by Andrew Rohrlich

Craigslist has cemented its place as one of the biggest online marketplaces for posting local classified advertisements for just about any item you can think of, including cars. But the convenience of online shopping comes with the possibility of fraud, which begs the question of how to safely buy a car on Craigslist.

Online scams are widespread, and you must know how to protect yourself when making private party car purchases.

So, how does buying a car on Craigslist work? Use these five simple steps to know exactly what to do next time you want to buy a car on Craigslist.

1. Start With Defining Your Vehicle Needs

You can find tons of vehicle options on Craigslist. Determine what you need in a vehicle before you get on the site to avoid being overwhelmed with choices.

Do you want a two-door or four-door vehicle? Would you prefer an older vehicle or a newer one? Would you like a sedan, a truck, or a van? Do you want it to be ready to go, or are you okay with having to fix it up a little before you drive it?

You want to consider how much you're willing to pay. Setting a maximum budget ensures you'll only find cars you can afford, keeping you from scrolling through pages of cars that don't fit your needs.

You may also set a minimum budget when buying a used car on Craigslist. After all, if it sounds too good to be true, it often is. Having a realistic minimum budget will weed out sellers looking to prey on desperate buyers.

2. Use Filters To Narrow Your Search Options

Filters can help ensure that your search results match your needs. You can be as vague or specific as you like to get the perfect options.

Craigslist has many filters you can use, including:

• Location: How many miles can the car be from your zip code

• Price range: Maximum and minimum prices

• Make and model: The brand and type of vehicle

• Model year: Minimum and maximum manufacturing years

• Odometer reading range: Minimum and maximum car mileage

• Condition: New, like new, excellent, good, fair, or salvage

• Cylinders: Three, four, five, six, eight, ten, 12, or other

• Drive: Front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or four-wheel drive

• Fuel: Gas, diesel, hybrid, electric, or other

• Paint color: Black, blue, brown, green, gray, orange, purple, red, silver, white, yellow, or custom

• Size: Compact, full-size, mid-size, or sub-compact

• Title status: Clean, salvage, rebuilt, parts only, lien, or missing

• Transmission: Manual, automatic, or other

• Type: Bus, convertible, coupe, hatchback, mini-van, off-road, pickup, sedan, truck, SUV, wagon, van, or other

You can mark if you're okay with paying with cryptocurrency and if you'd prefer the seller to offer delivery.

You can also choose to only search listings that have images. It’s typically best to choose this filter so you can do an online pre-inspection of the car before you contact the seller. You may see something in the pictures that quickly knocks a car out of consideration.

3. Read Descriptions Carefully To Avoid Pursuing Fake Listings

Once you've used filters to narrow your car options, it's time to start checking out the individual listings. You should read descriptions carefully to avoid wasting time on fake listings.

You can often tell if the poster is a real person or not by the description. Read it carefully. Check for unusual spelling or grammar that often indicates machine typing or scam artists.

The description should be detailed, including information about the make and model of the car as well as its condition, features, and any issues or upgrades.

Check the categories underneath the location map, which are the same as the filter options you used when searching for the vehicle. Legitimate sellers will often fill out as many categories as possible to help their vehicle show up to potential buyers.

Another great way to inspect the validity of a listing is to do a reverse image search. There are three simple steps to complete an image search:

  1. Right-click the listing's image and click 'copy picture address' in the drop-down menu.
  2. Go to Google Images.
  3. Click the little camera on the right side of the search bar and paste the image link.

Google Images will pull up other websites where a duplicate or similar image is posted. Since many fraudulent sellers will copy pictures from other websites or dealerships, this is an excellent way to ensure the listing is legit.

4. Find the Car That Appears To Best Fit Your Needs

Once you've combed through the listings and narrowed your choices, it's time to choose which car best fits your needs.

It should fit within your budget,  And make sure it has all the features you want in its description and is within your desired distance range.

5. Avoid These Common Scams

Craigslist can be invaluable for getting a good deal on a vehicle. Unfortunately, there are a variety of common scams sellers may use, such as:

• Posting fake listings

• Hiding damage

• Pressuring buyers with sob stories

• Requesting payment before they send the vehicle

• Setting up fake escrow sites

• Turning back the odometer

• Altering or rewriting car titles

• Offering short test drives

Knowing who to trust when purchasing a vehicle online can be hard — thankfully, you now know how to safely buy a used car on Craigslist.

This article was written by Andrew Rohrlich. As a brand and product marketing expert, Andrew Rohrlich has crafted products, experiences and communications for household names like Gap and for multiple automotive technology businesses. For nearly a decade Andrew has studied automotive retail in depth from a customer point of view and aggregated the industry’s best research, thought leadership and know how to provide credible and important information to auto shoppers and sellers.

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