when buying a car on Craigslist.  Always do the inspection during the day and bring someone with you. Choose a location that is in the open and has a lot of traffic.  Something like a shopping mall parking lot.  Even consider a “safe exchange zone” like a police station. You will save yourself from potentially becoming the victim of an assault or robbery.

Negotiate A Price

Buyers rarely agree to the asking price so you definitely have room to negotiate.   Do your research so you know what comparable vehicles are selling for.  If you are not sure what to offer, see what their “rock-bottom” price is and go from there.

Make the Purchase

Once you’ve come to an agreement, it’s time to pay for the vehicle.  The seller will provide you with the title, and a bill of sale. You should not bring the money with you to the sale, though. There should be a separate meeting at the bank for the money to exchange hands.  By doing this, you will be able to get the whole transaction on camera.  If the seller does not want to meet at a bank, you should skip buying from that seller.

When it comes to payment, most will want cash buy they may accept a cashier’s check. Stay away from wire transfers as they tend to be a magnet for fraud.  Regardless of the form of payment you go with, always get a bill of sale.  This will be your receipt and double-check its accuracy.

Did you get scammed buying a car on Craigslist?   

If you have been a victim of a car selling scam, take these steps: